Lies in Amer­ica, si­lence from the Vat­i­can

Mr. Wuerl knew about Mr. McCar­rick.

The Washington Post - - CAPITAL BUSINESS -

WHEN AL­LE­GA­TIONS came to light last year of sex­ual abuse and in­ap­pro­pri­ate con­duct in­volv­ing chil­dren and sem­i­nar­i­ans by Arch­bishop Theodore McCar­rick, Car­di­nal Don­ald Wuerl, who suc­ceeded Mr. McCar­rick as leader of the Wash­ing­ton arch­dio­cese, ex­pressed shock and de­nied prior knowl­edge. Now it turns out Mr. Wuerl was pre­sented in 2004 with an ac­count of Mr. McCar­rick’s al­leged mis­con­duct, which he re­layed to the Vat­i­can. Then: noth­ing.

In the on­go­ing tsunami of rev­e­la­tions about the Catholic Church’s will­ful blind­ness, con­spir­acy of si­lence and moral bank­ruptcy on clergy sex abuse, this par­tic­u­lar rev­e­la­tion may count as lit­tle more than a dro­plet — al­though it does in­volve two of the high­est-rank­ing and most prom­i­nent Amer­i­can prelates. How­ever, it also en­cap­su­lates char­ac­ter­is­tics that con­tinue to dog the church nearly two decades after the scan­dal burst into the open: cal­lous­ness di­rected at vic­tims; an in­sis­tence on de­nial and hair­split­ting; and the hi­er­ar­chy’s pref­er­ence for treat­ing al­le­ga­tions as in­ter­nal mat­ters, as if the world’s 1.2 bil­lion lay Catholics were an ir­rel­e­vance.

In re­sponse to the rev­e­la­tion that Mr. Wuerl was fully aware of, and han­dled, an al­le­ga­tion from a for­mer priest about Mr. McCar­rick’s mis­con­duct more than 14 years ago, the Wash­ing­ton arch­dio­cese is­sued a state­ment sug­gest­ing that his pre­vi­ous flat de­nials were merely “im­pre­cise.” Those pre­vi­ous state­ments re­ferred only to sex­ual abuse of a mi­nor, the arch­dio­cese said.

In fact, the car­di­nal’s com­ments last sum­mer were un­equiv­o­cal. In re­sponse to a broad ques­tion about “long-stand­ing ru­mors or in­nu­en­dos” posed by a re­porter for the arch­dioce­san news­pa­per Catholic Stan­dard, he said, “I had not heard them” be­fore or dur­ing his ten­ure in Wash­ing­ton. That was un­true.

As it hap­pens, Mr. Wuerl, then-bishop of Pitts­burgh, not only was pre­sented with al­le­ga­tions of Mr. McCar­rick’s mis­con­duct by a for­mer priest named Robert Ci­olek. To his credit, he also swiftly brought that in­for­ma­tion to the Vat­i­can’s at­ten­tion in a meet­ing with the pope’s am­bas­sador in Wash­ing­ton at the time, Arch­bishop Gabriel Mon­talvo.

Yet Mr. McCar­rick re­mained as arch­bishop of Wash­ing­ton for nearly two more years and suf­fered no dis­ci­pline un­til last year, when the al­le­ga­tions against him were re­ported. At that point, the Holy See re­moved him from min­istry; his fi­nal pun­ish­ment is now be­ing weighed in Rome.

Mean­while, Mr. Wuerl, though forced to re­sign as arch­bishop last fall fol­low­ing rev­e­la­tions by a Penn­syl­va­nia grand jury that he had mis­han­dled nu­mer­ous clergy sex abuse cases in Pitts­burgh, con­tin­ues to over­see the Wash­ing­ton arch­dio­cese pend­ing ap­point­ment of a suc­ces­sor.

Un­der­stand­ably, Mr. Ci­olek is out­raged that Mr. Wuerl, hav­ing known of his al­le­ga­tions for years, de­nied knowl­edge of them last year. “It’s as if I don’t ex­ist,” he told The Post’s Michelle Boorstein.

Pope Fran­cis him­self has dis­played a gap­ing blind spot on the is­sue of clergy sex abuse, at times con­demn­ing it and tak­ing res­o­lute ac­tion, at other times di­rect­ing con­tempt and lip ser­vice at vic­tims. He has con­vened a meet­ing of top bish­ops in Rome next month. Ac­tions and poli­cies, not ring­ing dec­la­ra­tions, will be the mea­sure of the church’s suc­cess in grap­pling with a scan­dal that has shamed it.

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