In the ever widening Catholic clerical sex abuse crisis the question that always arises is what the Vatican knows and for how long have they known? It is a question that has never been adequately answered.
In 1984 the Rev. Thomas Doyle, then a canon lawyer in the Vatican Embassy in Washington, issued a memo, and later in 1985 co-authored a ninety-three page report on the sexual abuse crisis which was sent to every American bishop. Pope John Paul II did nothing. There was no outreach to victims nor did the church attempt to remove sexual predators from its ranks. When the United States Conference of Bishops tried to establish a streamlined process to excommunicate pedophile priests, Pope John Paul refused. The Pope effectively turned his back on the worst crisis in modern Catholic history.
John Paul II served as Pope for 27 years. Upon his death in 2005 mourners in St. Peter’s square famously began to chant “Santo subito” — “make him a saint immediately.” Within days of his funeral the church began the process and in 2014, a record nine years, canonisation was completed and John Paul II became a saint. Dissenters quietly voiced doubt, but it wasn’t until a bombshell 2020 Vatican report that Catholics around the world began to question the declaration of sainthood.
The deeply disturbing report described in exhaustive detail how defrocked Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick, over the course of decades, sexually abused other priests and seminarians and teenage boys. Equally disturbing was the revelation that Pope John Paul II knew of the sexual abuse allegations for almost two decades before the Cardinal was defrocked.
The report provide stunning details of how church leaders disregarded clues about McCarrick’s misconduct, believed ‘church men’ over victims, and tried to keep any discipline modest and private. The first recorded sexual abuse allegations against McCarrick went back to 1971. Rumors about his sexual behavior began to circulate throughout the church. Then in 1999, the report detailed how Pope John Paul II was informed that the then-bishop McCarrick routinely “shared a bed with young seminarians over whom he had authority but decided nonetheless to appoint McCarrick as archbishop of Washington and later name him as a cardinal.” In a 1999 letter to the Pope, Cardinal John O’Connor, then the archbishop of New York, wrote that he knew of allegations of improper sexual conduct by McCarrick that dated back to 1987, and that he had committed pedophilia and that he shared a bed with young adult men and seminarians. In spite of these horrendous allegations, Pope John Paul II still personally made the decision to appoint McCarrick as Cardinal.
It is especially worth noting here that as Cardinal, McCarrick became a highly productive fundraiser for the Catholic Church. He directed millions of dollars to John Paul II, Benedict and Francis over the decades for papal charities through his Papal Foundation, which drew contributions from wealthy American Catholics.
It wasn’t until 2019 that McCarrick was stripped of his rank of cardinal and subsequently removed him from the priesthood. The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith found him guilty of solicitation during confession and of abuse. McCarrick now lives in an undisclosed location in housing provided by the Catholic Church.
Now the faithful have been left to question if a pope who knowingly ignored the crisis of sexual abuse in the Catholic church be exalted as a saint? In part, because of John Paul’s denial and inertia, the Catholic Church in the United States has spent almost $4 billion in the past 20 years — to investigate, adjudicate and prevent clergy sex abuse, and to compensate victims for the harm they’ve suffered.
Within the Catholic church, saints are the most distinctive part of the symbolic world. Saints in many ways are integral to the church’s international political theater. As Pope, John Paul II was considered to be infallible, as a saint he was considered to have led a life of “heroic virtue.” The revelations about the Pope’s role in allowing a sexual predator like Cardinal McCarrick to operate in the church validates critics who claimed the church had moved with reckless speed to canonize John Paul.
Saints are statements to the church’s key values. The decision to canonise John Paul II clearly shows the Catholic church has yet to fully accept responsibility for the sex abuse crisis in its midst. It shows more concern for sanctifying the past and ignores the rights and stories of the abused.
At Saunders & walker we have long advocated victims of sex abuse by priests and other church members. It is necessary to allow for the unique circumstances that exist in abuse cases, and especially those involving clergy. In almost every case children are reluctant or unable to talk about pedophile priests or face their accusers. There are significant and unique barriers that prevent children from reporting what they intuitively know is inappropriate behavior. Fear of the accusing their abuser, the stigma of being abused, and a reluctance to confront the church often keep sexual abuse from being reported. Many victims of pedophile priests are unable to talk about abuse or face their accusers until they are well into adulthood, putting the crime beyond the reach of the law.
If a priest or another member of a church has sexually abused you, or anybody you know, please contact Saunders & Walker at 1-800-748-7115 to discuss your legal options. All conversations will be kept strictly confidential. https://www.saunderslawyers.com/