By Christopher White, The Tablet’s National Correspondent
DUBLIN – Cardinal Blase Cupich offered a powerful admission on Thursday that Church leaders “cannot pretend to teach” on matters such as the family and love without acknowledging the scandal of clerical sex abuse, which looms ever larger over the global Catholic Church at the moment.
“As the Church in the United States and elsewhere is rocked by scandal, there are words like sorrow, shame, disgrace, and disgust that don’t express the outrage that are on the lips of our people. And rightly so,” he acknowledged.
Cardinal Cupich was speaking during a Pastoral Congress at the Vatican-sponsored World Meeting of Families in Dublin, Ireland, which will be capped off by a visit from Pope Francis over the weekend.
“These words describe the anguish that grips their hearts, but it can never capture the reality of suffering endured by victims of sexual abuse who are suffering with the compounded reality of the woeful responses of bishops who failed to protect them,” Cardinal Cupich continued.
The archbishop of Chicago moderated a panel discussion on “The Dignity and Beauty of Sexual Love: Finding New Language for Ancient Truths,” where he was joined by five lay men and women for an hour-long reflection on ways in which Pope Francis’s 2016 apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” can inject new energy and innovation into the way the Church communicates its teaching on marriage and family life.
Before delving into the topic at hand, Cardinal Cupich effectively offered a public act of contrition for the actions of Church leaders who have not only failed to uphold the Church’s own teachings, but also, egregiously, and sometimes criminally, abandoned their flock.
Last week’s Pennsylvania Grand Jury report, which unmasked more than 300 abuser priests and more than 1,000 victims over the period of 70 years, has devastated Catholics throughout the United States.
Compounded by the earlier revelations this summer of ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who has been credibly accused of sex abuse, leading to Pope Francis’s acceptance of his resignation from the College of Cardinals, the U.S. Church is facing its greatest crisis since the sex abuse scandal surfaced in 2002.
Validating the Outrage
On Thursday, Cardinal Cupich sought to validate the outrage of many U.S. Catholics, noting their anger represents “the stirrings of conscience of people who are scandalized – scandalized by the terrible reality that too many of the men who promised to protect their children and strengthen their faith have been responsible for wounding both.”
He went on to condemn the “hypocrisy of too many men said to preach the gospel but who, instead, recklessly disregarded it in their own personal lives, convincing themselves that they were privileged and protected, that there is a different standard of behavior for them.”
Cardinal Cupich, one the U.S. Church’s leading allies of Pope Francis and a member of the Vatican’s influential Congregation of Bishops, said that as a member of the clergy, he and his fellow bishops and priests must give witness to the Church’s teaching in their own lives before preaching about it to others.
“I realize that as we mine the wonderful depths of the word of God, that these words have to be taken to heart by me and my brothers,” he maintained.
“If each of us do not witness to the truth of the human person as a relational being in our own lives, the fundamental dignity of each of us as children of God then we cannot pretend to teach,” he said.
In the aftermath of this summer’s turbulent sex abuse-related news in the U.S. Church, the cardinal has called for new reforms and greater accountability of all clergy, including new initiatives led by the laity.
Last week, he released a letter to the archdiocese of Chicago in which he endorsed steps taken by the leadership of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to further investigate the McCarrick allegations and potential cover-up, including a potential Vatican investigation, and an update to the USCCB’s policies on sexual abuse so that bishops are not exempt from accountability.
“Anger, shock, grief, shame,” Cardinal Cupich concluded. “There is one other word that we bishops must summon: ‘Resolve.’ We must resolve to face our failures and hold each other accountable.”
“We must resolve to be clear-eyed about what we have done, what we have failed to do, and what remains to be done. We must resolve to live in the light of humility, of repentance, of honesty – the light of Christ.”