Pope Fran­cis met with Amer­i­can bish­ops as new al­le­ga­tions sur­faced of ha­rass­ment and coverups.

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY JULIE ZAUZMER AND MICHELLE BOORSTEIN Wil­liam Brani­gin con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Top Amer­i­can bish­ops met in the Vat­i­can with Pope Fran­cis on Thurs­day to dis­cuss the sex­u­al­abuse cri­sis that the leader of the U.S. Catholic Church said has “lac­er­ated” the church.

That leader, Car­di­nal Daniel DiNardo of Galve­ston-Houston, pres­i­dent of the U.S. Con­fer­ence of Catholic Bish­ops, was him­self ac­cused this week of cov­er­ing up the ac­tions of an abu­sive priest in his arch­dio­cese — prompt­ing ques­tions about DiNardo’s fit­ness to lead re­form ef­forts.

“It’s too early to say, but just look­ing at the case, it looks very bad. It seems like a vi­o­la­tion — is he the guy who should be lead­ing at this point?” David Gib­son, the di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter on Re­li­gion and Cul­ture at the Catholic univer­sity Ford­ham said of DiNardo. “What he’s got to be seen to be do­ing is push­ing for a very rig­or­ous pol­icy. Can he do that if he him­self has not been as dili­gent, to say the least, as he should be?”

The moral author­ity of bish­ops across the United States has come un­der new scru­tiny af­ter one car­di­nal re­signed this sum­mer and an­other pub­licly stated he might do so, and a bishop was re­moved from min­istry by Pope Fran­cis on Thurs­day. That bishop, Michael J. Brans­field of West Vir­ginia, will face a church in­ves­ti­ga­tion on charges of sex­ual ha­rass­ment.

Amid the cri­sis fac­ing the church’s lead­ers, the bish­ops who met with Fran­cis on Thurs­day said very lit­tle about what they dis­cussed in terms of plans for change.

“We shared with Pope Fran­cis our sit­u­a­tion in the United States — how the Body of Christ is lac­er­ated by the evil of sex­ual abuse. He lis­tened very deeply from the heart,” DiNardo said in a state­ment af­ter leav­ing the meet­ing, which also in­cluded Arch­bishop Seán Pa­trick O’Mal­ley of Boston and Arch­bishop José H. Gomez of Los An­ge­les.

“We look for­ward to ac­tively con­tin­u­ing our dis­cern­ment to­gether iden­ti­fy­ing the most ef­fec­tive next steps.”

On Wed­nes­day, as DiNardo pre­pared for his meet­ing with the pope, the As­so­ci­ated Press re­ported that a woman claims to have told DiNardo about an abu­sive priest in his Texas arch­dio­cese, and that DiNardo failed to take ac­tion to re­move the priest from min­istry un­til the priest was ar­rested on child abuse charges this week.

The ac­cu­sa­tion only fu­eled calls for in­creased lay lead­er­ship and for the res­ig­na­tion of bish­ops na­tion­wide that have echoed through the Catholic Church since a Penn­syl­va­nia grand jury com­pleted a mas­sive re­port last month, de­tail­ing al­le­ga­tions of abuse by more than 300 priests in the state. States in­clud­ing Mis­souri, Ne­braska, New Jersey, New Mex­ico and New York have now launched in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

Gib­son called for a board of lay lead­ers, not clergy, em­pow­ered to in­ves­ti­gate whether bish­ops are prop­erly han­dling all al­le­ga­tions of abuse. “The pope seems to feel that he can do it on his own here and there. But I don’t think that’s a cred­i­ble way to go for­ward,” he said.

How­ever, some in the church say in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions are still the proper way to han­dle the cri­sis.

Teresa Ket­telkamp, who headed the of­fice of youth pro­tec­tion for the Amer­i­can bish­ops and now sits on a sim­i­lar com­mis­sion for Pope Fran­cis, said Fran­cis is pur­su­ing an ap­pro­pri­ate course of ac­tion of hav­ing bish­ops clean house in their own dio­ce­ses. “A lot of good peo­ple are work­ing for the good of the cause. And hope­fully in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­sults will be shared fully with the pub­lic, and if ac­tion is needed, it will be taken as fast as hu­manly pos­si­ble, with no foot-drag­ging,” she said.

Asked if DiNardo could con­tinue to lead the U.S. church on this is­sue de­spite be­ing ac­cused of cov­er­ing for a priest him­self, she said she would wait “un­til I know all the facts.”

DiNardo is ac­cused of mis­han­dling the case of the Rev. Manuel La Rosa-Lopez, who was ar­rested in Con­roe, Tex., on Tues­day on four counts of in­de­cency with a child. Po­lice say La Rosa-Lopez fon­dled two teenagers when he was a priest at a Con­roe church. At the time of his ar­rest, he was a priest at an­other church in Rich­mond, Tex., the po­lice re­port said.

The AP said that both vic­tims, who were teenagers at the time, are now in their 30s. Their names have not been re­leased be­cause they are vic­tims of sex­ual abuse. One vic­tim told po­lice that her fam­ily re­ported La Rosa-Lopez’s con­duct to the church af­ter he touched her when she was a teenager and that the priest was trans­ferred to an­other parish as a re­sult. In 2010, the vic­tim said she saw that La Rosa-Lopez was still in min­istry and met with DiNardo, who had not been in Texas when she first raised the al­le­ga­tion.

The vic­tim told po­lice that DiNardo told her the priest wouldn’t work with chil­dren. But eight years later, La Rosa-Lopez was still in a parish church. “I’m tired of all of his empty words,” the vic­tim said of DiNardo, to the AP. “If he’s go­ing to go meet with the pope and pre­tend that all of this is okay and his dio­cese is clean, I can’t stand it.”

The Arch­dio­cese of Galve­stonHous­ton re­sponded in a state­ment that church of­fi­cials con­sid­ered the woman’s al­le­ga­tions when she first re­ported the priest in 2001, and that an arch­dioce­san re­view board de­cided to al­low La Rosa-Lopez to re­turn to parish min­istry in 2004 based on the ev­i­dence pre­sented to the board.

The only other com­plaint about La Rosa-Lopez was in 2018, the arch­dio­cese said. That vic­tim re­ported his abuse to the church about a year ago, ac­cord­ing to po­lice, but did not meet with DiNardo un­til last month. When he did, the church con­tacted Child Pro­tec­tive Ser­vices, and La Rosa-Lopez was ar­rested this week.

Teresa Pitt-Green, who co­founded the mag­a­zine Heal­ing Voices for sex­ual-abuse sur­vivors try­ing to main­tain their Catholic faith, said she is “heart­bro­ken” about the DiNardo al­le­ga­tions. She has worked with him and found him sup­port­ive of clergy abuse sur­vivors. “I’m find­ing my­self feel­ing con­fused if it’s true, but I’m not judg­ing any­thing,” she said.

As far as whether the al­le­ga­tions af­fect DiNardo’s abil­ity to lead the charge against abuse, Pitt-Green said: “I cer­tainly think it chal­lenges it. And it makes peo­ple ques­tion.”

On the same morn­ing that DiNardo, fac­ing this ac­cu­sa­tion, met with Pope Fran­cis, the Vat­i­can an­nounced that Fran­cis would ac­cept the res­ig­na­tion of Brans­field, the 75-year-old leader of the Wheel­ing-Charleston, W.Va., dio­cese. Fran­cis or­dered the arch­bishop of Bal­ti­more to in­ves­ti­gate charges that Brans­field sex­u­ally harassed adults, the Bal­ti­more arch­dio­cese said in a state­ment; Brans­field pre­vi­ously has been ac­cused of mo­lest­ing teenagers and de­nied the ac­cu­sa­tions, ac­cord­ing to church of­fi­cials and court doc­u­ments.

Brans­field is only the lat­est U.S. Catholic leader re­moved from his po­si­tion due to sex­ual ha­rass­ment and coverup charges. This sum­mer, Theodore E. McCar­rick, arch­bishop of Wash­ing­ton from 2001 un­til his re­tire­ment at age 75 in 2006, be­came the first U.S. car­di­nal ever to re­sign from the Col­lege of Car­di­nals due to al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual abuse. He has been ac­cused of sex­u­ally ha­rass­ing two mi­nors as well as young adult sem­i­nar­i­ans and priests.

And af­ter the Penn­syl­va­nia grand-jury re­port last month, Car­di­nal Don­ald Wuerl of Wash­ing­ton has faced lo­cal and na­tional clamor to re­sign. The re­port de­scribes Wuerl’s re­sponse to al­le­ga­tions of abuse dur­ing his 18 years as bishop of Pitts­burgh; he some­times went to great lengths to re­move ac­cused priests from churches, and other times took psy­chi­a­trists’ ad­vice that the priests were safe and let them con­tinue in min­istry.

On Tues­day, Wuerl told the priests in the Wash­ing­ton arch­dio­cese that he will travel to the Vat­i­can soon to dis­cuss his po­ten­tial res­ig­na­tion with Fran­cis.

VAT­I­CAN ME­DIA/REUTERS

Pope Fran­cis, cen­ter, at the Vat­i­can with, from left, Mon­signor Brian Brans­field, Arch­bishop Seán Pa­trick O’Mal­ley, Car­di­nal Daniel DiNardo and Arch­bishop José H. Gomez. DiNardo is ac­cused of con­ceal­ing abuse.

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