Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò

Three months in, more newsrooms need to get serious about Catholic sex abuse coverage

Three months in, more newsrooms need to get serious about Catholic sex abuse coverage

As of today, we’re moving into the fourth month of Cardinal-gate or whatever one wants to call the flood of revelations, regrets, resignations and just plain revulsion over the re-awakened sex abuse crisis.

Reporting on the first phase of this crescendo of bad news started kind of slowly in June as news of then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s penchant for finding sex partners among his seminarians started leaking out. During that first month, only the New York Times and the Washington Post did much of anything on it and then mostly by their religion and-or Vatican reporters.

Fast forward to this recent Post piece, by an investigative team designated to look into the actions of Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl. Yes, there should have been a team put on the case way before this, but better late than never. You can tell that news executives are taking a story seriously when they start throwing staff at it.

A dozen years before he became a top leader in the Catholic Church, Donald Wuerl was weighing a fateful decision. It was 1994, and Wuerl, then a bishop, had removed a priest accused of child sex abuse from a Pittsburgh-area parish. But the priest refused to get psychiatric treatment, and instead asked Wuerl for time off…

The case, one of hundreds mentioned in a groundbreaking Pennsylvania grand jury report released last month, sheds light on how Wuerl handled sex abuse claims in the Pittsburgh Diocese from 1988 to 2006 — a period that now threatens to rewrite his legacy and hasten the end of his career. Wuerl, 77, announced recently that he would go to the Vatican to discuss his possible resignation with Pope Francis, and although it is not clear when that meeting will take place, Wuerl is scheduled to be in Rome this weekend.

While Wuerl built a reputation as an early advocate for removing pedophile priests from parishes, a Post examination found that at times he allowed accused clerics to continue as priests in less visible roles without alerting authorities or other officials. The review focused on the 25 priests whose cases, according to the grand jury, Wuerl handled directly.

The grand jury report is what moved reporting from just the religion team on these two papers to a much broader newsroom effort with more resources. There’s good solid reporting in the Post piece. And how can one ignore news like what Vox.com said about eight states taking up investigations into hidden clerical abuse within their borders?

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Vatican officials keep asking journalists to investigate them, but do they mean it?

Vatican officials keep asking journalists to investigate them, but do they mean it?

For all of you following the continuing drama that is the U.S. Catholic Church these days, another telling moment happened on Sunday. The networks were taping Cardinal Donald Wuerl’s sermon yesterday at Annunciation Catholic Church in the District when Wuerl asked for loyalty to Pope Francis, as "increasingly it is clear that he is the object of considerable animosity."

This was all too much for one parishioner, who stood up and yelled, “Shame on you!” The video appears atop this blog.

To dismiss all the recent ferment as “animosity” toward Francis begs the question of what happened to stoke that animosity. Despite the crisis his archdiocese has been in for two months and running, Wuerl is still tone deaf to why people are so mad.

It’s not just the laity who are upset. There's the fact that Catholic priests who are tipping off journalists. These clerics are giving them tips and sharing anecdotes and ideas on how to best investigate this crisis. They are the frontline guys in this drama who dare not say anything publicly, but can leak stuff to those of us who can. They know a lot. They’ve seen things, heard things. I’ve heard from a few and, at this stage in my career, I’m a bit player in this drama.

That’s why the religion beat is so focused on good sources: Who you know and where they stand. Because unlike government documents, church records typically are not subject to public records laws. So when you want to peer into a religion’s finance records or anything else, you rely on insiders to slip them to you. As tmatt has been saying for a week, it's really crucial for reporters to find documents, documents, documents.

But Pope Francis isn't going to hand them to us, even though he has invited journalists to investigate the Viganò allegations. But are we going to get to see all the files on former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick at the apostolic nunciature in Washington DC? Or have they already been shipped to safety in Rome?

The pope appears to give us that clearance. Remember what he said on the plane from Ireland to Italy on Aug. 26:

Read the statement carefully yourselves and make your own judgment. I am not going to say a word about this. I believe that the statement speaks for itself, and you all have sufficient journalistic ability to draw conclusions.

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Friday Five: Aretha's funeral, Trump's evangelicals, Catholic sex abuse, what to call Mormons and more

Friday Five: Aretha's funeral, Trump's evangelicals, Catholic sex abuse, what to call Mormons and more

As we've noted, religion is a vital part of the life story of Aretha Franklin.

Today, prayers and stars filled a Detroit church at the Queen of Soul's funeral, reports The Associated Press.

In advance of the memorial service, the Detroit Free Press published a piece pointing out that Franklin's "spiritual grounding in the black church" would be on display at the funeral. It's a good story but in places paints with broad strokes on "Baptist theology" when it seems to mean black-church theology. Baptists (like a lot of denominations) are all over the place when it comes to worship traditions.

Anyway, R-E-S-P-E-C-T for Franklin is just one of the stories making religion news this week.

For more, let's dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: Nearly two years after Donald Trump's election as president, hardly a day passes when a news story or column doesn't ask, "Why do evangelical Christians support Trump?"

Some of the pieces are much better than others.

One published in recent days — by longtime Birmingham News religion writer Greg Garrison — is particularly well done and full of insight (including biblical insight) from supporters and opponents of Trump.

Check it out.

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Monday Mix: Vatican bombshell, John McCain's faith, Bibles at Marriott, blue Texas and more

Monday Mix: Vatican bombshell, John McCain's faith, Bibles at Marriott, blue Texas and more

Talk about a busy weekend for religion news. That was a big one!

Fortunately, we've got this new feature called the Monday Mix to help you catch up on the flurry of developments. As we explained last week, we'll focus in this space on headlines and insights you might have missed from the weekend and late in the week.

We'll mention this again, too: Just because we include a headline here doesn't mean we won't offer additional analysis in a different post, particularly if it's a major story. In fact, if you read a piece linked here and have questions or concerns that we might address, please don't hesitate to comment below or tweet us at @GetReligion. The goal here is to point at important news and say, "Hey, look at this."

Three weekend reads

1. "This will be a nuclear war between the Catholic left and right." GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly offered an opening primer on the former Vatican ambassador to the United States' weekend bombshell.

Then, earlier today, a post from my colleague Julia Duin delved deeper into media coverage of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò's claim that Pope Francis covered up abuses by former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and should resign.

That coverage includes the New York Times' highly skeptical front-page story this morning with the headline "Critic of Pope In Open Revolt Vs. the Vatican."

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Archbishop Vigano's explosive testimony dismissed as new conservative attack on Pope Francis

Archbishop Vigano's explosive testimony dismissed as new conservative attack on Pope Francis

Just when you think the wheels have come completely off the ongoing Catholic sexual abuse story, it goes to the next level.

Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the former papal nuncio to the United States, is the author of an 11-page document that is rocking the Roman Catholic world. You may remember him as the official who was ejected from his Washington, D.C. post in 2016 by Pope Francis after he arranged a meeting between the pope and Kim Davis, a former municipal clerk in Kentucky who was fired for refusing to sign marriage licenses to gay couples.

When word got out that Francis had secretly met with her during his September 2015, U.S. visit that year, the Vatican furiously backpedaled on whether Francis backed religious-liberty claims by Davis, and many U.S. bishops. Viganò was eventually removed.

Revenge is a dish best served cold and Viganò waited for an opportune time to strike back. It arrived on June 22, when former Washington Cardinal McCarrick, a Vatican favorite and a Francis confidante, was exposed for being a serial sexual predator. Viganò’s letter was released two months later.

The document is very detailed; it mentions dates and names (which can be easily verified or disproved) and, Viganò assures, all the documents backing him up are at the Vatican and the apostolic nunciature office on Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, DC.

Ross Douthat, a New York Times columnist, tweeted that the document implicates 17 cardinals (I counted 23), two popes, four archbishops and three bishops.

As tmatt pointed out yesterday, different media are reading this different ways. Still, others at the Times attacked the messenger, portraying it as yet another battle between church liberals and conservatives. 

DUBLIN — On the final day of Pope Francis’ mission to Ireland, as he issued wrenching apologies for clerical sex abuse scandals, a former top Vatican diplomat claimed in a letter published on Sunday that the pope himself had joined top Vatican officials in covering up the abuses and called for his resignation.


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Nuclear war in Rome: Vatican's former U.S. ambassador claims Francis protected 'Uncle Ted'

Nuclear war in Rome: Vatican's former U.S. ambassador claims Francis protected 'Uncle Ted'

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick said -- right out in public -- that he worked behind the scenes as part of the network that helped elect Pope Francis.

Now, according to the former Vatican ambassador to the United States from 2011-2016, McCarrick had every reason to do this. That would be Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, a major Vatican player on the doctrinal right, who claims that Pope Francis and his network of supporters in red hats protected McCarrick from sanctions imposed by Pope Benedict XVI.

Thus, Vigano has called for Francis to resign.

Yes, Vigano is a Francis critic -- as noted (with good cause) by Elizabeth Dias of the New York Times. However, journalists will also note that Vigano was in a position to see the letters and emails from people on both sides of the long, long battle over whether "Uncle Ted" McCarrick could be driven out of the College of Cardinals. He is claiming the ability to name names and quote chapter and verse.

This will be a nuclear war between the Catholic left and right and people on both sides will have what journalists should -- read SHOULD -- find hard to ignore: documents and first-hand knowledge of key moments in this secret drama. Will the mainstream press quote the voices and documents on both sides, in the battle between bishops and cardinals?

Here is the key information at the top of the Edward Pentin report in The National Catholic Register:

In an extraordinary 11-page written testament, a former apostolic nuncio to the United States has accused several senior prelates of complicity in covering up Archbishop Theodore McCarrick’s allegations of sexual abuse, and has claimed that Pope Francis knew about sanctions imposed on then-Cardinal McCarrick by Pope Benedict XVI but chose to repeal them.

Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò ... said that in the late 2000s, Benedict had “imposed on Cardinal McCarrick sanctions similar to those now imposed on him by Pope Francis” and that Viganò personally told Pope Francis about those sanctions in 2013.

Archbishop Viganò said in his written statement, simultaneously released to the Register and other media, (see full text below) that Pope Francis “continued to cover” for McCarrick and not only did he “not take into account the sanctions that Pope Benedict had imposed on him” but also made McCarrick “his trusted counselor.”  Viganò said that the former archbishop of Washington advised the Pope to appoint a number of bishops in the United States, including Cardinals Blase Cupich of Chicago and Joseph Tobin of Newark. 

The Register report claims that it has direct confirmation of the Benedict sanctions against McCarrick. The source? Staff close to Pope Benedict XVI.

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What?!? Pope Francis (again) backs right to conscientious objection for believers

What?!? Pope Francis (again) backs right to conscientious objection for believers

Time for a pop quiz on some facts linked to a major religion-news event from last year.

OK, gentle readers, do you remember Kim Davis?

That's a dumb question. Of course you remember the infamous Kentucky county clerk who, citing a faith-based conflict of interest, asked that other state officials be allowed to sign marriage licenses for same-sex couples, in her place.

Next question: Do you remember that whole Pope Francis visiting America thing? It was a blitz of headlines that lasted for days. Then, on the flight back home to Rome, the pope was asked a question about Christians (wink, wink) being allowed to decline to cooperate with same-sex union rites. In an "On Religion" column at that time, I noted the crucial Francis remarks:

Pope Francis said he could not address all such cases, thus avoiding a reference to Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who secretly met with the pope in Washington, D.C.
"If a person does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right," said Francis. "Conscientious objection must enter into every juridical structure because it is a right, a human right. Otherwise we would end up in a situation where we select what is a right, saying 'this right has merit, this one does not.' …
"If a government official is a human person, he has that right."
Rather than discuss current events, the pope added: "It always moved me when I read, and I read it many times, … the Chancon Roland, when the people were all in line and before them was the baptismal font -- the baptismal font or the sword. And, they had to choose. They weren't permitted conscientious objection. It is a right and if we want to make peace we have to respect all rights."

Now, remember that meeting between Davis and Pope Francis?

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