Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Scandal That Just Won't Stop: Sackcloth and Ashes II

One of my intentions for the forty days of prayer and fasting for  #sackclothandashes has been that ALL of the evil in our Church that has been hiding in shadow will be brought into the light. . . . But I did not expect this.

I respect the Church as an institution and the many, many good priests and bishops who are upholding their responsibility to sheperd their flocks. I echo the words of Joshua from today's first reading, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."



Here's what's happened now. On the Feast of the Queenship of Mary, the day that we began our movement of prayer and fasting, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, Apostolic Nuncio, released the following testimony. I saw it for the first time last night.


It's long, but I encourage everyone to read the whole thing. News articles summarizing it really don't do justice to the scope and breadth of the report. It is just one man's testimony, but it includes an extraordinary amount of detail, and he indicates that many of those he names as able to corroborate his story are willing to go on the record as well.

There is a lot of information in this testimony. But the most surprising and disturbing and saddening, is the claim that on Archbishop Vigano's advice, Pope Benedict had placed severe sanctions on Cardinal McCarrick in 2009 or 2010: "Pope Benedict had imposed on Cardinal McCarrick sanctions similar to those now imposed on him by Pope Francis: the Cardinal was to leave the seminary where he was living, he was forbidden to celebrate [Mass] in public, to participate in public meetings, to give lectures, to travel, with the obligation of dedicating himself to a life of prayer and penance." Those sanctions were lifted by Pope Francis in 2013, despite Pope Francis' knowledge of the allegations against McCarrick, and McCarrick became free to again abuse seminarians and influence important appointments and policy decisions in the United States.

It's a real gut punch.

First and foremost, there is no excusing these acts. Not the abuse, certainly. One can argue that fifty years ago, perhaps, there was a lack of understanding on how to treat people with disordered sexual desires, and that bishops were acting in the way that they thought best. But that wasn't the case ten and twenty years ago, and we are seeing that the cover-ups continued. From local bishops perhaps all the way to the Pope. It's not okay. It is a great and grave failure of individuals and the Church hierarchy.

At the same time, it would not be right to believe that any of this is new. Priests have proven themselves just as capable of failure as anyone else since the very first moment it was possible. Jesus instituted the sacramental priesthood at the Last Supper, and the table wasn’t even cleared before one of the priests had become a traitor, unworthy of his post. Sexual abuse is, unfortunately, not a rare tragedy. We can see the rotten fruits of the sexual revolution throughout our current culture.

We heard in the readings at Mass today, Jesus' question to us. Will we stay with him despite scandal and outrage? And the verse that follows the reading, is his acknowledgement that even his handpicked disciples will fail him, and us.



Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you twelve? Yet is not one of you a devil?       --John 6:67-70

As devastating as it feels, as devastating as it IS, I take solace in two aspects of this. The first, is that it is a good thing that we are shining a light on this and other sexual scandals. We do not want evil hiding in the shadows. As painful as this process is, it’s worth it to begin the process of healing for the individuals, families, and communities who have been affected, and to protect future generations of children and adults from suffering the same abuse. Secondly, as backwards as it sounds, I am comforted by the fact that the Catholic Church has been scandal-ridden for . . . ever. We’ve had bad priests, and bad bishops, and bad popes, and bad regular folks in the pews throughout the last two thousand years. And the gates of hell have not prevailed against us.

As Cardinal Ercole Consalvi is reported to have asked Napoleon Bonaparte, when the French emperor threatened to crush the Church, "If in 1,800 years we clergy have failed to destroy the Church, do you really think that you'll be able to do it?"

If we believe that the Catholic Church is the One True Church, that the Eucharist is the True Presence, we are stuck with it. We must say with St. Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."

So, here I am and here I will stay. Wounded, bewildered, but Catholic.

God hears us, and suffers with us. The first reading, from Ezekiel, on the Feast of the Queenship of Mary, leaves no doubt that God's justice waits for those shepherds who betrayed their flocks and their Lord.

The word of the Lord came to me:
Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel,
in these words prophesy to them to the shepherds:
Thus says the Lord GOD: Woe to the shepherds of Israel
who have been pasturing themselves!
Should not shepherds, rather, pasture sheep?
You have fed off their milk, worn their wool,
and slaughtered the fatlings,
but the sheep you have not pastured.
You did not strengthen the weak nor heal the sick
nor bind up the injured.
You did not bring back the strayed nor seek the lost,
but you lorded it over them harshly and brutally.
So they were scattered for the lack of a shepherd,
and became food for all the wild beasts.
My sheep were scattered
and wandered over all the mountains and high hills;
my sheep were scattered over the whole earth,
with no one to look after them or to search for them.

Therefore, shepherds, hear the word of the LORD:
As I live, says the Lord GOD,
because my sheep have been given over to pillage,
and because my sheep have become food for every wild beast,
for lack of a shepherd;
because my shepherds did not look after my sheep,
but pastured themselves and did not pasture my sheep;
because of this, shepherds, hear the word of the LORD:
Thus says the Lord GOD:
I swear I am coming against these shepherds.
I will claim my sheep from them
and put a stop to their shepherding my sheep
so that they may no longer pasture themselves.
I will save my sheep, 
that they may no longer be food for their mouths.

For thus says the Lord GOD: 
I myself will look after and tend my sheep.

It is perhaps too early to know for sure how grave was Pope Francis' sin. It's possible that deep political and ideological differences made him unable to see the truth because of who communicated it to him. But it's clear that we have not received the protection and leadership we deserve. It's clear that we must call for the resignation of some of our Church leadership.

I am turning more than ever to the support of good Catholic priests and religious, and my solid Catholic community, online and in real life. I am convicted more than ever that the Sackcloth and Ashes movement is exactly what we need. It's never too late to join in. And we must not give up hope.

As Archbishop Viganò said in the closing of his testimony:

Even in dismay and sadness over the enormity of what is happening, let us not lose hope! We well know that the great majority of our pastors live their priestly vocation with fidelity and dedication. It is in moments of great trial that the Lord’s grace is revealed in abundance and makes His limitless mercy available to all; but it is granted only to those who are truly repentant and sincerely propose to amend their lives. This is a favorable time for the Church to confess her sins, to convert, and to do penance. 


I know many of us are also wondering about practical issues. The questions I've received most often are these.

1. Should I let my children be around my priest?

We the faithful can and should protect our children around priests the same way we would around any other people. We need to avoid the clericalism that helped get us into this mess. Priests deserve to be treated with respect by virtue of their consecrated office, but that doesn't mean blind trust. We get to know priests before our kids are alone with them. We teach our kids to trust their guts and to ALWAYS come to us if the ever feel uncomfortable and to RUN AWAY if necessary.

2. Should I continue to support the Church financially?

As for donations to the Church, each family must make their own decision there. If we don't give, Catholic schools and parishes will close. Bad ones, perhaps, but good ones too. I'm intrigued by the idea of a tiny underground Church, meeting in dusty catacombs and secretly in people's houses like in the early days of the Church. The Church would survive like that if necessary. But it would break my heart to see our buildings sold off and put to other uses. It would break my heart to see good pastors lose their parishes and their flocks. So, we continue to give. I believe that our archdiocese has implemented good policies to help prevent abuse and coverups. With that, we don't feel the need to hold our donations back.

3. Must I pray for these sinful priests?

It's always okay to start where you are most comfortable. Pray for good priests and bishops. Pray for the whistleblowers. Pray for the children and young adults who suffered at the hands of predators. Pray for their families and communities. Then, my trick is always to pray, "God, if you want me to do this, help me to want what you want."

To everyone reading this. I know how hard it is. I can't think of anything in my life that has disappointed me more. But know that our continued faith in the face of these repeated tragedies is a gift from the Holy Spirit. We must pray and act and persevere.




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48 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts! I have to confess that I've been a little out of the loop on the latest news, since I just gave birth a couple days ago, but the crisis and victims have been on my mind and heart, especially as I experienced labor. I recently started reading Cardinal Sarah's book "The Power of Silence," which has been really powerful to reflect on during this time. It's been a good reminder to me to not get into a frenzied worry, but to instead cultivate deeper prayer and a spirit of sacrifice and grow in trust and reliance on God in this time.

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    1. Congratulations on your new baby! And that’s an excellent recommendation.

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  2. As part of the house church movement prior to my conversion to Catholicism, believe me, the "underground" early Church scenario is rife with problems. We were part of two different groups which split numerous times before blowing up completely. That was part of what made me consider Catholicism.

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  3. I'm a brand new Catholic and there's a lot about Church hierarchy that I don't understand, so I'm hoping that Kendra or someone else here might help me out a bit. If McCarrick was sanctioned in 2009 or 2010 and those sanctions weren't lifted until 2013, how would those sanctions (and, at the very least, assumptions about the reasons for them) not be widely known? Wouldn't people have noticed that he stopped traveling, speaking, etc? I'm not trying to challenge the testimony, but just to understand it better. Thanks.

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    1. Fellow baby Catholic here (was received at Easter), and wondering the same thing!

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    2. I think the reason for the sanctions was not widely publicized. And a friend just posted an article from 2014 which was really creepy in retrospect ... McCarrick was interviewed after a heart attack and he spun it a completely dishonest way. He basically said, "Yeah, I guess I wasn't conservative enough for Pope Benedict ... oh well!"

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    3. Found the article! https://www.ncronline.org/news/people/globe-trotting-cardinal-theodore-mccarrick-almost-84-and-working-harder-ever

      Relevant quotes: “McCarrick is one of a number of senior churchmen who were more or less put out to pasture during the eight-year pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI. But now Francis is pope, and prelates like Cardinal Walter Kasper (another old friend of McCarrick's) and McCarrick himself are back in the mix and busier than ever.”

      “Pope Benedict is a wonderful man and was a good friend of mine before he became pope," McCarrick said. "But he was anxious to bring the church back to where he thought it should be, and I guess I wasn't one of those who he thought would help him on that. I would have obviously done what he asked."

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    4. Furthermore, if there were allegations that resulted in sactions back in 2008 and 2009, why were there no investigations and prosecutions? Does Pope Benedict bear no blame for that? Also, if Archbishop Vigano was so concerned about McCarrick's behavior, if he truly tried to tell Pope Francis and was dismissed, why not try to inform others in authority?

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    5. Ugh, Rosemary. The duplicity. :(

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    6. Molly, welcome, and I'm sorry you are faced with this stuff! I think there is still a lot we don't know, and that maybe we'll never know. As I understand it, Vigano is saying the sanctions were not publicized, perhaps as a misguided attempt to avoid scandal and the appearance of a political/ideological motivation. As Rosemary is saying, when McCarrick's activities were curtailed, people assumed that the political/ideological issue was the reason.

      Miss Natalie, if all these allegations are true, I think Pope Benedict does bear blame as well. Sanctions should have been public.

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    7. Okay, I read the article from 2014. It mentioned that McCarrick became a Cardinal in 2001. So McCarrick was appointed a Cardinal by St. John Paul II? All the bad stuff was hidden from the Pope in 2001? Or was St. John Paul II so feeble by then that he was out of touch and others were the movers and shakers? Now I'm more confused and sad than ever!

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    8. McCarrick was definitely not living a life out of the public in 2008 or 2009 as he was the main celebrant at the Easter Vigil mass at our church in Summit, NJ in 2010.

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    9. Nana R, Yes, I believe that the allegation is exactly that, that others who were a part of this “cabal” were advising Pope John Paul II by that point.

      Kathleen, I believe Viganò says that McCarrick was forced to curtail his travel, and move from the seminary, but that locally, he otherwise ignored the sanctions.

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  4. Your last question reminded me of a prayer I would pray with my Endow group. Endow provides it on a prayer card and I'm not sure where it originated. It gets me every time, and I should definitely start praying it again! I thought I would share below:

    O Jesus, we pray for your faithful and fervent priests, your unfaithful and lukewarm priests, your priests laboring at home or abroad in distant mission fields, your tempted priests, your lonely and desolate priests, your young priests, your old priests, and the souls of your priests in purgatory.

    We pray for your priests in special need of spiritual, emotional, or physical healing, for priests who have left the Church, and for the souls of the priests who will die today.

    But above all, we recommend to you the priests dearest to us: the priests who baptized us, the priests who absolve us from our sins, the priests at whose Masses we assist and who give us your Body and Blood in Holy Communion, the priests who teach and instruct us; all the priests to whom we are indebted in any way.

    O Jesus, keep them all close to your heart and bless them abundantly in time and in eternity. Amen.

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    1. this is so moving. thank you for sharing!

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    2. The prayer is from St. Therese!

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    3. So good. Thanks for sharing.

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  5. I appreciate your candor and honesty. I hope to get past the anger. McCarrick confirmed me in the 90s. I’ve lived my whole life in this diocese. It’s safe to say that every priest I’ve known: the priests who’ve heard my confessions; the priest who presided our marriage; the priest who baptized our children; the priests who have given me the Precious Blood & Body of Christ; the priests who have anointed my husband & my son... all knew of McCarrick’s evil. They were in the seminary under him. The feeling of betrayal runs deep. I pray I’ll be able to let go of the anger and not feel so furious with the church.
    I appreciate your words, Kendra, but know that 2000 miles from you on the East Coast, and specifically the Archdiocese of Newark, the largest in N.J. and 9th largest in the country, the mood is not good and the emotions are raw.

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    1. I'm so sorry, Kathleen. It's truly a betrayal, and you are right to take time to process your anger and grief.

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    2. Thank you and thank you for the courage to speak so openly and do it with grace.
      The climate here in N.J. is fragile at best. Our world has been shaken. Every priest we have known over about lifetime has been involved directly or indirectly. It’s so devastating.
      We have absolutely cut all funding to our parish and the Archdiocese of Newark. Tobin put all priests on a gag order, so no one is even speaking from the pulpit, and God’s people are grieving. It’s just awful.
      My husband and I tithe instead directly to Catholic Charities and a monastery of cloistered Dominican nuns (the only in the world) right in our town.

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    3. Kathleen, my heart goes out to you. Tobin has a lot of nerve. Silence is not the answer. Part of me wishes your priests there would mutiny. Prayers for you all.

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    4. I hear your pain Kathleen. I’m so sorry for you and all the families, like yours who are feeling this in your own community. Know that we are praying for you in Charlotte, NC. I’m so sorry.

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    5. Thank you, all. I think I'm going to write him a letter. I was talking to my husband about it. Tobin is alienating tens of thousands of Catholics like me, who came of age in the McCarrick years, with his silence. Today these Catholics are raising school age children. We can't have the pain impact future generations. We have to heal & we need a strong leader during this turmoil. This is what I expect of Tobin and I don't think that's too much to ask.

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    6. Kathleen my friend helped me to understand perhaps why/how the priests in your diocese didn’t report McCarrick’s abuse. Hopefully it will help you look at it from another point of view too. Many years ago my friend worked under an evil woman. The boss didn’t do anything as heinous as sexual abuse but she did emotionally abuse her subordinates. However they couldn’t report it because the evil
      Boss was the person they were supposed to report it to!! Whenever someone tried they would be “punished” for speaking out against her. Perhaps something similar was happening in NJ.

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  6. This news is scandalous, but as you say, the gates of hell will never prevail against the Church. I owe my fidelity to Jesus Christ, and the Church that He founded, and the Sacraments that He instituted. And this scandal, or the fact that many in the Church hierarchy might not actually be Catholic, doesn’t change that. It doesn’t change what I believe or what the Church truly is.

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  7. This too has been our family's prayer: Let the light shine in and the dust blow away that the Church (the only one, holy, catholic, and apostolic) may rise stronger and better. As a convert, I am deeply frustrated with how this scandal seems to my protestant family and friends. My prayer for the last 8 years since my conversion has been for my family and I to receive communion together again. These scandals seem to play right into the picture that I was given of Catholicism. :(

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    1. Yes. It's tragic on so many levels, and has so many waves of repercussions.

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    2. Elizabeth Clare I’m with you there. My Protestant family is constantly telling me the sex abuse in the Catholic Church is caused by celibacy of clergy. It’s really hard to keep holding ok to the truth when the scandal keeps getting worse. :(

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    3. I heard a great response from a priest on the "Catholic Stuff You Should Know" podcast to this argument. He said (in this poor paraphrase) that if celibacy is the root of the problem, then we should expect any married man who is unable to have sex with his wife for an extended period of time to turn to children for sex. Obviously that doesn't happen except in cases of extreme depravity.

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  8. I found the second reading from Ephesians very powerful today:
    "...Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish." It's so painful to think of how the beautiful Bride of Christ has been sullied by those who should have treasured her. And the unspeakable pain caused to the survivors and their families. - nancyo

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    1. Amen. The readings have been SO powerful lately.

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  9. We had dinner with two awesome priests last night, and they are so sickened by everything, but also so excited at the prospect of an upheaval in our church to clear out all the bad guys. They are thinking Pope Francis might be gone soon...it's a crazy time we are living in. Crazy.

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  10. I was looking for your blog this morning, I had found it a while go and then lost it. I really needed to hear your words. For the past few years I had really been struggling with my faith but have recently had a great surge in my faith and then the reports came out. I live in Pittsburgh Pa and we had a Grand Jury report come out recently that named over 300 priests for my area. It is hard. Hard to understand, hard to deal with and hard to hear. The only problem with our report that came out is every single priest who was ever investigated was listed, even the ones whose names were cleared. You have to read the full report to see who truly committed these horrible acts and who did not. Not many people read name by name by name so just paint all these priests with the same brush.

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    1. Yes. This is all such a cross to bear for good priests.

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  11. You can find the prayer here: http://lovecrucified.com/prayers/priests_therese.html and print it out. Thank you!!! This is definitely added to my daily prayers.

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  12. Thank you for being honest and direct in this post. I too agree with Saint Peter there is no place else to go. I am very thankful that the corruption and evil is finally being brought out into the light. Evil perpetuates in darkness but whithers in the light. May God strengthen us in this time we have been chosen to witness.

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  13. (re-posting to correct a typo)
    Kendra,
    I really appreciate you posting this letter in its entirety. It needs to be read because it points to the dissension and corruption at the highest levels of the church, either because it is true or because it demonstrates how far someone might go to discredit the Holy Father.
    I'm struggling to write this in a way that sounds neutral, but I am. After reading the letter and then reading as much as I can about the letter I have no idea who to believe. I don't know if there will ever be truth from this mess, but my trust is shaken to its core.

    I'm including a response from my Bishop below. Not because I believe it anymore than the letter you posted, but because there are apparently multiple sides to this story, and we should hear them all.

    This was found on the website for the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego.

    "In response to a letter published on Aug. 25 by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the former Papal representative to the United States, San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy has released the following statement:

    “This is a moment when the bishops of our nation, in union with the Holy Father, should be focused solely on comprehensively revealing the truth about the patterns of the sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults by clergy in our Church, so that deep reform can be enacted.

    “Unfortunately, in recent weeks ideological warriors within the Church on both sides of the spectrum have utilized the tragedy of victims of abuse to promote their goals. The dedication to comprehensive truth has been subordinated to selective targeting of enemies and tendentious distortions of the truth.

    “Archbishop Vigano’s statement constitutes just such a distortion. It is not an attempt to comprehensively convey the truth. In its ideologically-driven selection of bishops who are attacked, in its clear efforts to settle old personal scores, in its omission of any reference to Archbishop Vigano’s own massive personal participation in the covering up of sexual abuse by bishops, and most profoundly in its hatred for Pope Francis and all that he has taught, Archbishop Viganò consistently subordinates the pursuit of comprehensive truth to partisanship, division and distortion.

    “We as bishops cannot allow the pathway of partisanship to divide us or to divert us from the searing mission that Christ calls us to at this moment. We must make public our sinful past. We must engage and help heal the survivors of abuse. We must develop new, lay-governed instruments of oversight and investigation in every element of how we confront sexual abuse by clergy at all levels in the life of the Church. And we must reject all attempts to subordinate these goals to ideological or personal projects. For if we do not, we will have betrayed the victims of abuse once again.”

    +Bp. McElroy"

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    1. Thank you, Ali, for bringing this other letter to our attention. You wrote my thoughts better than I could have. I too feel neutral in regards to these statements/letters being made, not because I chose to ignore and be passive about the issue, but because I know I do not have all the facts. I sure hope and pray this opens up enough that we lay Catholics will soon enough, but for now I remain neutral. Red flags immediately went off in my mind when I read elsewhere that Archbishop Vigano has a history of contention with Pope Francis. So I’m relieved to hear that there could be other sides to the story. I really think that we shouldn’t be too quick to fully accept one side as true or even as possibly truer without all information laid out yet.

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    2. Thanks Ali, I agree with you that it doesn’t seem like we have all the answers yet. I wonder if we ever will. My gut tells me there’s much that seems credible in Viganò’s testimony. I also think that Viganò ending an investigation into someone he believed to be an innocent victim of a political vendetta isn’t the same as orchestrating a coverup. And he released documentation today saying that all he asked was that they interview the bishop in question. Bishop McElroy seems to have more to lose in all this than Viganò. And his letter sounds pretty panicked. But I certainly don’t claim to know the truth. And there is clearly more politics and ideology influencing the Church that I realized. Or than there should be among men of God. I hope there’s a reasonable explanation for all of this. But it’s rather a faint hope at this point.

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  14. From Vigano’s report, it states the Vatican knew no later than 2000 about McCarrick. Therefore, StJPII would have at least heard about these allegations. Yet, he promoted him to a cardinal! For some reason, this is the hardest part for me to swallow. A man I have so loved and respected. A man the church has raised to a Saint! How can these two things fit together? Maybe I’m wrong, but I thought the church was infallible in declaring Saints??? If people are calling for pope Francis to resign if he knew about McCarrick, and pope Benedict to be held responsible for not making it punlic, why would JPII not be held to the same standard? It’s hard to believe that he was just too “ill or sick” at this point. There was an official document released fighting this McCarrick promotion that he would’ve at least read or seen. Plus, he was still traveling and active for a few years after 2000. Heartbreaking, I love this man.

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    1. It is troubling for sure. It is at least possible that St. JPII didn’t know about the allegations about McCarrick. That lay group that came to inform the Vatican didn’t actually meet with the pope, that information would have had to have been passed up to him. We can’t know for sure, but it’s clear that there were failures by each of the last three popes in handling the abuse crisis.

      Which leads to your other question . . . Are canonizations infallible? I’ve heard it explained this way: a canonization declares that
      1. The person’s soul is in heaven, and
      2. The person lived a life of heroic virtue and is worthy of emulation

      The Church does not err about these two things. However, a canonization does not mean that the person never sinned or made significant errors in judgement. Fortunately, heaven is full of people who sinned and made mistakes. There are other saints whose writings include problematic anti-Semitic statements, for instance. But that doesn’t mean they are not in heaven or worthy of emulation in other regards.

      So, we the faithful can be sure that St. JPII is in heaven. Although it feels difficult to be sure of anything else these days.

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    2. If your "gut" is looking for things to hold against Pope Francis, it will always be able to find them. I'm curious why your gut would trust Abp. Vigano when serious claims in his letter are so easily falsifiable--including, as many people on this thread have already said, the claim that Abp. McCarrick was banned from public ministry under Benedict.

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    3. Hey Kate, if you are familiar with my blog, you’ll know that I have been a supporter of Pope Francis. All I want is for the truth to come out. No agenda. The original NCR article on the testimony indicates that Pope Benedict confirmed the sanctions against McCarrick. It’s all very troubling, but I’d be happy to learn that there’s a reasonable explanation.

      Would you mind moving this comment up to the thread to which it refers? It’s confusing here. I’ll move my reply.

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  15. Thank you, Kendra for your thoughtful reply. I believe that is what I’m trying to reconcile: St JPII being a man who lived a “life of heroic virtue & who is worthy of being emulated“ also having any involvement, either passive or active, in both the ongoing scandal/cover-up or the promotion McCarrick. Especially with all the talk of millstones these days… 😞

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    1. Agreed, but he did endure redemptive suffering on earth. If he was also repentant, and received last rites, the rules say you get in. Binding and loosing.

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    2. Yes! Absolutely, thank God for the Sacraments! I think I’m just feeling hurt because of a personal love and devotion to this great Marian Pope. I do hope the full truth comes out!

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