- The Washington Times - Monday, November 16, 2020

U.S. Catholic church leaders met virtually Monday under the “shadow of the coronavirus,” according to a top bishop. But it was the shadow of a bombshell report from the Vatican on former Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick that took center stage.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops opened a two-day, virtual general assembly less than a week after a new report faulted church hierarchy for enabling the defrocked McCarrick’s rise to prominence while looking past his sexual abuse.

An initial welcome from conference leaders largely focused on the pandemic and social concerns such as a national reckoning on racism more than the sex abuse crisis, with Apostolic Nuncio to the United States Christophe Pierre only referring obliquely to “emerging scandals” in his opening address to the gathering.

“Here we are gathered as brothers over which loom dark clouds,” Archbishop Pierre said, ticking off challenges such as growing secularization, abortion, human trafficking and political polarization.

“Oh, and I forgot,” he added, “the global pandemic. Here we are in the midst of the storm.”

This week’s assembly is the first meeting of American bishops since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic; a June meeting was canceled due to the virus.

Attention quickly turned to the McCarrick report.

Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, the conference’s president, said that Catholics received the 400-page McCarrick report with “apprehension and hope.”

“Apprehension [because] we come face to face with the failures of the past. And hope because we pray the dark lessons of the past will teach us never to stray from the light of Christ,” Archbishop Gomez said.

Last Tuesday, the Vatican’s Secretariat published a detailed report on McCarrick’s decades-long rise from a priest in the Archdiocese of New York to a bishop in New Jersey to archbishop of Washington — all the while allegations of his exploitation of young men and seminarians being dismissed or downplayed by higher-ups. Pope Francis defrocked Mr. McCarrick last year.

Bishops weighed in during a wide-ranging discussion on the report.

Detroit Auxiliary Bishop Donald Hanchon said he was “struck by the fact” that a New York cardinal had written to Pope Saint John Paul II telling him not to appoint McCarrick as Washington’s archbishop but that recommendation was ignored after McCarrick wrote a letter to the pope filled with “lying.”

“It just reminded me of the power of human sin,” Bishop Hanchon said.

Bishop Thomas Paprocki on Springfield, Illinois, blamed “media reports” for trying to “paint Saint John Paul II as somehow culpable for all this.” He said advisers to the pope let him down by failing to fully investigate charges of sexual abuse that hounded McCarrick.

“It is reasonable for the pope to rely upon the two most trusted advisers,” Bishop Paprocki said.

“Our people need much more direction from us. They’re puzzled,” said Michael D. Pfeifer, bishop emeritus of San Angelo, Texas, adding that he’s concerned parishioners “pick up more from the secular media than they do from the church.”

Bishop Pfeifer called for a statement from the conference “and get it out as soon as possible.”

The bishops meet biannually in Baltimore, and Tuesday’s proceedings were held via Zoom.

In his opening address, Archbishop Gomez, the conference’s first Hispanic president, said “we are living in the shadow of this coronavirus pandemic people are losing hope.”

Deborah Amato, a member of the conference’s National Advisory Council, presented a report offering recommendations for how the bishops should address and deal the coronavirus pandemic. The advisory council comprises clergy, religious women and lay people.

“The faithful are hungry for hope and the sacraments,” said Ms. Amato, director of evangelization for the Diocese of Lansing, Michigan. “Let’s go out and bring them home.”

Catholic officials on Monday also congratulated Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory, the first African American to hold the post, who will be named a cardinal in a ceremony later this month.

“We are grateful to his Holiness Pope Francis for his decision to elevate our brother to the college of cardinals,” said Archbishop Gomez.

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