The Cardinal and call-out culture

Call-out culture is well-established—so much so that we are now seeing more and more calls to pull it back from an insatiable mob response and to make our call-outs productive rather than simply reactive.

As Catholics, we have a special responsibility to examine how we wield our spears. It is not only the safety of the community that we must consider but the souls of the people involved, including our own.

Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine.

Image By Hubertus1977 [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Chilean abuse victim’s respectful persistence holds Pope accountable

Pope Francis had an extraordinary meeting with Juan Carlos Cruz, a Chilean survivor of priestly sexual abuse, whose testimony about molestation and subsequent cover-up the pope had originally publicly denigrated, calling it “calumny.”

Last month, Cardinal O’Malley, who is president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, publicly admonished the pope, who then reviewed a 2,300-page report based on interviews with 64 witnesses. The Pope wrote a letter of apology about his response to the Chilean victims, acknowledging that he “fell into serious errors in the evaluation and perception … due especially to the lack of true and balanced information.”

Pope Francis told abuse victims, “I was part of the problem.”

Cruz said he was grateful for the Pope’s apology, but disputed that Francis had a lack of information about the abuse and alleged cover-up.   Cruz says Cardinal O’Malley told him that he had delivered a letter detailing the victims’ allegations directly into the hands of the pope.

In May, Cruz and two other Chileans victims spent personal time with the Pope over the course of several days, speaking candidly with him for hours. In an interview with NPR, Cruz said the Pope told him, “Juan Carlos, the first thing I want to do is apologize for what happened to you and apologize in the name of the pope, and in the name of the universal church.”

Cruz said, “He was listening and he sat right across from me and nobody was there. We talked one day three hours, another day two hours, another day an hour. … The pope cannot claim that he was misinformed like he did last time,”

Cruz said he talked not only about the abuse he suffered, but about the pain the Pope personally caused by publicly calling it “slander” when a bishop was accused of covering up the abuse. Cruz said he told Pope Francis, “You cannot imagine, Holy Father, what this does to someone who is trying to tell the truth.”

He named at least one “toxic” prelate who continues to work closely with the Pope, and whom Cruz considers to be part of the “culture of abuse” in the Church.

He said several times in the interview that, while he is grateful for his time with the Pope, and found his attention and concern moving, he is not yet satisfied, and wants to see concrete change in the way the Pope and the Church in general responds to victims of clerical abuse.

When the NPR interviewer asked Cruz how the entire experience has affected his faith, he said that his faith was the thing keeping him going. Because of his love for the Catholic Church, his goal is not only to find some measure of peace and justice for himself, but to give a voice to the countless other victims who are still suffering without redress.

Cruz’s example of respectful persistence epitomizes the proper role of the laity in the 21st century. We hope that those in authority in the Church will be true and just shepherds. But when they are not, it is our duty to persist in holding them to account. We build up the Body of Christ by holding its head to the highest standards, not by allowing it to persist in error out of a false sense of piety or respect.

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Image by Christoph Wagener [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Pope Francis’ troubling apology

In a letter regarding victims of sexual abuse in Chile, Pope Francis said, “I ask forgiveness of all those I have offended and I hope to be able to do it personally in the coming weeks.”

His apology comes after months of controversy, during which the Pope first apologized to Chilean victims of sexual abuse by the Church, but then strongly defended a Chilean Bishop accused of covering up those victims’ allegations. Pope Francis called their accusations “calumny” and said he had seen no evidence supporting them.

In the letter of apology made public today, he said that he “fell into serious errors in the evaluation and perception … due especially to the lack of true and balanced information.”

The Pope’s apology is encouraging, but also troubling. He sets an irreplaceable example of how to respond humbly when confronted with personal error, but he also appears to deflect personal responsibility. We look forward to clarification, after he meets with the Chilean victims, about why he didn’t believe the victims’ accusations, why he felt it was appropriate to denigrate the victims publicly, and whether he intends to be more circumspect in front of microphones in the future, since his ill-conceived words caused so much damage.

We also wonder if he is telling the truth about lacking necessary information.

The pope wrote his letter after he read a 2,300-page report detailing a investigation he commissioned in February to study allegations of sexual abuse and its cover-up in the Chilean Church.

On his visit to South America in January of 2018, the Pope was met with protests and outrage over the alleged cover-up of sexual abuse by Chilean Bishop Juan Barros.

Four men accuse Barros’ charismatic mentor, Fr. Fernando Karadima, of sexual abusing them, and Barros of ignoring warnings from parishioners and of covering up evidence. The accusers claim Barros was present during some of the abuse, but continued to protect and defend Karadima. A civil complaint against Karadima was dismissed for lack of evidence. The Vatican found him guilty in 2011 and sentenced him to a “life of prayer and penitence” and to “lifelong prohibition from the public exercise of any ministerial act, particularly confession and the spiritual guidance of any category of persons.” Barros continues to maintain his innocence.

On his South America trip in January, Pope Francis apologized to victims of sexual abuse, saying he felt “pain and shame” for the “irreparable damage caused to children by some ministers of the Church.”

But when confronted with questions about the specific allegations against Bishop Barros, the pope called the accusations “calumny.”

The pope told the press: “The day they bring me proof against Bishop Juan Barros, I will speak. There is not one piece of evidence against him. It is calumny.” The Pope also told an AP reporter on the way home from South America, “You, in all good will, tell me that there are victims, but I haven’t seen any, because they haven’t come forward.”

But an AP Exclusive in February claimed that the Pope did have evidence against Barros, and that victims had come forward. The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors says that they gave a letter from victim Juan Carlos Cruz to its president, Cardinal O’Malley, to be hand-delivered to the Pope before his South America visit. The letter “detailed the abuse, kissing and fondling [Cruz] says he suffered at Karadima’s hands, which he said Barros and others saw but did nothing to stop.”

Two members of the commission say that O’Malley confirmed to them that he did give the letter to the pope.  Cruz says O’Malley told him “he had given the letter to the pope — in his hands.”

On January 10, Cardinal O’Malley took the extraordinary step of publicly admonishing Pope Francis, saying that his comments “abandon those who have suffered reprehensible criminal violations of their human dignity, and relegate survivors to discredited exile.”

Shortly after O’Malley’s rebuke, the Pope apologized for the hurt caused by his words. In February, he sent Archbishop Scicluna to Chile to conduct an exhaustive investigation of the alleged cover-up by Bishop Barros.

America Magazine reports that Scicluna presented the pope with a 2,300- page report based on interviews with 64 witnesses.

According to Catholic News service, in the letter made public on April 11,

Pope Francis apologized for underestimating the seriousness of the sexual abuse crisis in the country following a recent investigation into allegations concerning Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno.

But the Pope says his error was due to “lack of truthful and balanced information”:

The pope said he made “serious mistakes in the assessment and perception of the situation, especially due to a lack of truthful and balanced information.”

According to America Magazine,

He said, “From here on, I ask pardon of all those that I have offended, and I hope to do so personally in the coming weeks, in the meetings that I will have with representatives of the persons interviewed” by his envoys—Archbishop Scicluna and Father Jordi Bertomeu Farnos.

The Chilean bishops will meet with the Pope in the third week of May. Three of Karadima’s victims, including Cruz, will also meet with the Pope then.

Pope Francis’ apology and admission of error are unprecedented among popes, but troubling questions remain. In his letter, he blames his defense of Barros on “the lack of true and balanced information.” But if Cardinal O’Malley did hand-deliver the letter from victims, how can he say there was a lack of information? Did he read the letter? If not, why not? Did he read it but disregard what is said? If so, why would he do so, sixteen years after the Church has been shown to be guilty over and over and over again?

Even those who support and defend the Pope and his approach will find it difficult to understand his behavior in this matter. O’Malley and countless other faithful servants of Christ have been laboring hard to reform the Church, to make it safer for vulnerable people, and to reassure the world that things have changed. But a few ill-conceived words from its visible head have unravelled all their efforts more than once.

To victims, past and present, it must feel as though the Church has learned nothing.  How far can yet another apology go?

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Image By Benhur Arcayan (Malacañang Photo Bureau) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons