Vatican: Pope Francis is on the side of the victims of Pennsylvania abuse

Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington is pictured as Pope Francis celebrates Mass in Washington Sept. 23, 2015. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington is pictured as Pope Francis celebrates Mass in Washington Sept. 23, 2015. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Two days after the release of a massive grand jury report detailing decades of sexual abuse against children by priests in Pennsylvania, the Vatican issued a public statement, calling the abuse described in the nearly 900-page document “criminally and morally reprehensible” and pledging to victims, “the Pope is on their side.”

“Those who have suffered are his priority, and the Church wants to listen to them to root out this tragic horror that destroys the lives of the innocent,” said the statement, attributed to the director of the Holy See Press Office, Greg Burke.

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“Regarding the report made public in Pennsylvania this week, there are two words that can express the feelings faced with these horrible crimes: shame and sorrow,” Mr. Burke said.

[Explore America's in-depth coverage of Sexual Abuse and the Catholic Church.]

“The Holy See treats with great seriousness the work of the Investigating Grand Jury of Pennsylvania and the lengthy Interim Report it has produced,” he continued. “The Holy See condemns unequivocally the sexual abuse of minors.”

“The Church must learn hard lessons from its past, and there should be accountability for both abusers and those who permitted abuse to occur,” he said.

But Mr. Burke says the report also demonstrates that changes the church made in 2002, following revelations of widespread clergy sexual abuse and its coverup by church leaders, are working.

“By finding almost no cases after 2002, the Grand Jury’s conclusions are consistent with previous studies showing that Catholic Church reforms in the United States drastically reduced the incidence of clergy child abuse,” he said.

That has also been the refrain of some church leaders in the United States as well, including Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington.

The D.C. cardinal served as the bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988 to 2006. His decisions about how to handle priests accused of sexual abuse are scrutinized by the grand jury report, which chronicles allegation of sexual abuse by priests in six Pennsylvania dioceses. The report was released on Tuesday at a news conference held by Josh Shapiro, the attorney general of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

The report showed that then-Bishop Wuerl removed some priests accused of sexual abuse from ministry, butting heads with the Vatican in one case.

“I really think that overall Wuerl exercised his oversight properly,” Nicholas Cafardi, the former dean of Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University School of Law, told The Washington Post.

But some critics have said the report shows that then-Bishop Wuerl mishandled other allegations of abuse when he was bishop by not alerting bishops in other dioceses that some priests from Pittsburgh ministering in other places had been accused of sexually abusing minors.

The Archdiocese of Washington defended Cardinal Wuerl’s record in Pittsburgh, noting that he enacted a zero-tolerance policy toward sexual abuse long before U.S. bishops adopted this approach in 2002. The archdiocese published on Tuesday a special website listing steps then-Bishop Wuerl took to combat sexual abuse, but removed it after outcry from some Catholics, who called it “all too corporate and unpastoral.” (A spokesman for the archdiocese took responsibility for the website, writing in a Facebook post on Wednesday that the website was a “distraction.”)

In an interview with Washington’s Fox television affiliate on Wednesday, the cardinal defended his record and said he would not resign.

“My efforts from the time that I reached Pittsburgh [until] today, I’ve tried to do my very best to deal with this whole question of allegations against a priest. Now, remember, we’re dealing with a long spectrum of time, so how we dealt with things in the late ’80s and early ’90s is different than the way we would today,” the cardinal told Fox 5. “How do you deal with an allegation, and remember now when an allegation comes forward that allegation often times ends up being one word against another.”

Some alumni of a Catholic high school in Pittsburgh launched an online petition to strip Cardinal Wuerl’s name from the school. Bishop David Zubik, who heads the archdiocese, said he has not made a decision about the school’s name.

While church leaders say the 2002 changes, codified in the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” have been largely successful in changing how the church deals with allegations of abuse, Mr. Burke said that Vatican “encourages continued reform and vigilance at all levels of the Catholic Church, to help ensure the protection of minors and vulnerable adults from harm.”

“The Holy See also wants to underscore the need to comply with the civil law, including mandatory child abuse reporting requirements,” he added.

The grand jury report is just the latest revelation of sexual misconduct and abuse by members of the clergy. Earlier this summer, Archbishop Theodore McCarrick was removed from public ministry following allegations that he sexually assaulted a minor. After more allegations of abuse surfaced, including reports that he sexually assaulted seminarians at a beach house he owned, the former archbishop of Washington resigned from the College of Cardinals.

On Thursday, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, announced that bishops are seeking a Vatican-sanctioned investigation, carried out by lay people, into alleged abuse by Archbishop McCarrick and the creation of new protocols to deal with allegations against bishops.

Mr. Burke said that the pope was thinking of Catholics whose faith in the church has been rocked by the grand jury report.

“The Holy Father understands well how much these crimes can shake the faith and the spirit of believers and reiterates the call to make every effort to create a safe environment for minors and vulnerable adults in the Church and in all of society,” Mr. Burke said.

“Victims should know that the Pope is on their side,” the statement concluded. “Those who have suffered are his priority, and the Church wants to listen to them to root out this tragic horror that destroys the lives of the innocent.”

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Mike Theman
3 months ago

More homosexual crimes.
Not one more dime do I donate until all of the homosexual priests are driven from the priesthood. All of them, the abusers, the shufflers, and the enablers, including the likes of Mr. James Martin.

John Chuchman
3 months ago

Your response is one good example of the Church's sickness.

Terrance Wagner
3 months ago

James Martin is NOT a homosexual... He is a disciple of Jesus.

Terrance Wagner
3 months ago

James Martin is NOT a homosexual... He is a disciple of Jesus.

Toby Gillis
3 months ago

No one in the ranks of Catholic authority is a disciple of Jesus.

Dr Robert Dyson
3 months ago

Not all homosexuals are child abusers; not all child abusers are homosexuals.

William Guglielmi
3 months ago

You should really check the data before making such a broad and incorrect statement. Most pedophiles are married men-many with children.

James Haraldson
3 months ago

You're buying into the common myths of data extremely skewed whereby consenting eighteen year old males having sex with seventeen year old females get scored as predatory sexual molestation. Once you subtract that kind of activity from the stats, you are left with sexual predatory behavior as being almost exclusively homosexual in nature.

J Brookbank
3 months ago

Mike, I get it, now that you say it.
18 mo female rape victim=gay priest;
Rape of girl in hospital=gay priest;
Rape of female teen=gay priest; Abortion for raped teen=gay priest;
5 little sisters abused=gay priest;
Nuns raped=gay priest; Fr. pays for Sr's abortion=gay priest

I can't imagine how I didn't see it. You are doing God's work, man. Thanks you the clarity of your logic.

Paul Mclaughlin
3 months ago

This is not about sexual orientation. It’s about abuse of power by gays and straights. It’s about the Cardinals and Bishops who operated like Mafia Bosses. It’s about men who broke their vows, while preaching to the faithful the wrong of sinning.

John Chuchman
3 months ago

Show a touch of class, Wuerl, resign

J. Calpezzo
3 months ago

Roger Mahony is still a Cardinal.

J. Calpezzo
3 months ago

720 million reasons to squeeze Mahony's red hat

John McCauley
3 months ago

Here’s some simple advice — “listening” is not doing something — you have been “listening” for over 30 years.
Clean our Father’s house — the same way Christ did with righteous anger — this isn’t a time for synodal nothingness this is a time for action and cleansing. Do it stop talking about it.

bill carson
3 months ago

What bothers me most is that, other than that lousy cardinal in D.C. who was himself a criminal, no bishops or cardinals have been punished by having their red hat taken away. This would like if Apple lost ten billion dollars and no managers were fired, just clerks (priests).

James M
3 months ago

Women priests.
Married priests.
Uncanonize John Paul II.

Tim O'Leary
3 months ago

So, ignore the problem and use it to change doctrine?

Toby Gillis
3 months ago

When the doctrine is in error, any excuse will suffice.

John Chuchman
3 months ago

If so, fire Wuerl.

Kathleen Macpherson
3 months ago

Numerous religious order priests adjudged guilty of these horrible sexual crimes have been allowed to remain in their religious orders with free room and board for the rest of their lives.

Kathleen Macpherson
3 months ago

Numerous religious order priests adjudged guilty of these horrible sexual crimes have been allowed to remain in their religious orders with free room and board for the rest of their lives.

Dr Robert Dyson
3 months ago

“Those who have suffered are his priority, and the Church wants to listen to them to root out this tragic horror that destroys the lives of the innocent,”

Where have we got this idea from that to 'listen' will in any way 'root out' or contribute to the rooting out of this terrible evil? Weakly promising to 'listen' - and how many times have we heard such feeble and lifeless promises? - accomplishes nothing.

“The Holy Father understands well how much these crimes can shake the faith and the spirit of believers ..."

At least the Holy Father is dead right about that. How could this crying and pervasive evil become so entrenched in the true Church of Christ, guided by the Holy Spirit? - "[A] glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but ... holy and without blemish." I don't think so.

Tim O'Leary
3 months ago

While Cardinal Wuerl may not be my favorite Cardinal, I think the report and the media and the comments below are treating him unjustly. He is right that he has been very strong on this issue since the Dallas Charter. https://adw.org/about-us/policies-and-resources/child-protection/
The Grand Jury Report knowingly included errors of fact that prejudice against him. see the "circle of secrecy" https://adw.org/news/correcting-what-the-pa-attorney-general-would-not/. The phrase who will guard against he guardians should also include the powers of the Grand jury. In any case, delighted to see there will be a full investigation led by lay people into abuses at the episcopal level.

Tim O'Leary
3 months ago

One cautionary note. Back in 2011, a Philadelphia Grand Jury accused 26 priests of being accused. Archbishop Chaput suspended them all to administrative leave until a full criminal and church investigation was done. Results are here: http://archphila.org/HHHIC/hhhic.php
1 died – inconclusive investigation
4 Child sexual abuse (CSA) – criminal cases proceeding (Sexual Abuse of a Minor): 15%
10 Unsuitable for reasons other* than CSA (Adult affairs, harassment, crossed boundaries, etc.)
CSA 4/26 15%, Unsuitable (not CSA) 10/26 38%
11 Cleared & returned to ministry: 42% - a very high proportion. A Grand Jury batting <50%!

Isa Kavana
3 months ago

Archbishop Chaput's record in not stellar: he oversaw the "visitation" of the Legion of Christ/RC in the US. At the end, he even helped them land in EWTN via the National Catholic Register. More influence, more power, more money. In sum, the usual modus operandi of a problematic movement. And now, we can add the strange ascendancy of former Legion priest, Card. Farrell.

Al Cannistraro
3 months ago

“The Holy Father understands well how much these crimes can shake the faith and the spirit of believers . . . "

So let the Holy Father reflect aloud on these actions, honestly and with integrity, in the context of his own faith. We all have BS meters that help us judge the authenticity of such pronouncements, so the Holy Father (and/or his surrogates) should think carefully before responding.

This article is lame PR/BS/attempted damage control. Thoughts and prayers, we feel your pain, etc.

In medieval and in even more modern times, the Church might have treated bad actors like their representatives in this Grand Jury report as possibly worthy of horrific extermination.

Danny Collins
3 months ago

Actions speak louder than words. I'll believe Francis is on the side of the abused when he removes the enablers of the abusers: starting with Tobin, Farrell, and Maradiaga. Until then, not a dime from me for the ACA. I'll donate directly to the poor. Better to go straight to them than for the bishops to get their cut to pay off their crimes.

I'll believe Fr. Martin is on the side of the abused when he admits wrongdoing for knowing that McCarrick was an abuser and doing absolutely nothing about it.

We were told that this was fixed. Turns out the people telling us that were abusers and their enablers. Reading the Pennsylvania report caused a horrible mix of emotions. I recommend it to every single Catholic before they fill out their next ACA check. They need to know exactly what the bishops were like and how those evil men pretended to care while passing off abusers to the next diocese without explanation and dissembling when the next diocese's insurance company asked for a sworn statement (e.g., Wuerl).

I would encourage people to go to complicitclergy.com. There you can read about who knew what about McCarrick, information one isn't likely to find in America. Fr. Martin completely ignored McCarrick's child abuse in painting him as a "complicated" figure who did a lot of good and was besmirched a bit by abusing seminarians. He raped an 11 year old boy. the boy who was his first baptism 2 weeks after his ordination. McCarrick retired to the grounds of a seminary to be closer to his prey.

I'll believe Francis understands the pain of the men whom McCarrick abused and the pain of the children abused by the broken priests turned loose on our parishes by McCarrick after their training in grooming when the people complicit in McCarrick's rise and cover-up are removed from office.

Lisa Weber
3 months ago

If there are very few cases after 2002, then the changes made at that time have largely been effective. The rate will never be zero, given the nature of the human race. If we are talking about a problem that is primarily historical, that is a different matter than talking about an ongoing, current problem. We still need to look at the structural problems that allowed the abuse to happen and be covered up, and to do what is necessary to atone for the sins committed, but the blanket condemnation I am reading here is not justified.

rose-ellen caminer
3 months ago

I agree with everything you said here, Lisa Weber. There is a witch hunt like frenzy going on now, in the Church and out of the Church, as if the clergy sexual abuse and cover up scandal had just been revealed. It's deja vu all over again. It's bizarre.

arthur mccaffrey
3 months ago

Lisa Weber-- do you work with Burke at the Holy See Press Office? are you saying that there should not be blanket condemnation of crime? are you saying that sins and crimes in the past are no longer sins and crimes, and that time heals all wounds? you obviously have not read the Australian Royal Commission Report which indicates that clergy abuse is still happening recently. Is abuse of children just a historical problem that can be swept under the rug bcause now we are better? Really? You are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. Your very large blind spot is pathological.

William Guglielmi
3 months ago

Our Pastor, a Franciscan friar published this today. I think it very relevant.

Writing in 1380 to Pope Urban VI, St. Catherine of Siena said: “You cannot with a single stroke wipe out all of the sins people in general are committing within the Christian religion, especially within the clerical order, over whom you should be even more watchful. But you certainly can and are obligated to do it, and if you don’t, you would have it on your conscience. At least do what you can. You must cleanse the Church’s womb — that is, see to it that those who surround you closely are wiped clean of filth, and put people there who are attentive to God’s honor and your welfare and the good of holy Church. …” And she warns: “Do you know what will happen to you if you don’t set things right by doing what you can? God wants you to reform his bride completely; he doesn’t want her to be leprous any longer. If your holiness does not do all you can about this — because God has appointed you and given you such dignity for no other purposes — God will do it himself by using all sorts of troubles.”

This is a letter all Church leaders need to receive and take to heart.

arthur mccaffrey
3 months ago

so we get a Vatican public statement constructed by the lay director of the “Holy See Press Office”—-well, well, don’t politics make strange bedfellows—God and Mammon cohabiting!
What a mealy mouthed, self serving piece of crap this PR statement is—we get a third party speaking for the Pope to let us know that ‘Francis is on the side of the victims”—where else could he be? Are we supposed to understand that the Pope had a choice and decided to be virtuous and not protect his criminal VPs for a change? C’mon America magazine—did any editor read this headline before it got published?
What is the Pope saying personally and directly to the victims? He ought to be in Pennsylvania crawling around the state on his hands and knees to kiss the feet of every victim. Or, to save time, why does he not just resign out of sheer disgust at the institution he “leads”. The rest of this PR boilerplate obviously came out of the well-thumbed file drawer marked “Responses to Crisis” and got updated for the occasion. Just another example of the abuse the Vatican is known for.
Burke’s and Wuerl’s words are all about damage control, not healing——so please, just go away quietly and not insult us with any more hypocrisy. We have suffered enough.

rose-ellen caminer
3 months ago

If he kissed their feet, many victims and the mob would be saying it was sexual.[lol].

You really think the victims would be "healed' as you say if the pope said this or that or if he resigned? The pathology has been exposed for decades now and steps taken to deal with it, but people invested in this scandal just want more and more hoops for the clergy to jump through .It looks like they are in a a bottomless well of vengeance and hatred against the church at this point. That is a substitute to healing.

The mafioso like pathology of sexual crimes and coverups that pervaded the church is now matched by a pathology that treats this old scandal like it has just occurred or just been revealed. If abusive priests and covering- up- bishops are being named today, and held accountable and no longer in positions to harm, then the pathology IS a thing of the past. Lumping bishops who have complied with the 2002 directives with those who have not, is wrong[fake news journalism],

The Church is up against the wall today as the Church WAS guilty of serious sins and crimes against children and anyone can say anything about anyone and claim they suddenly now want justice when after years have passed there may be no evidence to verify the claim. That is why there are "boiler plate" responses to deal with every new allegation of past crimes. If an allegation of abuse or coverup were made about someone you believed was innocent you would want that.

Paul Mclaughlin
3 months ago

Mr. Burke’s response is lacking. I don’t want to hear about the Dallas Charter and what good boys the Bishops and Cardinals have been in carrying it out. That is a diversion.

The issue is the behavior of the Bishops and Cardinals and how they ran the Church like a Mafia operation.

The PA Report is all about holding the Bosses accountable. I suspect in the Archives of Dioceases, which the Ordinaries have the only key, there is so much more and probably worse.

Cardinal Donato made the point in saying he wanted a laity very involved in whatever might happen next. Funny, how they turn to the laity when they are in hot water. I think it should be a lay only investigation. Frankly, I don’t trust the Ordinaries.

But what happens when this fire is out? Will real change happen where the laity is given more authority over the affairs of the Diocease? And will the Church become more transparent.

We must restore the Church, not reform it.

Will Niermeyer
3 months ago

The Pope must insist on the resignations of Cardinals Wuerl and O'Malley for their part in not reporting right away on what was occurring under their watch. They to must be held responsible since by their early intervention legally they could have prevented more children from being abused sexually. This is horrible and must end for how can we trust our children around priests and Bishops. The credibility of the Church in on the line especially in their preaching on morals.

Toby Gillis
3 months ago

Pennsylvania......one state......such magnitude of abuse. Is Pa special? Is anyone here foolish enough to think that this is even minutely limited to one state? This is happening (has been) in every place the Catholic church has a presence...EVERYWHERE.

Jeffrey More
3 months ago

What an inspiration! A lesser pontiff might have accused the victims, and the Pennsylvania investigators, of calumny, but not Bergoglio! After barely 48 hours, his exercise of discernment led him to conclude that he would stand on the side of the victims, and would actually allow the Church to listen to them! God bless discernment, and God bless Pope Bergoglio! Too bad we can't start canonization proceedings now!

James Haraldson
3 months ago

Isn't he afraid of being "rigid?" I thought Francis the merciful defined mercy as the elimination of guilt feelings with non-consideration to the victims of those suffering guilt feelings

James Haraldson
3 months ago

Was he on the side of the abuse victim he harassed when he was a bishop?

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