A prominent German cardinal has accused critics of Pope Francis of exploiting the clerical sex abuse crisis in order to oust him from the papacy.
“There are people who just do not like this pontificate, and they want it to end as soon as possible and to then have a new conclave,” said Cardinal Walter Kasper, a close ally of Pope Francis, in an interview on German television last week.
Kasper, the former president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, has been referred to as “the pope’s theologian” for the place of prominence accorded him during the Francis pontificate.
In February 2014, the pope invited Cardinal Kasper to deliver the opening address to his brother cardinals who were gathered in Rome for a special “consistory” to discuss Church practice regarding families. At that time, Kasper suggested the possibility of the divorced and remarried being readmitted to Holy Communion.
In his remarks on the “Report München” program, the cardinal said that the pope’s adversaries are attempting to turn the discussion on the abuse issue “into a discussion about Pope Francis,” which he termed “an abuse of abuse.”
This strategy is “inappropriate,” he said, and “diverts attention from the real problem.”
Turning the debate into an indictment of the Francis pontificate “is distracting us” from more important matters, such as developing better “means of prevention” for protecting minors from abuse, he said.
The pope’s popularity in Germany has plummeted by 20 percentage points in the last year and although some have attributed this decline to Francis’ political positions on questions such as immigration, his handling of the clerical sex abuse crisis has undoubtedly been a factor as well.
Francis came under heavy fire a year ago for defending Chilean Bishop Juan Barros, who was accused of homosexual abuse as well as covering up for other abusers. After a Vatican-mandated investigation, Barros resigned from his post last June, and Francis apologized to abuse victims, confessing he had been “part of the problem.”
In early April, Francis acknowledged he had made “grave mistakes” in his handling of the Chilean sexual abuse scandal. In a letter to 32 Chilean bishops, Francis spoke of his “shame” and “pain” for the suffering of the victims.
“I have made grave mistakes in the assessment and my perception of the situation, especially due to a lack of truthful and balanced information,” he wrote.
Last August, a former papal nuncio to the United States released an 11-page report accusing the pope of reinstating serial sex abuser Cardinal Theodore McCarrick to a position of influence in the Vatican, despite knowing of McCarrick’s crimes since 2013.
The former nuncio, Italian Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, said that because of his culpable negligence in handling the McCarrick case, as well as for allowing a homosexual network to thrive in the Church, Francis ought to resign from the papacy.
Cardinal McCarrick enjoyed a “long friendship with Cardinal Bergoglio” and played an “important part” in his recent election, the archbishop claimed, which led the pope to continue using McCarrick as a trusted aide in the naming of U.S. bishops even after learning of his misdeeds.
Viganò stated that he had personally informed the pope of McCarrick’s abuse on June 23, 2013 and yet Francis “continued to cover for him.”
“He followed the advice of someone he knew well to be a pervert, thus multiplying exponentially with his supreme authority the evil done by McCarrick. And how many other evil pastors is Francis still continuing to prop up in their active destruction of the Church!” he said.
“In this extremely dramatic moment for the universal Church, he must acknowledge his mistakes and, in keeping with the proclaimed principle of zero tolerance, Pope Francis must be the first to set a good example for cardinals and bishops who covered up McCarrick’s abuses and resign along with all of them,” the archbishop concluded.
In the following months, the pope refused to answer reporters’ questions regarding the veracity of these allegations or to set the record straight as to when he had learned of McCarrick’s abuse.
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