Special Report: Devil in Rome premieres Monday, Aug. 22 at 8 PM ET
Cardinals Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. and Blase Cupich of Chicago have emerged as the clear ringleaders of a faction in the Church obstructing sex abuse reform.
Confirming recent reports of close collaboration between Wuerl and Cupich to present an alternative sex abuse proposal (one that does not involve lay oversight), a source told Church Militant both men were spotted together at the Pontifical North American College in Rome just before arriving in Baltimore, Maryland last week for the U.S. bishops' annual meeting.
Significantly, Wuerl and Cupich were also spotted with Papal Nuncio Abp. Christophe Pierre dining at the Marriott Waterfront hotel. At a gathering of more than 200 bishops, where the prelates could have picked any number of clergy with which to dine, it's notable Pierre would've chosen Wuerl and Cupich.
Pierre stunned brother bishops Monday when, in his opening speech, he rejected the possibility of a lay board to investigate sex abuse. Multiple bishops, including Cdl. Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops, had been for weeks calling for significant lay involvement in the investigation of clerical sex abuse.
Such bishops were dealt a double blow Monday when (1) DiNardo announced at the start of their meeting that the Vatican did not want the bishops immediately voting on any binding resolutions to implement sex abuse reform (thus making their meeting moot), and (2) the papal nuncio said in his opening talk that there would be no lay oversight of the sex abuse investigation.
As papal nuncio, Pierre takes his marching orders from Rome, acting at Pope Francis' behest. His words would have first received clearance from the pontiff. Thus what he said at the start of the bishops' meeting could be seen as coming from Rome itself.
Although the majority of bishops, including DiNardo, were caught off guard by the turn of events — there was an audible gasp in the room when DiNardo announced that Rome wanted the votes on sex abuse reform delayed until the February synod — it was clear Cupich had already been aware of the plan. He was first on his feet to address the news with what seemed a prepared speech, insisting that the Holy Father is "serious" about getting to the bottom of the McCarrick abuse scandal and that bishops should spend the remaining months discussing next steps.
Interestingly, witnesses inside the conference room told Church Militant that throughout the three-day meeting, Cupich was in and out of the room texting constantly on his phone. Some speculate he was conferring with Rome.
A press conference with DiNardo revealed that the order not to vote on sex abuse reform did not come directly from the pope but rather from the Vatican's Congregation for Bishops. The two U.S. cardinals who sit on the congregation are Wuerl and Cupich.
Catholic News Agency reported that a source within the congregation confirmed that Wuerl and Cupich had for weeks collaborated on an alternative proposal for sex abuse reform — one that left all investigation in the hands of bishops. That proposal had been mentioned to the Congregation for Bishops before the Baltimore meeting, and presented by Cupich Tuesday as an alternative to the independent lay commission model that the U.S. bishops had already proposed.
In August, Wuerl was roundly mocked when he said the bishops should investigate themselves. The backlash caused him to backtrack, Wuerl then saying laity should be involved. But the latest collaboration with Cupich reveals Wuerl is back to his original scheme, proposing that bishop accountability rest in the hands of ... the bishops.
Although a number of Catholics had hoped Wuerl's resignation would mean he'd take a step back — he resigned in disgrace as D.C. archbishop two months after the August Pennsylvania grand jury report revealed he had shuffled around predator priests while bishop in Pittsburgh, even paying hush money to a priest involved in a sadomasochistic child porn ring — some say, freed from other obligations, Wuerl is now able to travel and lobby and machinate behind the scenes. (Sources at the beleaguered Papal Foundation, where Wuerl was longtime chair, confirm he continues to pull the strings there in spite of stepping down as chairman.)
Wuerl, a longtime and close collaborater with McCarrick, and named in a 2005 legal settlement involving a McCarrick abuse victim (making his protestations that he knew nothing about McCarrick's sex abuse near ridiculous), would greatly benefit from a sham investigation of McCarrick that revealed nothing — including his own knowledge of McCarrick's crimes.
Cupich, who owes his red hat to McCarrick — Abp. Carlo Maria Viganò says Cupich was "kingmaker" McCarrick's handpicked choice — would also stand to gain from obstructing any serious investigation into the serial sexual predator.
While some bishops and many laity have called for revisions to the Dallas Charter to include not only accountability for bishops but also protection for adults (not just minors) from sexual predation — adult seminarians were McCarrick's primary victims — Wuerl and Cupich have steadfastly ignored the issue, even discouraging the possibility.
Cardinal Sean O'Malley proposed at the Baltimore meeting that the definition of "vulnerable adults" be revised to include any adult victims of abuse. But Cupich was quick to dismiss the idea, claiming that sexual activity between adults could mean consensual relations, which bring in a whole other set of rules and regulations.
"Because in some of the cases with adults ... involving clerics, it could be consensual sex, anonymous, but also involve adult pornography," Cupich said. "There's a whole different set of circumstances that need to come into play here."
Critics wonder how such relations could truly be consensual when they involve a much younger seminarian and an older priest or bishop — particularly if that priest or bishop holds the power to determine the success of the seminarian's career. Such a power differential isn't tolerated in Hollywood or media — think Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, or any number of celebrities or TV hosts who've fallen from grace — yet Cupich and his likeminded peers seem to think different rules apply to clergy.