‘I Don’t Remember’: Which Prelates Knew About Sex Abuse?

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by Gene Thomas Gomulka  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  January 30, 2020   

Vatican report must address many names in light of Viganò, Sipe revelations

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In October 2018, just months after Abp. Carlo Maria Viganò accused Pope Francis of covering up for ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the Vatican reported that the pope commissioned a study of the Vatican archival files on McCarrick "in order to ascertain all the relevant facts — to place them in their historical context and to evaluate them objectively." Now, more than 14 months later, the results of the long-awaited investigation have yet to be disclosed. Many people are asking, "Why the long wait?"

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Abp. Carlo Maria Viganò

Who Knew, According to Viganò?

Besides Pope Francis, a number of high-ranking U.S. prelates were also accused by Viganò of being aware of McCarrick's sexual harassment of young seminarians. Catholic News Agency Editor-in-Chief J.D. Flynn recently noted, "While the report may be completed in Rome, its release may not be imminent, and some U.S. bishops may be quietly hoping for further delays." 

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Richard Sipe

Included among those U.S. prelates named by Viganò of being aware of McCarrick's predatory behavior are: Cdl. William Levada, who died in September of 2019; Cdl. Donald Wuerl, who resigned as archbishop of Washington in October 2018; and Bp. Robert McElroy, the current ordinary of the diocese of San Diego. Other prelates who may be anxious about the results of the Vatican investigation also include Chicago Cdl. Blase Cupich and Newark Cdl. Joseph Tobin, whose appointments Viganò accused McCarrick of orchestrating.

While Levada has passed away and Wuerl is retired, the one practicing prelate who may be worried the most about the Vatican report is Bp. Robert McElroy, of whom Viganò wrote:

The appointment of McElroy in San Diego was also orchestrated from above, with an encrypted peremptory order to me as nuncio, by Cdl. Parolin: 'Reserve the See of San Diego for McElroy.' McElroy was also well aware of McCarrick's abuses, as can be seen from a letter sent to him by Richard Sipe on July 28, 2016."

Who Knew, According to Sipe?

Richard Sipe, the renowned expert in clerical sex abuse who passed away in August 2018, published his private correspondence with McElroy proving that the bishop was made aware of McCarrick's sexual harassment of seminarians. Sipe's 13-page letter, dated July 28, 2016 and hand-delivered to McElroy by a process server on August 30, contained very detailed allegations about McCarrick's homosexual predation. If Sipe had McElroy served, it was because he wanted proof that McElroy was in receipt of credible allegations of sexual abuse against McCarrick on a certain date. If McElroy covered up the evidence instead of forwarding it to Rome knowing that only the pope has the authority to discipline a bishop, and if it were later discovered that McCarrick indeed was a sexual predator, then Sipe knew McElroy — if his cover-up were discovered — could be found guilty of failing to report abuse. 

If one were to apply the adjudication of the Sandusky case to the investigation surrounding the cover-up involving the abuse carried out by McCarrick ... one might reach some very interesting conclusions.

Theodore McCarrick was not the only U.S. prelate accused by Sipe of being part of a homosexual network of complicit clergy. Also mentioned in Sipe's letter were former Los Angeles Cdl. Roger Mahony; former St. Paul and Minneapolis Abp. John Nienstedt; the late Washington Aux. Bp. Thomas Lyons; the late Kansas City-St. Joseph Bp. Raymond Boland; and former San Diego Bp. Robert Brom who was succeeded by Bp. Robert McElroy.

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Cdl. Blase Cupich (Left) and Bp. Robert McElroy

When Abp.Viganò received the same documentation in 2007 Sipe shared with McElroy in 2016, Viganò forwarded it to Pope Benedict XVI, which led him to place severe restrictions on McCarrick's movements and public ministry, not allowing him to venture beyond the seminary grounds where he was living, and not permitting him to say Mass in public. When McCarrick seemed to disappear following the submission of his report, Sipe was led to conclude that justice was served even if it did not result in more severe penalties against McCarrick at that time.

Following the election of Pope Francis in 2013, when McCarrick appeared to have been resurrected and restored to ministry despite sanctions imposed years earlier by Benedict, Richard Sipe shared the same evidence with Bp. McElroy that he sent years earlier to Abp. Viganò. When McElroy did not provide Sipe with proof that he forwarded the evidence to Pope Francis as Viganò did years earlier to Benedict XVI, it was only then that Sipe had the evidence legally served to McElroy, lest he later claim he was never in receipt or possession of it.

Just as many people believe that Pope Francis failed to follow his own announced "zero tolerance" sexual abuse policy by failing to take corrective action when Viganò alleged to have warned him on June 23, 2013 that McCarrick was a serial predator, so too do many Catholics in San Diego believe that Bp. McElroy also failed in his duties by not ensuring that the evidence he received from Sipe was acted on by Pope Francis.

Parallels with the Penn State Abuse Case

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Jerry Sandusky

Some reporters who have been covering sex abuse not only in the Catholic Church can see a similarity in the McCarrick case with the Jerry Sandusky case at Penn State University. When coach Joe Paterno was approached by assistant coach Mike McQueary reporting he had seen Sandusky abusing a young boy in Penn State football's shower facilities, Paterno notified Athletic Director Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, Vice President of Finance and Business, to whom the University Police directly reported. Had Paterno not passed on the information he received from McCreary, then he could have been found guilty of covering up sex abuse. However, despite the fact that he did exactly what was morally and legally required, Paterno was later criticized and fired for not ensuring that his report was properly addressed.

If one were to apply the adjudication of the Sandusky case to the investigation surrounding the cover-up involving the abuse carried out by McCarrick as reported by Sipe to McElroy, and allegedly reported by Viganò to Pope Francis, then one might reach some very interesting conclusions.

If McElroy did not forward the credible abuse allegations he was presented by Sipe to the papal nuncio, Abp. Christophe Pierre, to be forwarded to Pope Francis, then he could be found guilty for having covered up abuse, just as Paterno would have been so judged had he not forwarded the allegation involving Sandusky to Curley and Schultz.  If, however, McElroy did in fact forward the allegations he received from Sipe to Pope Francis — the same allegations that Viganò received and forwarded years earlier to Pope Benedict — then it could appear that Pope Francis may have covered for McCarrick just as Curley and Schultz covered for Sandusky. When it was shown that Tim Curley and Gary Schultz did not properly act on the abuse allegations they had received from Joe Paterno, they were found guilty of child endangerment and sentenced to up to 23 months in jail.

Albany Bp. Edward Scharfenberger said, "We have reached a point where bishops alone investigating bishops is not the answer."

If McElroy argues that he sat on Sipe's 11-page report and never forwarded it to Pope Francis because he did not find it credible, then he has to explain why that same evidence was credible enough for Viganò to forward it to Pope Benedict, and credible enough for Pope Benedict to sanction McCarrick.

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Ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick

If, however, McElroy admits he, in fact, did forward it to Pope Francis, then he runs the risk of having his career destroyed for revealing that Pope Francis acted like Curley and Schultz in covering for a predator, which would support Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro's claim that the abuse cover-ups in the Catholic Church lead "all the way to the Vatican."

'I Don't Remember'

Many people find it hard to believe that Viganò would lie that he warned Pope Francis about McCarrick being a serial predator during their encounter on June 23, 2013.  Many also believe that such an allegation made by a highly respected, credentialed papal diplomat would not be easily forgotten. 

When a Mexican journalist interviewed Pope Francis and asked him about Viganò's allegation involving McCarrick, Francis responded, "I don't remember if he told me about this." Interestingly, this plausible deniability remark was omitted in the Italian translation that was originally prepared for the media. This remark contradicts an earlier statement made during the interview when the pope said, "I knew nothing about McCarrick, obviously, nothing, nothing." It was only after someone listened to the recording of the interview and read the Spanish transcription that the inexplicable contradictory remark was discovered missing, which then forced the Vatican to insert it into the official Italian translation.

Vatican, Bishops Investigating: 'Not the Answer'

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Cdl. Donald Wuerl (Left) and Pope Francis

The Vatican's omission of the pope's contradictory remark is not the first time the Vatican has been caught in not telling "the whole truth." When Pope Benedict XVI chose not to endorse a book commemorating Pope Francis' five year anniversary, the Vatican doctored a photo, blurring a portion of a letter from Benedict that would lead one to believe he actually endorsed the anniversary publication. This violation of photojournalist industry standards, along with the Vatican's omission of a questionable statement by the pope during an important interview, raises suspicions about the ability of the Vatican Curia to undertake a fair and impartial investigation.

Following the revelations of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury and Viganò's testimony alleging cover-up by Pope Francis and the Roman Curia, Cdl. Donald Wuerl — who was alleged to have covered up abuse by both Richard Sipe and the Pennsylvania Grand Jury — suggested that U.S. bishops create a commission of bishops to investigate rumors of sexual misconduct by other bishops. In response to this recommendation, Albany Bp. Edward Scharfenberger said, "We have reached a point where bishops alone investigating bishops is not the answer."

If Bp. Scharfenberger is correct, then what can one expect to come forth from an investigation carried out by the Roman Curia, the very body Abp. Viganò accused of being complicit in covering up McCarrick's abuse? Similar to the investigation of the Sandusky case, which showed that Curley and Schultz covered up the abuse reported by Joe Paterno, it remains to be seen what will happen not only with Bp. McElroy — who clearly had evidence of McCarrick's serial predation — but also with Pope Francis, whom Sipe realized was the only one with authority to discipline McCarrick. If, in fact, McElroy did forward Sipe's detailed report to the Curia and Pope Francis, will the pope deny he ever received it; respond as he has in the past with silence; or will he say, "I don't remember"?

Gene Thomas Gomulka is a retired Navy captain/chaplain who served on active duty at Marine Corps and Navy commands for over 24 years. A Catholic priest (monsignor) ordained for the Pennsylvania Altoona-Johnstown diocese, Gomulka and Dominican Fr. Thomas Doyle had their ecclesiastical endorsements revoked as a result of their support for sexual abuse victims and their confrontations with Church leaders who underreported and covered up abuse.


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