BY MICHELLE BOORSTEIN
“Anything associated with the archbishop makes me uncomfortable. Everything coming out of the Pennsylvania report, it seems pretty damning. I don’t trust him anymore,” he said. “I’m at a loss.”
Facing the latest investigation, Catholics had a range of reactions — from those who can’t be shocked anymore to those who were newly grieved, from those who feel Catholics are unfairly singled out to those who maintain their faith in the religion but not its leaders.
“Everybody’s always lambasting the Catholic Church,” complained Elizabeth Rhodes, a former Fox News producer, as she had lunch with her daughter near the campus of Catholic University of America last week. “They don’t look at people in sports, the ones who are training kids in soccer. There are plenty of other religious communities, Jewish and others, where there’s sexual exploitation. Any religion, any time, it’s a tragedy, but I hate this focus [on Catholics].”
Still, Rhodes said, she’s frustrated with the church’s leadership. She thinks Pope Francis has been far too slow to respond to the crisis in Chile. She was upset by the revelations about McCarrick. She no longer trusts Wuerl, based on what she’s heard about the Pennsylvania report.
But she retains her trust in the priests she knows personally, and in her religion. “For me, church is like a hospital — you go for help. You go in times that are difficult. You need that support, just like you need to work out physically.”
Rigo Azanwi, a 26-year-old Capuchin friar who is studying at Catholic University to become a priest, said his first reaction was much the same: sorrow and anger over the children who were hurt, but also suspicion that the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office specifically went after Catholics, even though most of the cases are too old to ever be prosecuted.
“Is this supposed to be trying to tarnish the image of the church?” he asked last week.
He said he has learned while wearing his friar habit just how deeply many people view the Catholic church with suspicion after years of scandal. He remembers sitting down on an airplane once, then hearing a stranger sneer at him, “Which child have you abused this morning?”
Fearful of such perceptions, he is careful to never be alone with a child or touch one, even when his nieces and nephews ask him for hugs and piggyback rides. “I love kids but at the same time, I am scared of them,” he said.
For young adults like Azanwi, the scandals are simply part of what they know of the church that they have grown up with. Alexandra DeSanctis, a 23-year-old writer who goes to Mass almost daily, said this summer was the first time the issue truly rocked her.
First the allegations against McCarrick, then the immense scale of the Pennsylvania report disturbed her deeply — but changed her view of her church’s leaders, she said, not her faith. “No one I know will leave the church over this. To me, this isn’t the Catholic Church, these are people within the church who did evil things,” she said.
She’s praying all the more fervently at Mass nowadays. “You have to pray and ask for the grace to get through something as difficult as this.”
This article was published first in the ‘Washington Post’
In the days since a Pennsylvania grand jury reported on child sex abuse by Catholic priests, Cardinal Donald Wuerl’s reputation has taken a brutal hit.
Wuerl’s upcoming book has been cancelled by the publisher, he abruptly pulled out of his role as keynote speaker at this week’s World Meeting of Families, and officials are considering taking his name off a high school in his hometown of Pittsburgh, where Wuerl served as bishop for 18 years before becoming the archbishop of Washington in 2006.
On Monday, a vandal got ahead of them — covering his name in red spray paint.
Wuerl, an outwardly mild priest and meticulous manager who picks every word carefully when he speaks, has become for the moment the face of a ballooning crisis in the Catholic Church. And unlike the quiet protests and longings for change of past decades, Catholics in 2018 are demanding accountability — and fast.
“Particularly among people who have stuck with the church this long, who have been through it all, they are saying: ‘God, we cannot go through this again’,” said John Allen, who has written multiple books on the Vatican and the US church, and now runs the Catholic website Crux. “And my read is that this crowd is not going to be satisfied with assurances. They want to see something real.”
For the past 18 months or so, Allen said, mounting scrutiny of the role of two cardinals in allegedly covering up clergy sex abuse in Chile has trained Catholic attention on the church hierarchy. “And now it’s symbolised by the case of Donald Wuerl.”
By “it,” Allen is not referring to the abuse by priests, who in the vast majority of cases were ultimately removed from church life for alleged abuse decades ago. He is referencing cover-ups by their leaders — bishops and cardinals who have not been held accountable for moving abusers around and continuing to protect and pay them, favouring protection of the institutional church over devastated victims.
The 900-page report mentions Wuerl more than 200 times and challenges the image Wuerl has tried to project of a leader who always stood with victims.
It says that in some instances he went well beyond the norm in trying to push out predators, perhaps most notably when he went all the way to the Vatican to fight an order that he reinstate a priest named Anthony Cipolla — and won.
But in other cases, the report alleges that Wuerl coddled flagged priests — in one case permitting an accused abuser to remain in ministry and in another presiding over a settlement agreement that banned the victims from speaking. It cites the case of William O’Malley, who Wuerl gave a church job and loaned money even though the priest had sexual trouble in his past. Victims later came forward alleging abuse in the years after Wuerl had returned O’Malley to ministry, the report alleged.
On Monday, Wuerl’s spokesman, Ed McFadden, and his attorney, Mickey