The Catholic Church is in trouble … and a scandal that has been brewing for years may have just gotten significantly worse.
Former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has been accused of sexually abusing teenage altar boys in the United States, with some allegations going back almost fifty years.
The church recently asked him to step down from his religious leadership role after the Archdiocese of New York called the claims “credible and substantiated,” according to CNN.
“Several former seminarians have claimed that the then-cardinal would invite groups of them to a beach house and insist individual members of the group share a bed with him,” explained the Catholic News Service.
That scenario is troubling enough, but now it looks like top officials within the church may have known about the allegations for nearly two decades, but either covered them up or did not take them seriously.
“A 2006 letter from a top Vatican official to a New York priest reveals that the Vatican had knowledge of allegations of sexual misconduct,” reported The Hill.
On Friday, the Catholic News Service published that very letter, and it may be the proverbial “smoking gun” in the scandal.
The document, which appears to be from then-Archbishop Leonardo Sandri to another church leader named Father Boniface Ramsey, seems to acknowledge that key officials were informed about ongoing abuse from McCarrick as early as 2000.
“I ask with particular reference to the serious matters involving some of the students of the Immaculate Conception Seminary, which in November 2000 you were good enough to bring confidentially to the attention of the then Apostolic Nuncio in the United States, the late Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo,” the letter from Sandri stated.
For his part, Father Ramsey has confirmed that he did bring concerns over sexual abuse by McCarrick to the church’s attention at that time.
“I complained about McCarrick’s relationships with seminarians and the whole business with sleeping with seminarians and all of that; the whole business that everyone knows about,” Ramsey told the Catholic News Service.
If everything occurred as Ramsey says, concerns about a church cover-up may be justified.
“The letter also appears to confirm elements of Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano’s accusations that Pope Francis and other church officials covered up sexual misconduct,” reported The Hill.
That would be particularly disturbing in light of the fact that the late Pope John Paul II promoted McCarrick to the esteemed position of cardinal a year after top Catholic leaders apparently knew about the accusations against him.
It would also make it likely, if not certain, that the current Pope Francis also had some knowledge of the situation but did little to address it.
There is a time for cool-headed fact-finding, but there is also a time for righteous indignation. We may be rapidly approaching the line between those.
Catholic leaders need to step forward and deal with this situation once and for all. The only acceptable course of action is transparent honesty: Explain what happened, tell the truth about how it happened, and then look believers in the eye and tell them how it will be dealt with.
Abuse of power and the sexual exploitation of youth is appalling under any circumstances, but it is even more ghastly when faith is used to harm others. There is much that is good about the Catholic Church, but unless its leaders act righteously now, all of it will be tarnished or even destroyed.
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