A shocking new report compiled by a team of journalists from both the Boston Globe and the Philadelphia Inquirer alleges that at least one in three living, American Catholic bishops has been accused of failing to respond appropriately to claims of sexual abuse brought to their attention.
The report, over the weekend, offers a disturbing look into a Church hierarchy that was supposed to have been reformed in 2002, after the Boston Globe revealed that the Archdiocese of Boston had either covered up — or simply ignored — dozens of allegations of sexual misconduct against Boston priests.
Although much has been done to alleviate the possibility of sexual misconduct at the parish level, almost nothing has been done to root out misconduct among the Church’s administration, and bishops have been allowed to escape both accountability and punishment.
“More than 130 U.S. bishops — or nearly one-third of those still living — have been accused during their careers of failing to adequately respond to sexual misconduct in their dioceses,” the reporters claim. “At least 15, including Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington who resigned in July, have themselves been accused of committing such abuse or harassment.”
In 2002, the U.S. Bishops gathered in Dallas, Texas, to formulate strict new rules that would force civilian oversight of priests and parishes, and would limit how priests could interact with their flock.
But while parish priests bore the brunt of the 2002 decision — and, often, the public relations fallout — the bishops pledged only to keep each other in line, the papers say, under a policy of “fraternal correction” that had no strict process of execution, no transparency, and ultimately no accountability to any outside body.
“The bishops simply do not have anyone looking over their shoulder,’’ one priest told the reporting team. “Each bishop in his own diocese is pretty much king.”
As a result of what a civilian oversight official called a “common fraud,” misbehavior by bishops “flourished.” Bishops, the Globe and Inquirer say, routinely overlooked sexual abuse by their peers, ignored complaints of abuse brought to their attention, and in extreme cases like that of McCarrick, covered for each other.
The situation left young priests and seminarians particularly at risk. McCarrick, who evaded oversight for years before an independent, media-led investigation revealed he’d been abusing priests and seminarians for years, as fellow bishops and even fellow Cardinals turned a blind eye.
A number of bishops and Cardinals tried to force the Vatican to pay attention — particularly in 2002, when it was revealed that some of the members of the Dallas commission were themselves guilty of ignoring or shuffling off complaints of sexual misconduct in their own dioceses — but their pleas went unanswered.
Now, thanks to a recent grand jury report from Pennsylvania, and investigations elsewhere, there is a renewed interest in how deeply the rot goes within the American Catholic Church, and why predators like McCarrick were allowed to roam freely for so long.
The story may not end there, however. Although the Globe and Inquirer have investigated the bishops, there are unanswered questions about Cardinals, as well as the Vatican’s involvement in covering for sexual predators like McCarrick. In a letter issued earlier this summer, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò accused the Vatican under Pope Francis of not just tolerating McCarrick, but of removing punitive sanctions placed on the now-former Cardinal by the previous Pope, Pope Benedict XVI, and elevating McCarrick to a trusted position within Pope Francis’ inner circle.
Vigano went on to suggest that the American Church is itself controlled by Vatican officials who have carefully organized the hierarchy to avoid accountability, and to place friends in positions of power to protect predators in their midst.