The Catholic Bishops: When It’s Time to Call the Police

By John Zmirak Published on August 17, 2018

In case you’ve been in a coma … you might want to go back under. At least if you’re Catholic. Because the awful news just keeps rolling in. 

The latest is the news out of Pennsylvania, where the Attorney General did what his colleagues should have started doing in 2002. He launched a criminal investigation into sex abuse among local clergy. They turned up some 300 abusive priests and more than 1,000 victims, over several decades. As Sohrab Ahmari has written, some of the crimes seem lifted straight from the pages of the Marquis de Sade.

More crucially, his grand jury demanded and got thousands of pages of internal church documents. They revealed the response of almost every bishop involved. It boiled down to the following:

  1. Avoid publicity. Keep the victims quiet, and away from the public authorities. If need be, run out the clock on the statute of limitations, so predators beat the rap. While NOT implicated in cover-ups (bravo!), Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput did twist the arms of local Catholic politicians to keep that statute of limitations short. The Guardian reported that he attacked one lawmaker by name in that Catholic’s own parish bulletin, to shame him into compliance.
  2. Treat the offending priests as sick, not sinful. Move them around and keep their crimes a secret from parishioners and police. Send them for brief stays at pro-gay psychological spas (“treatment centers”), then send them back into parishes and schools. When one of them impregnates a teenage girl and arranges for her abortion, send him a sympathetic note — as if his pet toucan bird had died. Then assign him to another parish. (This last gem of Christian witness came from the loudly conservative, pro-Latin Mass Bishop James Timlin, one of the worst cover-up artists.)
  3. Do whatever it takes to keep the secret. One of the worst was Cardinal Wuerl — the current Cardinal Archbishop of our nation’s capital, then the bishop of Pittsburgh — paying a permanent income to a priest addicted to kiddie porn.

One Down, Forty-Nine More States to Go

In other words, little changed in Pennsylvania after the storm of 2002. Makes you wonder about the other 49 states, doesn’t it? Especially since it emerged that many leading prelates either provably knew (Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston) or had to know (Vatican Cardinal Kevin Farrell) about the sex abuse committed by the last Archbishop of Washington, Cardinal “Uncle Ted” McCarrick. That included molesting a boy he had baptized as an infant. Both Wuerl and McCarrick served as sponsors of Cardinal Farrell, Cardinal Blaise Cupich of Chicago, and Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark — all left-leaning acolytes of Pope Francis. (Indeed, Francis appointed Wuerl as one of the lead voices in picking U.S. bishops.) Count on them to vote in the next conclave for a pope made in his image.

In turn, Pope Francis’ own record on dealing with sex abuse (for instance in Chile) isn’t pretty. Neither is the record of “vice-pope” Cardinal Oscar Maradiaga of Honduras. The auxiliary bishop he handpicked had to resign after sexually abusing seminarians, and dozens of other seminarians have come forth to complain that their school is dominated by a homosexual network. Maradiaga has taken no action to fix it.

And what can we say about Pope Francis’ biggest booster before his election as pope, Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Belgium? As I wrote here in 2015:

Danneels … presided over one of the worst priestly sex abuse scandals in Europe, whose cover-up was so extensive that it led to Belgian police searching a bishop’s palace and even opening a bishop’s grave to search for evidence.

The Spectator (U.K.) cites transcripts of a meeting where Danneels was caught on tape urging the victim to stay silent about [his] abuse, after which he “suggested that the victim should seek forgiveness — and accused the man of attempted blackmail when he demanded that Danneels should tell Pope Benedict XVI about the abuse.”

Danneels was in disgrace after these scandals. But Pope Francis rehabilitated him in the most public way, inviting him from retirement to address all the bishops of the world at the Vatican Family Synod.

Will an Uprising of Laymen Make a Difference?

What’s a Catholic to do at a time like this? I’ve suggested financial boycotts.

But that won’t be enough. As the fearless Church Militant has documented, some 40% of the bishops’ revenue doesn’t even come from the Catholic faithful. It’s taxpayer money, funneled through federal contracts with non-profits such as Catholic Charities and Catholic Relief Services. Most of that cash comes via services to immigrants and refugees.

Michael Brendan Dougherty at National Review wrote a powerful essay, where he pointed out that if the church won’t police itself, Caesar will step in and take over.

The Attorneys General of the other 49 states in the Union must launch similar, searching investigations of the church. Don’t worry anymore about losing “the Catholic vote.” On the contrary, you’d be doing us a favor and we’ll remember it at the polls.

I saw that happen first hand in New Hampshire. Its then-bishop John McCormack conspired in the Boston sex abuse cover-up, before reaping his reward — a diocese of his own. The state district attorney considered prosecuting McCormack. The bishop bought him off by striking a deal: the AG’s office would review and approve every appointment of every priest in the state. So a secular state where abortion was legal was the ultimate authority over the Church. And we Catholics were glad of that! McCormack enjoyed his bishop’s palace, issued loud statements in defense of leftist, pro-choice labor unions, and sold off parish after parish to pay his settlements. I’ll never forget driving up to a beautiful Gothic building, put up by Polish immigrants pooling their pennies. I was hoping to go to confession. The church had been turned into condos.

Giving Caesar His Due

It is long past time for Caesar to use his blunt instruments to fix this. The bishops can’t. (Though they’ve announced yet another commission to address it.) Too many of them are likely implicated. The Vatican won’t. Too many of its allies would fall like dominoes. Expect more hand-wringing statements in public — and frenzied butt-covering in private.

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Time now for every citizen to demand that justice be done. If the bishops don’t act decisively to solve this problem, then something like the following should happen, if possible. (I’m no lawyer.)

  • The Attorneys General of the other 49 states in the Union should launch similar, searching investigations. Don’t worry anymore about losing “the Catholic vote.” On the contrary, you’d be doing us a favor and we’ll remember it at the polls.
  • The U.S. Justice Department should weigh the evidence turned up by such probes to see if RICO charges would fit the bishops who conspired to keep abusers’ crimes secret.
  • Voters should ask their representatives in Congress to redirect federal contracts away from Catholic non-profits connected with bishops, thus depriving them of hush money. (Catholics, remember that all such money gets used for exclusively secular purposes, by law. So the explosion of federal funding has almost completely secularized once-Catholic ministries.) Take away that mess of pottage.
  • Voters should insist on enforcing our borders and building a Wall. American bishops for too long have told U.S. Catholics that “immigrants are the church’s future.” By that they mean that they’ve given up on those of us who are already here. They know that 40% of native-born Catholics leave the church. And they know they can replace us with Catholic immigrants from lands with better bishops. Cut off this human subsidy and force them to face the truth.

More on My Podcast

I have much more to say about the sex abuse crisis and our response in my interview with Stream columnist Jason Jones for his new podcast. Be sure to subscribe. It’s fantastic every week.

For my part, I’m not sure these measures will improve the bishops’ behavior much. For that to happen, at least one bishop complicit in protecting sex abusers needs to go to prison. And for a good long time. Instead of a cozy retirement in a palace with a pension and Cadillac health care, as McCarrick and his ilk all now enjoy.

But for that, we need the help of Caesar. Let us render to him, finally, what is Caesar’s.

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