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Clergy Sex Abuse Scandal — Pennsylvania and McCarrick

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Clergy Sex Abuse Scandal — Pennsylvania and McCarrick

Over the course of the last several weeks, the Church has been in the news for sex abuse scandals that have shaken many of the faithful and have resulted in an increased scrutiny of how allegations of abuse are handled. Both the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Vatican have responded, as have many bishops throughout the U.S.

Archbishop Theodore McCarrick

On June 20, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York announced that then-Cardinal McCarrick had been removed from ministry at the direction of the Vatican after an investigation by the Archdiocese of New York found credible a charge that he sexually abused a teenager. On the same day, Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, the archbishop of Newark, issued a statement that the Archdiocese of Newark and the Diocese of Metuchen "received three allegations of sexual misconduct with adults decades ago” about McCarrick and that two of those resulted in settlements.

On July 19, the New York Times ran a story about a man who alleges that Cardinal McCarrick sexually abused him for nearly 20 years, starting when the victim was 11. On July 28, Pope Francis accepted Cardinal McCarrick’s resignation from the College of Cardinals and suspended him from public ministry. He is now to be known as Archbishop McCarrick and is to spend his life in prayer and penance until the results of a canonical trial. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued a statement about this situation, stating,    

"The accusations against Archbishop Theodore McCarrick reveal a grievous moral failure within the Church. They cause bishops anger, sadness, and shame; I know they do in me. They compel bishops to ask, as I do, what more could have been done to protect the People of God. Both the abuses themselves, and the fact that they have remained undisclosed for decades, have caused great harm to people's lives and represent grave moral failures of judgement on the part of Church leaders.” (The full text of the USCCB statement can be found at

Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report — six dioceses

On August 14, a grand jury in Pennsylvania released a report about its investigation of allegations of sexual abuse of children occurring in all Pennsylvania dioceses except Philadelphia and Altoona-Johnstown, which had had earlier individual grand jury investigations. The grand jury looked at cases of more than 300 priests who were credibly accused of sexually abusing minors since 1947. Disturbing information was disclosed about the abuse, as well as the actions of some bishops to transfer abusive priests to other parishes after accusations. Cardinal DiNardo, the president of the USCCB, issued this statement in response to the grand jury findings:

"The report of the Pennsylvania grand jury again illustrates the pain of those who have been victims of the crime of sexual abuse by individual members of our clergy, and by those who shielded abusers and so facilitated an evil that continued for years or even decades. We are grateful for the courage of the people who aided the investigation by sharing their personal stories of abuse. As a body of bishops, we are shamed by and sorry for the sins and omissions by Catholic priests and Catholic bishops.

We are profoundly saddened each time we hear about the harm caused as a result of abuse, at the hands of a clergyman of any rank. The USCCB Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People and the office of the Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection will continue to offer avenues to healing for those who have been abused. We are committed to work in determined ways so that such abuse cannot happen.

The Pennsylvania grand jury report covers a span of more than 70 years. In 2002 the U.S. Catholic bishops adopted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which commits us to respond promptly and compassionately to victims, report the abuse of minors, remove offenders and take ongoing action to prevent abuse. This Charter was revised and updated in 2011 and again in 2018. We pledge to maintain transparency and to provide for the permanent removal of offenders from ministry and to maintain safe environments for everyone.  All policies and procedures regarding training and background check requirements are made publicly available by dioceses and eparchies.

We pray that all survivors of sexual abuse find healing, comfort and strength in God's loving presence as the Church pledges to continue to restore trust through accompaniment, communion, accountability and justice."  

On August 18, Cardinal DiNardo issued a statement about the USCCB’s plan to involve laity to address the ‘moral catastrophe’ that the Church is facing.

We are faced with a spiritual crisis that requires not only spiritual conversion, but practical changes to avoid repeating the sins and failures of the past that are so evident in the recent report. Earlier this week, the USCCB Executive Committee met again and established an outline of these necessary changes. The Executive Committee has established three goals: (1) an investigation into the questions surrounding Archbishop McCarrick; (2) an opening of new and confidential channels for reporting complaints against bishops; and (3) advocacy for more effective resolution of future complaints. These goals will be pursued according to three criteria: proper independence, sufficient authority, and substantial leadership by laity. We have already begun to develop a concrete plan for accomplishing these goals, relying upon consultation with experts, laity, and clergy, as well as the Vatican.

The three goals outlined by Cardinal DiNardo include:

  • Investigation of questions surrounding Archbishop McCarrick in order to prevent a recurrence, and protect minors, seminarians, and others who are vulnerable in the future.
  • Making reporting of abuse and misconduct by bishops easier. The 2002 Statement of Episcopal Commitment does not make clear what avenue victims should follow to report abuse or other sexual misconduct by a bishop. That is being addressed.
  • Better procedures to resolve complaints against bishops. For example, the canonical procedures that follow a complaint will be studied with an eye toward concrete proposals to make them more prompt, fair, and transparent and to specify what constraints may be imposed on bishops at each stage of that process.

Cardinal DiNardo expressed the sorrow of the U.S. Bishops, saying,

            I apologize and humbly ask your forgiveness for what my brother bishops and I have done and failed to do. Whatever the details may turn out to be regarding Archbishop McCarrick or the many abuses in Pennsylvania (or anywhere else), we already know that one root cause is the failure of episcopal leadership.

Vatican Response

The Vatican released a letter to the people of God from Pope Francis regarding the scandals that have occurred in the Church:

“The heart-wrenching pain of these victims, which cries out to heaven, was long ignored, kept quiet or silenced. But their outcry was more powerful than all the measures meant to silence it, or sought even to resolve it by decisions that increased its gravity by falling into complicity. The Lord heard that cry and once again showed us on which side he stands. ...With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not act in a timely manner, realizing the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives. We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them.”

He goes on to address clericalism as a factor in abuse and enabling abuse, “Clericalism, whether fostered by priests themselves or by lay persons, leads to an excision in the ecclesial body that supports and helps to perpetuate many of the evils that we are condemning today. To say ‘no’ to abuse is to say an emphatic ‘no’ to all forms of clericalism.”

Finally, the pope calls on all the Church to join in prayer and fasting in reparation for the sins of abuse within Christ’s body on earth, “The penitential dimension of fasting and prayer will help us as God’s People to come before the Lord and our wounded brothers and sisters as sinners imploring forgiveness and the grace of shame and conversion. In this way, we will come up with actions that can generate resources attuned to the Gospel.”

The full statement can be found at:

Archbishop Viganò

Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, who was the apostolic nuncio to the United States from 2011 to 2016, wrote an open letter accusing Church officials, including Pope Francis, of failing to act on accusations of abuse by now-Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick. According to the letter, "corruption has reached the very top of the church's hierarchy."

The USCCB has issued a statement responding to Archbishop Viganò’s letter. Speaking on behalf of the bishops, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo said, “On August 16th, I called for an Apostolic Visitation, working in concert with a national lay commission granted independent authority, to seek the truth. Yesterday, I convened our Executive Committee once again, and it reaffirmed the call for a prompt and thorough examination into how the grave moral failings of a brother bishop could have been tolerated for so long and proven no impediment to his advancement.

"The recent letter of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò brings particular focus and urgency to this examination. The questions raised deserve answers that are conclusive and based on evidence. Without those answers, innocent men may be tainted by false accusation and the guilty may be left to repeat sins of the past.”