Is the Catholic Church unsalvageable?

Catholic Bay Staters highly respect Cardinal Sean O’Malley. He’s viewed by many as a no-holds-barred cardinal when it comes to addressing clergy sex abuse. O’Malley spoke out about the problem in a 2014 interview with the Jesuit magazine America.

“In many people’s minds, it is an American problem, an Irish problem or a German problem,” O’Malley said. “The church has to face it is everywhere in the world. There is so much denial. The church has to respond to make the church safe for children.”

But now, some Bay Staters are calling for both Cardinal O’Malley and Pope Francis to step down as reports circulate that O’Malley, too, knew of alleged abuses at the hands of former D.C. archbishop Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

Sadly, in 2018, the Catholic Church worldwide is still bedeviled with this problem. And it begs the question, is the Catholic Church unsalvageable?

On June 20, McCarrick was removed from public ministry by the Holy See, and on June 27, Pope Francis accepted his resignation for the College of Cardinals.

While on his trip to Ireland to win back the confidence of Catholics reeling from its church’s mishandling of predatory priests, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, an ultra-traditionalist and unapologetic homophobe, accused Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis, and other top Catholic Church officials of knowing about McCarrick’s sex abuses decades before they became public.

Viganò called on Francis to resign in a 7,000-word public published letter.

“In this extremely dramatic moment for the universal Church,” Viganò wrote, “he must acknowledge his mistakes and, in keeping with the proclaimed principle of zero tolerance, Pope Francis must be the first to set an example for cardinals and bishops who covered up McCarrick’s abuses and resign with all of them.”

Viganò might be correct in pointing out the Catholic Church’s moral and ecclesiastical fecklessness to stem the problem with its predatory priests, but he also has a chip on his shoulder.

Viganò is part of the ultra-conservative wing of the Vatican, that is hell-bent against change and inclusion. However, he is most incensed by the pontiff  “giving comfort to a ‘homosexual current’ in the Vatican.”

While the warring conservative and liberal factions wrestle with the direction the Catholic Church needs to go in this modern era, the church is, nonetheless, still stymied and stained by continued unaddressed claims of sex abuse by unprosecuted sex offenders.

Just this month, the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania exploded with news exposing its sex abuse scandal citing a grand jury report, which accused 300 priests of abusing at least 1,000 children over a 70-year period. The church’s sex abuse explosion came following McCarrick’s resignation.

Two weeks ago, O’Malley met with Boston-area priests to address recent alleged sexual misconduct at St. John’s Seminary in Brighton. While addressing this problem, news circulated that he never addressed a letter sent to him about McCarrick. O’Malley claims that his secretary never gave it to him.

In his mea culpa clean-up statement, O’Malley said, “I understand that not everyone will accept this answer, given the way the Church has eroded the trust of our people. My hope is that we can repair the trust and faith of all Catholics.”

The question not asked by the church’s governing body is why does sexual abuse persist as it does among its clerics?

There are two salient causes: a “no-snitch policy” and an unwavering support of church bishops.

For example, the church has taken a stance of silence when it comes to child sexual abuse. Canon law allows for the pontifical secret of “allegations” as well as proof of predatory priests. This “cover-up” has been occurring under the pontificate of six popes since 1922.

In February 2016, good news came giving hope that canon law was about to change.

O’Malley, as president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, said bishops have an ethical and moral obligation to report allegations of clergy sexual misconduct and abuse to civil authorities. However, in December 2016, the commission published its guidelines for bishops and, sadly, O’Malley’s statement was excluded.

Pope Francis promised to implement a “zero tolerance” policy moving forward to stem the problem, but Francis appears to be part of the problem, too, because he supports his bishop.

For example, Francis appointed a bishop in Chile who turned a blind eye and deaf ear to the country’s most notorious predatory priest. In 2011, the Vatican found the priest guilty and sentenced him to a lifetime of “penance and prayer” rather than jail. And, still, in 2018, Francis supported the bishop in Chile.

Another example of silence is when Pope Francis attended former Boston archbishop Bernard Law’s funeral at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, thereby reinjuring and retraumatizing the church’s sex abuse survivors. Law never faced criminal charges for his role in knowing and allowing abusive priests to remain in local parishes.

During a closing ceremony in Dublin, Francis did ask for forgiveness for sexual abuses committed by his church’s clerics. However, with no changes in canon law, seminarian training, or his level of moral culpability, Francis’s church has done nothing to earn forgiveness he has asked for.

Rev. Irene Monroe is an African American lesbian feminist public theologian, sought-after speaker, and preacher.