- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Some conservative U.S. Catholics are dismayed by the official schedule for Pope Francis’ Vatican summit with bishops on clerical sex abuse that begins Thursday, saying it ignores the root cause of the scandal: gays in the priesthood.

They point to Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago, who will lead the nearly 200 bishops through three days of discussions and listening sessions addressing the clergy sexual abuse scandal, which has shaken the Roman Catholic Church to its foundation. He evaded questions on the topic of gay priests and their adult victims three times during a press conference Monday in Rome.

The summit schedule, titled “For the Protection of Minors in the Church,” was announced during the press conference, where American conservative critics noted a glaring omission in the subject matter.

“Will the problem of homosexuality among the clergy be addressed as part of this problem?” Diane Montagna, Vatican correspondent for LifeSiteNews, pointedly asked Cardinal Cupich while noting that most victims of clerics are male.

The cardinal demurred and instead cited statistics showing that the number of abuse claims against priests has fallen since the early 2000s.

“If, in fact, [as] you say, there is homosexuality within the priesthood, you can see already that it is not as a result of being homosexual that you abuse,” Cardinal Cupich said.

SEE ALSO: Pope Francis demands bishops act now on abuse; victims speak of pain

Pope Francis’ unprecedented summit begins just days after the Vatican’s announcement that former Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the onetime archbishop of Washington, had been defrocked as punishment for decades of sexual misconduct and abuse against seminarians and other male congregants. He is the highest-ranking clergyman to be stripped of his ministry amid the church’s scandal.

The Vatican announced the summit in September, forcing American bishops to cancel plans for a meeting among themselves to address the U.S. facet of the global church scandal.

The announcement followed a tumultuous summer as reports detailed Mr. McCarrick’s history of abuse with accounts from two of his accusers; a Pennsylvania grand jury report on 301 predatory priests, their more than 1,000 victims and church leaders’ efforts to dismiss or cover up their crimes over decades; and a letter from a former Vatican diplomat who alleged “homosexual networks” within the highest offices of the Roman Catholic Church and accused the pope himself of ignoring the issue.

Francis’ summit is bringing together representatives of bishop conferences around the globe and cardinals and members of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Soon after its announcement, a Vatican spokesman said the meeting would address abuse against minors and “vulnerable adults,” a term often used to refer to people under the church’s custody, including seminarians.

Conservative U.S. Catholics made a point of that terminology in questioning Cardinal Cupich at Monday’s press conference in Rome.

“When this meeting was initially announced, it was to be about the protection of minors and vulnerable adults, but now it seems to be about protection of minors only,” said Edward Pentin, Rome correspondent for National Catholic Register. “Will this meeting include abuse of vulnerable adults, seminarians in particular?”

The cardinal said the summit would be more successful by focusing on one issue at a time.

Each day of the summit will focus on a different topic: “responsibility” on Thursday, “accountability” on Friday, “transparency” on Saturday — and feature presentations and victim speakers. The gathering will culminate after Saturday evening Mass with a message from the pope.

Initial hopes to produce universal directives for bishops around the world regarding accusations of sexual abuse by priests increasingly have been abandoned, as Francis and other church leaders have sought to downplay expectations in recent weeks.

“I think that the pope has this sort of innate Jesuitical modesty — the higher the expectations, the greater the frustration,” Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta said at Monday’s press conference. “

A follow-up meeting would be “of the essence,” Archbishop Scicluna added.

“The reality is this is a very tired, unsuccessful attempt to conflate the issue of sexuality with pedophilia and sexual abuse,” said Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, a pro-LGBTQ Catholic organization. “This is actually an issue of abuse, power, unhealthy expression of sex, and it’s an issue of access.”

A host of issues

Beyond the issue of gays in the clergy, there are concerns about church leaders’ commitment to the summit’s title issue: protecting children.

Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti acknowledged this week to The New York Times that the church hierarchy has long applied a secret set of guidelines for dealing with clerics who father children. The admission came in response to a report by the newspaper.

The Vatican spokesman said the guidelines require errant priests to leave the clergy and care for their children, but The Times’ report quoted an Irish psychotherapist who didn’t learn that his father was a priest until he was in his 20s.

What’s more, The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston expressed concern at a 2017 meeting of top church officials that the Vatican was reneging on its “zero tolerance” policy on sexual abuse of minors.

A papal panel canceled the defrocking of priests who had been convicted of abusing children and reduced other punishments for similarly guilty clergymen, The Journal reported.

“If this gets out, it will cause a scandal,” Cardinal O’Malley told Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin and other Vatican officials, The Journal reported, citing a person who attended the meeting. The Vatican did nothing to address the issue.

Those revelations follow Francis’ acknowledgment last month of the long-concealed sexual abuse of nuns by priests and various Catholic dioceses across the U.S. and the release of names of hundreds of priests credibly accused of sexual misconduct over the decades.

Meanwhile, attorneys general in several states have opened investigations of predator priests and church leaders’ cover-ups and have identified sex-related crimes by clergy perpetrated over many years.

“I hope the summit can do something,” said Catholic University theology professor Christopher J. Ruddy. “If, however, it’s an attempt by the Vatican to keep control of something and avoid difficult issues, I think that’s a real problem.”

• Christopher Vondracek can be reached at cvondracek@washingtontimes.com.

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