Pope Francis to meet with top U.S. bishops to discuss sexual abuse scandal

Pope Francis gives the homily as he celebrates morning Mass in the chapel of his residence, the Domus Sanctae Marthae, at the Vatican on Sept. 11. (CNS photo/Vatican Media) Pope Francis gives the homily as he celebrates morning Mass in the chapel of his residence, the Domus Sanctae Marthae, at the Vatican on Sept. 11. (CNS photo/Vatican Media) 

Pope Francis will meet with three U.S. archbishops on Thursday, Sept. 13, as the church in the United States continues to grapple with fallout from a Pennsylvania grand jury report chronicling decades of sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests against children and accusations of a Vatican-led cover-up to protect a powerful U.S. cardinal accused of sexual misconduct with priests and seminarians.

The Vatican announced today that the pope will receive in the apostolic palace Cardinal Daniel DiNardo and Archbishop Jose Gomez, president and vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, along with Cardinal Sean O’Malley, who heads the Vatican’s commission for the protection of young people, and Monsignor Brian Bransfield, the U.S.C.C.B. general secretary. No other details were forthcoming at this time.

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The Vatican meeting comes as U.S. church leaders contend with calls from laity to be more transparent in how dioceses handled past accusations of abuse and as law enforcement officials in at least eight states—including New York, Florida and Illinois—begin investigations into how Catholic officials handled abuse allegations.

Cardinal DiNardo said in a statement on Aug. 27 that he looked forward to meeting with Pope Francis to discuss a plan proposed by U.S. bishops for handling allegations of abuse against bishops and to look into questions into how past accusations were handled.

“That plan includes more detailed proposals to: seek out these answers, make reporting of abuse and misconduct by bishops easier, and improve procedures for resolving complaints against bishops,” Cardinal DiNardo said at the time.

The cardinal has called for an apostolic visitation to investigate the church’s handling of sexual abuse claims and he asked that it be led by lay people.

The church in the United States has been mired in allegations that church leaders mishandled abuse allegations since June, when Pope Francis removed former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick from public ministry after an allegation that he had sexually abused a minor decades ago was investigated and substantiated. It was then revealed that the former archbishop of Washington had been accused of sexual harassment and abuse against priests and seminarians, which resulted in two settlements in the 2000s that had remained secret until this year. The 88-year-old retired archbishop resigned from the College of Cardinals on July 28.

On Aug. 14, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro released a more than 800-page grand jury report that detailed allegations of sexual abuse by priests and accused church leaders of orchestrating a coverup.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, already facing questions about what he knew of his predecessor in Washington, faced fresh calls to resign because of decisions he made while serving as the bishop of Pittsburgh. He has said he was unaware of accusations about Archbishop McCarrick, and he has defended his record in Pennsylvania, noting that he removed several priests from ministry for sexual abuse. But others say decisions to keep other priests in ministry make him unfit to serve as a bishop.

The crisis was exacerbated by the release of a letter on Aug. 26 written by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the pope’s former ambassador to the United States, accusing Pope Francis and a number of high-ranking Vatican officials of covering up Archbishop McCarrick’s record and lifting sanctions that Archbishop Viganò claimed were placed on the former cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI. Archbishop Viganò called on Pope Francis to resign.

Some of Archbishop Viganò’s accusations have been called into question, and he has walked back claims that formal sanctions were ever placed on Archbishop McCarrick. But some U.S. bishops, including Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, have defended Archbishop Viganò and others have said his claims should be investigated.

Pope Francis has not addressed the accusations head on. Instead, he urged journalists to investigate the claims, and he has referred to them only obliquely during speeches and homilies. On Sept. 10, his council of cardinal advisers released a statement in which they said the Vatican is preparing to respond to Archbishop Viganò’s allegations.

This story was updated Sept. 11, 2018; 3:40 p.m. ET.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Tim O'Leary
2 months ago

Another very hopeful sign. Let's pray for our Holy Father and that the meeting goes well for the sake of the Church and new evangelization of the Gospel.

J Cosgrove
2 months ago

Where is Cardinal Farrell in all this?

J. Calpezzo
2 months ago

Will he meet with Cardinal Roger Mahony? If so, the Pontiff can send a clear message by stripping him of his red hat and sending him into exile....since the statute of limitations conveniently ran out for his many crimes against humanity.

James Haraldson
2 months ago

When he admits to all of his cover-ups in Argentina, when he apologizes for rehabilitating all the pro-abortion prelates, when he apologizes for the harm he does with his gospel of moral relativism, then he can be taken seriously.

Diane Vella
2 months ago

Where are the lay leaders of the American Church at this meeting - especially women? Just more of the same internal policying unfortunately.

CATHERINE ARVENTOS
2 months ago

I am glad the Bishops meeting with Pope Francis are proposing lay people lead the look into the handling of sexual abuse complaints. However, I assume Bishops will be appointing the lay people to lead this group. The Bishops have lost so much credibility that I think consideration should be given to somehow not having Bishops involved in that group selection. I do not know if Bishops fully realize how much credibility and authority they have lost with US Catholics. The loss of credibilty includes not only the cover-ups, transfers of abusing clergy, lack of responsiveness when Bishops were credibly accused but includes the lack of transparency regarding settlements paid and the origins of those funds. How many of the parishes closed and buildings sold went to fund the settlement agreements? The laity supported their parishes for generations and having those parishes close is extremely difficult.

Michael Barberi
2 months ago

Let us hope that Pope Francis will approve of a lay-lead impartial national committee with Apostolic Vatican participation to investigate the accusations and evidence in the PA Grand Jury Report, the entire McCarrick scandal in particular his promotion to Cardinal by JP II, and the accusations in the Vigano letter involving 3 popes and others in the hierarchy.

Unless there is a completely transparent investigation by a lay-lead committee including access to all documents, emails etc, and the ability to question bishops and cardinals, as well as Pope Francis and Pope Benedict XVI, there will be a worldwide outcry and a severe crisis in the Catholic Church that has rarely been ever seen. It is clear from all the evidence and accusations to date that we need significant reforms (structural, process and juridical) and an end to the culture of clericalism.

Let's pray for Pope Francis, our Church and the victims of sexual abuse.

arthur mccaffrey
2 months ago

the most recent precedent for this kind of visit was the visit of the Chllean bishops, after which they all offered their resignation-- wonder if that will happen again this time? Words won't be enough, there will have to be actions, or the Pope will lose any credibility he has left. How about letting the lay members of his Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors audit the meetings? If there ever is a Lay Commission of Inquiry I would prefer that it be led by people with no connection to the Church--e.g., somebody like Senator George Mitchell.

Vincent Gaglione
2 months ago

How telling that the USA “power player” Cardinals and Archbishops will not be at the meeting!

J. Calpezzo
2 months ago

Heads need to roll. Words are not enough. Start with Mahony. There are 720 million reasons to defrock him.

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