Pope Francis has authorized a “thorough study” of sexual abuse allegations against retired Washington, D.C., Cardinal Theodore McCarrick that is being called by some prominent members of the Church “the Satanic 9/11” and possibly the “final trial” before the return of Jesus.
The Vatican said Saturday it was aware that such an investigation may produce evidence “that choices were taken that would not be consonant with a contemporary approach to such issues.” But it said Francis would “follow the path of truth, wherever it may lead.”
In the latest of decades of similar sexual abuse allegations, McCarrick stands accused of beach-house romps with seminarians and young priests. While former Pope Benedict XVI had issued sanctions against McCarrick, they were rescinded by Pope Francis.
The statement did not address specific allegations that Francis himself knew of sexual misconduct allegations against McCarrick in 2013 and rehabilitated him anyway.
Francis has said he would not say a word about those allegations, lodged by a retired Vatican ambassador. Depending on the scope of the investigation, Francis’ actions may be found to have been inconsistent with what he now considers unacceptable behavior.
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“Both abuse and its cover-up can no longer be tolerated, and a different treatment for bishops who have committed or covered-up abuse in fact represents a form of clericalism that is no longer acceptable,” the statement said.
The Vatican knew as early as 2000 that seminarians complained that McCarrick pressured them to sleep with him. The Rev. Boniface Ramsay, a professor at a New Jersey seminary, wrote a letter to the Vatican in November 2000 relaying the seminarians’ concerns after McCarrick was named archbishop of Washington. McCarrick resigned as Washington archbishop in 2006 after he reached the retirement age of 75.
Francis accepted McCarrick’s resignation as a cardinal in July after a U.S. church investigation determined that an allegation he groped a teenage altar boy in the 1970s was credible. Since then, another man has come forward saying McCarrick molested him when he was a young teen and other men have said they were harassed by McCarrick as adult seminarians and young priests.
The scandal has created a crisis in confidence in the U.S. hierarchy, since it was apparently an open secret that McCarrick, now 88, would invite seminarians to his New Jersey beach house, and into his bed.
Faced with a loss of credibility, U.S. bishops announced they wanted a full-scale Vatican investigation into how McCarrick was able to rise through the ranks, despite his misconduct.
Last month, the personal secretary and head of the papal household for Pope Emeritus Benedict commented on the abuse crisis, stating that if the Church does not achieve renewal in its wake, civilization is “at stake.”
“If the Church this time does not achieve a renewing of herself with God’s help, the whole project of our civilization is again at stake,” said Archbishop Georg Gänswein. “For many, it already seems as if the Church of Jesus Christ could never recover from the catastrophe of her sin which right now seems nearly to swallow her.”
Gänswein referred to the abuse crisis as “Satanic” and the alluded to it potentially being a “final trial” for the Church before the second coming of Christ.
In August, Archbishop Viganò accused Pope Francis in a detailed 11-page document of covering-up for McCarrick despite being made aware of his sexual abuse of seminarians and priests. The archbishop called on the pope to resign.
Priests, bishops, a cardinal and tens of thousands of lay Catholic men and women are now calling for Viganò’s claims to be thoroughly investigated.
Archbishop Gänswein made it clear that the Church finds herself in an intensely turbulent situation.
Throughout his speech, Gänswein made repeated references to the public statements of Pope Benedict, for example when speaking about the papal trip to the U.S. in 2008. The archbishop said that Benedict in a speech delivered in the U.S. at the time “tried to shake up” the U.S. bishops. He commented: “It seems to have been in vain, as we see today.”
“The lamentation of the Holy Father (Benedict) was not capable of stopping the evil, nor the lip services of a large part of the [U.S.] hierarchy,” he said.
Gänswein also referred back to Pope Benedict’s 2012 warning that the spiritual crisis which takes place in the West is the gravest crisis since the decline of the Roman Empire at the end of the fifth century. “The light of the Christian civilization is being extinguished everywhere in the West,” were the words of Pope Benedict.
While speaking of the grave abuse crisis which is now raging in the U.S. and other parts of the world, Gänswein made a comparison with the terrorist event of Sept. 11, 2001, in the U.S. saying that the “Catholic Church, filled with disdain, looks upon her own September 11, also when this catastrophe, unfortunately, does not refer to only one single date, but to many days and years, and upon innumerable victims.”
“Even the Satanic ‘9/11’ of the Universal Catholic Church can neither weaken nor destroy the truth about the origin of her foundation by the Risen Lord and Conqueror,” he added. “That is why I honestly have to admit that I perceive this time of a great crisis – which is not anymore hidden to anyone – also as a time of grace” because “the truth will make us free, as Our Lord has assured us.”