There's an old saying that goes: It's not what you say that matters -- it's what you don't say.
And last week, while on a papal visit to Ireland, Pope Francis was derelict in his duties. Though he acknowledged the latest sex abuse scandal, implicating some 300 priests, as a failure of the Catholic Church, he largely ignored another allegation -- one that directly involves him.
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In an 11-page letter, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano accused Pope Francis of having been informed of the serial predation of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, a leading Catholic figure in Washington, in June of 2013, and doing nothing. The Church has found the allegations against McCarrick to be "credible and substantiated." Cardinal McCarrick has since resigned from his post, although he issued a statement maintaining his innocence.
If Vigano's allegation is true, it indicates that the pontiff has been complicit, via his silence, in covering up activity that should have been immediately referred to local law enforcement. While some maintain there is no concrete evidence Pope Francis was presented with this information, one writer for USA Today says that Vigano's allegations about the pontiff "corresponds to anecdotal evidence piling up against [him]."
And in an interview with PBS, Dennis Coday, editor for the National Catholic Reporter, said that Vigano's allegations were that Pope Benedict -- Francis' predecessor -- "had imposed some kind of sanctions, some restricted ministry, on McCarrick, and that those were never enforced."
These reports detail either a troubling pattern of obtuseness or purposeful ignoring of credible accusations.
Confronted by journalists while aboard his return flight to the Vatican, a pope known for his loquacious forays into high-profile and polarizing policy issues suddenly clung to talking points: "I will say sincerely that I must say this, to you, and all of you who are interested: Read the document carefully and judge it for yourselves. I will not say one word on this."
His strikingly tone-deaf comments aside, what could possibly have compelled the man purported to be the Vicar of Christ from publicly speaking out more often and more forcefully on the confirmed criminal activities perpetrated by so many men of the cloth who answer to the Vatican?
Pope Francis has never been one to miss an opportunity to provide his worldview on topics about which his predecessors were more reticent. In 2015, the Washington Post even drafted a collection of his most liberal statements, which included reconciliation with homosexuality, calling out corporate greed, championing globalization, forgiveness for abortion, streamlining of the marriage annulment process and acknowledgment of climate change.
But what really pleased progressives, who have often chafed at the Catholic Church's entrenched conservatism, were his rebukes of President Donald Trump. During the 2016 presidential campaign, the Pontiff suggested that Trump was "not Christian." Taking a direct shot at the then-candidate, Pope Francis pointedly stated: "A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian." A self-described counterpuncher, Trump fired back at a campaign stop in South Carolina: "For a religious leader to question a person's faith is disgraceful."
And yet, for all of his purported political courage, in the Church's disgraceful perpetuation of its pedophilia scandal Pope Francis has acted like a coward.
I don't come at this assessment lightly. I have been a proud Roman Catholic for some 53 years, and was raised in church service, first an altar boy and later as a liturgical minister, or reader, during the mass.
And I have skin in the game. No, I don't have a #MeToo-type story of being plied with altar wine and taken advantage of by a parish priest. But during the early-1990s, as a young father, one of my children was baptized by a local clergyman, who had become a family friend. Father Patrick W. Quigley served Immaculate Conception R.C. Church in Stony Point, New York, and a short time after performing the sacrament for my family, was arrested for propositioning young boys for sex in nearby Nyack, New York.
He ultimately pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor solicitation charge and was sentenced to probation. The diocese removed him from the parish, and he was sent away for psychiatric evaluation and treatment for alcoholism at a Maryland rehabilitation center. Quigley was laicized (defrocked) by the Vatican in 2005 and died in 2010.
In the days before the internet, word of his depravity still spread like wildfire throughout our Catholic community, a sleepy enclave an hour's drive north of New York City. I recall my palpable anger at his betrayal -- a man who only months before had held my infant aloft and pronounced the innocent child a member of our faith.
My blood boils at the memories, even now, almost three decades later.
Maybe this personal experience allows me a more visceral reaction to the Pope's seeming nonchalance on this issue. After all, if he can find the time to announce a call-to-action on the "endless fields" of plastic in the oceans, he should be able to carve out the time to discuss the elephant in the room -- serial abuse of young children.
Pope Francis needs to find his voice on this matter, and he needs to find it quickly. The Church's sad list of aggrieved victims continues to grow.
Recall that Rome burned while a distracted Nero famously fiddled. Last time I checked, the Vatican is in the middle of Rome.
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