In the face of Rome’s refusal to open an investigation into Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s serial homosexual abuse, a group of lay Catholics has announced that it is launching its own full inquiry into all the cardinals of the Catholic Church and their relationship with abuse.
The Better Church Governance Group (BCG) held its inaugural meeting on the campus of the Catholic University of America (CUA) in Washington, DC, Sunday evening and announced its intention to investigate each of the 124 cardinals eligible to participate in a papal conclave to elect the next pope.
The ambitious project of investigating and rating every single member of the college of cardinals “to name those credibly accused in scandal, abuse, or cover-ups” will conclude with the publication of a comprehensive “Red Hat Report” by April 2020, the group said.
The report will employ a rating system of each cardinal’s connection to scandal and abuse, using categories like “Strong Evidence of Abuse/Corruption, Some Evidence, Positive Evidence Against Abuse/Corruption.”
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has twice petitioned Pope Francis to conduct an “apostolic visitation” to get to the bottom of the McCarrick case, including who knew of his abuse and did nothing, who enabled him, and who benefitted from his patronage.
Pope Francis, who has been personally named in reports of misconduct relating to McCarrick, has made it clear that he does not intend to accede to the bishops’ request.
Frustrated with the pope’s inaction, the USCCB announced its own investigation into McCarrick’s abuse, focusing on the four dioceses in which McCarrick worked: New York, Metuchen, Newark, and Washington, DC.
Unlike the Vatican, however, the USCCB does not have the canonical authority to require compliance with such an investigation, so it will depend on the voluntary cooperation of the four dioceses involved.
The BCG investigation into the college of cardinals seems to represent a parallel effort to get to the bottom of abuse allegations without having to rely on cooperation from the Vatican.
According to the online Catholic news outlet Crux, the investigation will be conducted by a team of some 100 researchers, academics, investigators, and journalists, including former FBI agents. Whenever possible, investigators will travel to locations where the cardinals are based in order to get on-the-ground testimony from locals.
The first-year budget for the project $1,126,500, and BCG is reportedly seeking donations to cover the cost of the operation.
The group said it intends “to hold the hierarchy of the Catholic Church accountable for abuse and corruption, and to develop and support honesty, clarity, and fidelity in Church governance.”
The operations director of BCG, Jacob Imam, said: “We can’t allow people to continue to allow our kids, the innocent, the young, seminarians to be devoured the ways that they are.”
Imam, a Marshall Scholar of the University of Oxford, suggested that the investigation would also assist the college of cardinals in making a good choice at the next papal election.
“Cardinals need to be held accountable publicly, so there has to be some sort of culture of shame,” he said. “They know if they vote for this person … the people that they shepherd, and their pastors, will know about it.”
Rumors have circulated that the election of Pope Francis at the last conclave was brought about in large part through the ministrations of a tight-knit group of electors that ably pushed their candidate through.
The influential Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels stated in a 2015 television interview that Francis was elected by a liberal “mafia,” a group of progressive bishops and cardinals who had worked for years to bring about exactly this end, as reported in the 2018 book, The Dictator Pope.
It would appear that the BCG is attempting, among other things, to make sure that the cardinal electors are equipped with more reliable information about candidates than they have had in the past on which to base their choice.
In a briefing document, BCG stated: “Cardinals have commented that accurately knowing the backgrounds of the other cardinal electors is the most precarious part of each conclave. Our mission is to change this.”
The group intends to update Wikipedia pages on each of the cardinals to reflect its findings to present a truer portrait of each of the prelates.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter Follow @tdwilliamsrome.