The Catholic bishops of Latin America have reacted strongly to allegations that Pope Francis knowingly rehabilitated a cardinal guilty of serial sex abuse, calling the accusations a “shameful” attack on the pope.
During a meeting last Sunday in Medellín, Colombia, the president of the Latin American bishops’ council (CELAM) said that in the past adversaries attacked the institution, and “today they attack the person.”
Pledging the loyalty of the Latin American bishops to Pope Francis, who is “weighed down with thorns and sacrifices but strengthened by the balsam of grace,” Cardinal Ruben Salazar, the archbishop of Bogotá, said that the pontiff is being attacked “we could almost say, in a shameful way.”
The bishops present at Medellín for a meeting celebrating the 50th anniversary of an important regional Church gathering in that city in 1968 joined Cardinal Salazar in signing a statement of support for Pope Francis and gratitude for his ministry as pope.
A growing group of prelates, including the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), has been calling for a formal investigation into the allegations brought by the former papal nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò.
Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo said the allegations that Pope Francis turned a blind eye to sexual abuse committed by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick merited an impartial investigation.
“The recent letter of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò brings particular focus and urgency to this examination,” Cardinal DiNardo wrote in a statement posted last Sunday on the USCCB website.
“The questions raised deserve answers that are conclusive and based on evidence,” he said. “Without those answers, innocent men may be tainted by false accusation and the guilty may be left to repeat sins of the past.”
The central allegation made by the former nuncio was that Pope Francis had known of Cardinal McCarrick’s record of serial sexual abuse as well as canonical sanctions brought against him by Pope Benedict XVI and yet chose to lift those sanctions and return the cardinal to a position of influence.
The cardinal’s call for “answers” followed immediately on a refusal by Pope Francis on Saturday to say when he first knew about Cardinal McCarrick’s homosexual abuse of seminarians and priests.
“I read that statement this morning,” the pope told reporters on the papal plane in response to a question about the veracity of the report.
Inviting journalists to read the statement themselves and draw their own conclusions, he said, “I won’t say a word about this.”
Anna Matranga of CBS News pressed the pope, asking, “When was the first time that you heard about the abuses committed by the former cardinal?”
The pope opted not to answer the direct question, a strategy that has been criticized even by some bishops.
“This comes out in the statement regarding McCarrick. Study it and then I will speak,” the pope said.
Earlier this month, Cardinal DiNardo called for an Apostolic Visitation to work together with a national lay commission with independent authority to seek the truth regarding the misdeeds of Cardinal McCarrick.
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