‘Civil war’ di­vides world’s Catholics

Sex abuse, cover-up al­le­ga­tions jolt Vat­i­can

USA TODAY US Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Eric J. Ly­man

VAT­I­CAN CITY – The lat­est – and most se­ri­ous – wave of pe­dophilia and cover-up al­le­ga­tions to hit the Vat­i­can is shin­ing a new light on the gap di­vid­ing the world’s 1.2 bil­lion Catholics. And al­most none of it is about the charges of wide­spread cler­i­cal abuse scan­dals.

Dozens of com­men­ta­tors and Vat­i­can watch­ers have pointed to the wide gap be­tween the views of con­ser­va­tive, tra­di­tional Catholics in the mold of Pope Bene­dict XVI and those of re­for­m­minded Catholics like Pope Fran­cis. Many me­dia have re­ferred to what is hap­pen­ing as a kind of “civil war.”

Though he is widely pop­u­lar among non-Catholics, Fran­cis has been a po­lar­iz­ing fig­ure among the faith­ful since he was elected five years ago.

The lat­est sex abuse al­le­ga­tions, specif­i­cally those raised by Arch­bishop Carlo Maria Vi­ganò, for­mer nun­cio to the United States, have only in­creased pub­lic pres­sure on Fran­cis to re­sign in or­der to save the church.

Vi­ganò named more than two dozen cur­rent and for­mer Vat­i­can and U.S. of­fi­cials and ac­cused them of know­ing about and cov­er­ing up for for­mer Car­di­nal Theodore McCar­rick, who is ac­cused of sex­u­ally mo­lest­ing and ha­rass-

ing mi­nors as well as adults. He ac­cused Fran­cis of re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing McCar­rick from canon­i­cal sanc­tions im­posed on him by Bene­dict in 2009 or 2010. The Vat­i­can has known since at least 2000 that McCar­rick slept with sem­i­nar­i­ans.

Adding to the cri­sis within the Vat­i­can was a grand jury re­port in Penn­syl­va­nia that de­tailed the specter of more than 1,000 al­leged un­der­age vic­tims of abuse by more than 300 priests over the span of seven decades.

On Thurs­day, Fran­cis ac­cepted the res­ig­na­tion of a U.S. bishop and au­tho­rized an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into al­le­ga­tions he sex­u­ally harassed adults, adding awk­ward drama to an au­di­ence with U.S. church lead­ers over the abuse and cover-up scan­dal roil­ing the Catholic Church. The res­ig­na­tion of West Vir­ginia Bishop Michael Brans­field was an­nounced just as the four-mem­ber U.S. del­e­ga­tion was sit­ting down with Fran­cis in his study in the Apos­tolic Palace.

Ear­lier this week, Fran­cis sum­moned the pres­i­dents of Catholic bish­ops con­fer­ences world­wide to the Vat­i­can in Fe­bru­ary to dis­cuss pro­tect­ing chil­dren and pre­vent­ing sex­ual abuse by priests. The meet­ing is be­lieved to be the first of its kind and comes amid the grow­ing crit­i­cism over the pope’s han­dling of sex abuse cases dat­ing back decades.

But Robert Mick­ens, a vet­eran Vat­i­can an­a­lyst who is now the edi­tor of La Croix In­ter­na­tional, said the scan­dal masks a ma­jor rift in the church about its di­rec­tion un­der the cur­rent pope. “The trou­ble call­ing what is hap­pen­ing with these scan­dals and the church a ‘civil war’ is that these two camps have ex­isted since the start of Fran­cis’ pa­pacy, plus the fact that the sit­u­a­tion has very lit­tle to do with the sex scan­dals,” he said. Mick­ens main­tained that strong crit­ics are a small mi­nor­ity among Catholics, al­beit a loud one adept at us­ing so­cial me­dia.

Though the pope’s trip to Ire­land Aug. 25-26 sparked protests there, Mick­ens’ views have mostly been re­flected by other pa­pal crowds – in­clud­ing those at the Vat­i­can this month. Both events were full and all but free of plac­ards crit­i­ciz­ing Fran­cis. While those on hand were out­raged by the pe­dophilia scan­dals, they were mostly sup­por-

“The church needs to clean up its act, but if a man like Pope Fran­cis can­not do it, I don’t know who can.” Vi­vian Han­son a para­le­gal vis­it­ing Italy from Jack­sonville, Florida

tive of the Ar­gen­tine pon­tiff.

“The church needs to clean up its act, but if a man like Pope Fran­cis can­not do it, I don’t know who can,” said Vi­vian Han­son, 49, a para­le­gal vis­it­ing Italy from Jack­sonville, Florida.

San­dro Manna, 34, a food dis­trib­u­tor from Rome, agreed: Fran­cis “is ob­vi­ously a very holy man, and we have to have faith he will take the right steps.”

Kathy Ol­berd­ing, 61, a nurse on va­ca­tion in Italy from Cincinnati, said she thought the Vat­i­can had to know these prob­lems would emerge.

“Peo­ple are out­raged at all these ter­ri­ble sto­ries of sex abuse,” she said. “I wish the sto­ries weren’t true, but they are, and some­one has to be held re­spon­si­ble. The pope is in charge, and so the ques­tion is whether he can fix it or whether it will have to be some­one else.”

Af­ter the 2013 con­clave that made Fran­cis pope, he said his first words to the Col­lege of Car­di­nals that elected him were: “May God for­give you for what you have done.”

Many tra­di­tional Catholics may have wished the car­di­nals se­lected some­one else even early on. In the weeks and months af­ter his elec­tion, crit­ics opined that Fran­cis was not schol­arly enough, too ea­ger to reach out to non-Catholics, too will­ing to take on the sta­tus quo in the church, will­ing to em­brace secular fig­ures on is­sues like al­le­vi­at­ing poverty and con­fronting cli­mate change, and far too for­giv­ing to groups in­clud­ing ho­mo­sex­u­als, di­vorcees and women who have had abor­tions.

Fran­cis has not been shy about his frus­tra­tions. “Re­form­ing Rome is like clean­ing the Sphinx in Egypt with a tooth­brush,” Fran­cis joked to church lead­ers in the Vat­i­can last De­cem­ber. The crowd on hand, which in­clud­ing many of Fran­cis’ crit­ics, elicited only a few mild chuck­les.

“It seems strange to use the prob­lem of cler­i­cal sex abuse to at­tack the pope,” Mick­ens said. “Abuse is a dis­ease that cuts across the church. Many of the vic­tims came from dio­ce­ses run by pa­pal crit­ics. But that isn’t the prob­lem: They don’t like the pope be­cause of his po­lit­i­cal views.”

Alberto Mel­loni, a his­tory of Chris­tian­ity pro­fes­sor from Italy’s Univer­sity of Mo­dena and Reg­gio Emilia, echoed those views.

“What we are see­ing are not at­tacks against the pope,” Mel­loni said. “In re­al­ity, they are at­tacks against the church, and they are aimed at di­vid­ing it.”

To some ex­tent, the crit­ics are suc­ceed­ing.

Car­di­nal Ray­mond Burke, who was arch­bishop of St. Louis un­til his re­tire­ment in 2008, is one of Fran­cis’ most vo­cal de­trac­tors. Burke is one of four au­thors of a June let­ter that was openly crit­i­cal of Fran­cis’ view that in­di­vid­ual priests could de­cide on an ad hoc ba­sis whether to al­low di­vorced Catholics to re­ceive com­mu­nion. Burke has pub­licly praised Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and has fre­quently con­ferred with for­mer Trump strate­gist Steve Ban­non on ways to op­pose Fran­cis. Now, a ris­ing num­ber of clergy are re­port­edly fol­low­ing Burke’s lead.

“Catholics are at a cross­roads, as they have been many times be­fore,” said Alis­tair Sear, a re­tired church his­to­rian liv­ing in Lon­don.

Car­di­nal McCar­rick

Arch­bishop Vi­ganò

Pope Fran­cis

AFP/GETTY IM­AGES

Pope Fran­cis greets Car­di­nal Daniel DiNardo at the Vat­i­can on Thurs­day. DiNardo is head of the U.S. Con­fer­ence of Catholic Bish­ops.

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