Cardinal Blase Cupich, the archbishop of Chicago and a former head of the U.S. bishops’ committee on child and youth protection, said he supports an investigation into breakdowns in the handling of allegations of abuse and sexual misconduct against former-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, a process he said should include lay people. But he praised the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, adopted by U.S. bishops in 2002, saying it was effective in helping both to remove the former cardinal from public ministry and encouraging other victims to come forward.
“I would go with a review to confirm if policies that already were in place were not followed,” he said in a recent interview with America. But, he added, “it seems to me, that they were followed.” He said church leaders must continue to strive for an environment where “anyone who has been victimized by a cleric” is offered “compassion and [is] given support.”
Cardinal Cupich said Cardinal Timothy Dolan should be “commended” for listening to the lay review board in the Archdiocese of New York that investigated a claim of abuse against Archbishop McCarrick. That board deemed the complaint credible and ultimately recommended then-Cardinal McCarrick be removed from public ministry. That announcement was made on June 20, when the New York archdiocese said in a statement that it had found credible an allegation that Archbishop McCarrick, then a priest in New York, abused a teenager nearly 50 years ago. Church leaders in New Jersey also confirmed in June that Archbishop McCarrick had been accused at least three times of sexual misconduct with adults while serving as a bishop there decades ago.
It appears “there was somebody [who] dropped the ball” in handling accusations of sexual misconduct involving adults.
“The Archdiocese of New York did their job,” Cardinal Cupich said, referring to its investigation of the abuse complaint. “It’s painful to have all of this other information come out,” he added, pointing to subsequent allegations of abuse leveled against Archbishop McCarrick, who resigned from the College of Cardinals last month. “But it’s important for victims to feel freedom to do that, and we want to continue to let victims know that.”
While the review board in New York appears to have acted on a complaint involving a child, which led to Archbishop McCarrick’s removal from ministry, Cardinal Cupich said it appears “there was somebody [who] dropped the ball” in handling accusations of sexual misconduct involving adults.
The New York Times reported last month that complaints against Archbishop McCarrick’s behavior with seminarians were reported multiple times between 1994 and 2008 to bishops, Vatican officials and even to Pope Benedict XVI. Dioceses in New Jersey settled claims of sexual misconduct made by two former priests against Archbishop McCarrick, one in 2005 and another in 2007, the paper reported. But Archbishop McCormick’s successor in Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, said he was not made aware of the agreements.
Cardinal Cupich, who said he was “shocked” to learn about Archbishop McCarrick’s “double life,” said he would support “a full inquiry” into why those settlements were not disclosed.
“I’ve always trusted the laity to do the right thing. Their expertise and their knowledge far exceeds many of us who are ordained.”
“We have to find out exactly what took place, especially with regard to the adult misbehavior that was alleged,” he said, adding that if dioceses lack policies on how to deal with allegations of misbehavior involving adults, then “we need to correct that.”
The Chicago cardinal, who serves on the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops, said a board in Chicago that investigates allegations of sexual misconduct between church personnel and adults could serve as an effective model. That board includes lay and ordained members with expertise in counseling, pastoral work and law.
“I’ve always trusted the laity to do the right thing. Their expertise and their knowledge far exceeds many of us who are ordained,” he said. “We need to pay attention to that.”
Another breakdown in handling allegations against Archbishop McCarrick was made public by the Rev. Boniface Ramsey, who told The Washington Post last month that he sent a letter in August 2015 to Cardinal Seán O’Malley, who heads the Vatican’s commission on child sexual abuse. Father Ramsey said he tried alerting the commission about sexual misconduct allegations against Archbishop McCarrick but, he told The Post, he received a reply from Cardinal O’Malley’s secretary informing him that such allegations were outside the purview of the commission.
When asked if the church needed new structures to report sexual misconduct not involving children, Cardinal Cupich said, “Yes, I believe that’s the case.”
“If there was a misstep in this, so that people did not have the means by which they could put forward a complaint with objectivity and security, [knowing] that it would be acted on, then we need to put [that] in place,” Cardinal Cupich said.
But, he said, there is no need to “invent any new machinery” in order to adopt policies for reporting such allegations.
“An H.R. department would know how to help us do that, and we should learn from those best practices,” the cardinal said.
In the weeks since allegations were made against Archbishop McCarrick, some commentators and clergy have suggested that allowing gay men to be priests has created a culture ripe for the kind of abuse Archbishop McCarrick is alleged to have committed.
But Cardinal Cupich said he “would be very careful” in accepting that conclusion, noting that similar claims made during the height of the child sexual abuse crisis in the 2000s were refuted by an independent 2011 report compiled by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
“I really believe that the issue here is more about a culture of clericalism in which some who are ordained feel they are privileged and therefore protected so that they can do what they want,” Cardinal Cupich said.
“People, whether heterosexual or homosexual, need to live by the Gospel,” he said, adding that he “would not want to reduce this simply to the fact that there are some priests who are homosexual.”
“I think that is a diversion that gets away from the clericalism that’s much deeper as a part of this problem,” he said.
When asked if Catholics should feel confident that allegations of harassment and abuse against church leaders are being handled correctly today, Cardinal Cupich said they should ask their bishops to explain the policies in place to protect both children and adults from harassment and abuse.
And if church leaders “need help in that nationally, then we need to do something,” he said. “Let’s roll up our sleeves when we get together in November and do it.”
Correction, Aug. 7, 2018; 11:49 am ET: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Archbishop McCarrick's successors in Newark have said they were not aware of the settlements between the dioceses and two former priests. The story has been corrected.