Catholic Editor: Sex Abuse Scandal Could ‘Split’ the Church Like Another Reformation

Penitents carry the cross next to Pope Francis during the Way of the Cross torchlight procession at the Colosseum on Good Friday on April 3, 2015 in Rome. Christians around the world are marking the Holy Week, commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, leading up to his resurrection on Easter. …
FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images

Philip Lawler, editor of Catholic World News and author of Lost Shepherd: How Pope Francis Is Misleading His Flock, believes the sexual abuse scandal currently engulfing Pope Francis could create divisions “so great that the Church will split” and lead to “the equivalent of the Reformation.”

He offered his analysis in a Wednesday interview with Breitbart News Senior Editor-at-Large Rebecca Mansour on SiriusXM’s Breitbart News Tonight.

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Mansour began the interview with an excerpt from Lawler’s Lost Shepherd, detailing how an internal left-wing lobby within the Vatican pushed for the election of Pope Francis after Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation in 2013.

Lawler described Pope Francis’s favoritism towards the Vatican’s internal left-wing lobby as a quid pro quo following the latter’s support for Francis’s election to the papacy.

One of the most influential figures in getting Francis elected pope was Washington, DC’s former archbishop, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who is at the center of the current sex abuse scandal due to his decades-long sexual abuse of priests, seminarians, and laypeople—including minors. Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, a former papal ambassador to the United States under Pope Benedict XVI, recently released an affidavit letter stating that Pope Francis knew about the sanctions imposed on McCarrick by Pope Benedict, but chose to lift them anyway and make McCarrick a member of his inner circle of advisers, a position which allowed McCarrick to advance the names of his allies for election as bishops and cardinals.

Lawler said, “Once he was in office as Pope, Pope Francis leaned on people who were his favorites, and one of his favorites was Cardinal McCarrick. So, there’s no question that Cardinal McCarrick had tremendous influence in this papacy. The only question, in my mind, is whether what Archbishop Viganò said is true — and I tend to think it is — that Pope Francis was aware of [McCarrick’s] background, was aware that Pope Benedict had imposed sanctions on [McCarrick for sexual abuse] — although he didn’t do that openly, it wasn’t public — and nevertheless relied on him despite the evidence of [McCarrick’s] moral turpitude. [McCarrick] was a major influence early in this pontificate.”

Mansour highlighted a 2017 Associated Press report detailing Francis’s lessening of penalties and sanctions, relative to his predecessors, on sexually abusive priests. Quoting the article, Mansour read, “Pope Francis has quietly reduced sanctions against a handful of pedophile priests, applying his vision of a merciful church even to its worst offenders.”

Lawler said, “There’s a pattern here. Pope Francis has promoted cardinals who have been charged with either sexual misconduct … as in the case of McCarrick, or with covering up misconduct, as in the case of Cardinal Danneels who he appointed to the Senate; Cardinal Maradiaga who’s the chairman of his council of cardinal advisers, the equivalent of his cabinet; Cardinal Errázuriz in Chile who’s right at the middle of the [sex abuse] explosion that caused all the other bishops of Chile to resign.”

Lawler continued, “So there’s a pattern here that Pope Francis has issued a lot of very good statements about his commitment to wipe out sexual abuse and hold bishops accountable for how they respond, but the statements have not been matched by official action; on the contrary.”

Mansour noted that the 2017 AP article reported that Pope Francis was “overruling” the advice of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the strict penalties imposed by his predecessors, Popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II, and instead acceding to the wishes of “the priests or their high-ranking friends [who] appealed to Francis for clemency.” Mansour speculated that compromised officials like McCarrick and Danneels might be among the “high-ranking friends” appealing for clemency.

“There’s very little reason to doubt that there is a sort of cabal,” said Lawler. “There is, frankly, a homosexual network within the Vatican, as well as within the clergy and hierarchy in this country. Otherwise there is just no way to explain how McCarrick rose through the ranks over the decades. It was years ago that most people who were following Catholic affairs carefully who were aware of how McCarrick was taking seminarians to his beach house; it really was an open secret.”

“How is it that [McCarrick] rose through the ranks?” asked Lawler. “He became archbishop of Washington. He became a cardinal even before he was disciplined by Pope Benedict. It’s mysterious to the point you just can’t believe it, you can’t understand it unless you recognize that there have to be people in high places who are protecting [and] advancing his cause and that he, in turn, did the same for others.”

Lawler speculated on possible cures to what he described as a pattern of sexual abuse and related “corruption” within the Catholic Church.

Lawler remarked, “There is an awful number of bishops, and an even greater number of very angry Catholic laypeople who are demanding an independent investigation that can get to the bottom of all this and expose the corruption. There’s no question that there’s a tremendous amount of corruption, and we need to expose it and get it out. Maybe this is the opportunity to do it. There’s enough of an incentive [and] enough people angry, energized, and aggressive.”

Lawler added, “There’s also a very simple way, at least to get to the bottom of the questions that Archbishop Viganò raised in his testimony, which is to have an investigation that is launched by the Vatican [and] conducted independently, but with the pope’s authorization so that bishops are required to answer questions and to surrender documents that resolve these questions. … At least we’d know where we stand.”

Mansour compared the current scandal to the #MeToo scandal in Hollywood in which everyone knew about Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assaults on women, just as everyone seems to have known about McCarrick’s sexual abuse of clergy and laity. Citing the McCarrick revelations as the first shoe to drop, followed by the Pennsylvania attorney general’s report and the Viganò letter, Mansour asserted that “the floodgates are going to open up” as more people come forward.

“I certainly hope so,” Lawler replied, but noted the way “secular” or “liberal” news media outlets may be reluctant to follow these revelations.

“Generally speaking, the secular media is not particularly anxious to follow up this story for two reasons,” stated Lawler. “First, because Pope Francis has been a favorite of the media … particularly the liberal media, and the other is because if you unpack this you cannot avoid the issue of homosexuality which is the third rail. But that is what is going on with McCarrick and the seminarians. It’s wrong to think about this as all about pedophilia. Most of it was involving adults. It’s still abuse, and it’s still immoral.”

Mansour noted that even a liberal Catholic like the late Richard Sipe, who spent his life studying the problem of clerical sex abuse, “believed that there was a correlation between the secret gay lifestyle of priests and bishops and also the covering up for the sexual abuse scandal.”

She also cited a New York Times editorial on the abuse scandal which notes the prevalence of high ranking church officials around Pope Francis who are shielded by the pope despite the fact that they are flagrantly disobeying their vows of celibacy by living an actively homosexual lifestyle. The Times editorial noted the case of “Msgr. Battista Ricca, a Vatican diplomat who, while stationed in Uruguay, reportedly lived with a man, was beaten at a cruising spot and once got stuck in an elevator with a rent boy. (In Uruguay, the age of consent is 15.)” Instead of censuring Ricca, Pope Francis stood by him, saying, “Who am I to judge?” Mansour noted that the Pope was more concerned about criminality than morality, dismissing Ricca’s behavior with the 15-year-old boy prostitute because the age of consent in Uruguay is technically only 15.

“Pope Francis’s response to hearing this story was, ‘Well, he didn’t do anything wrong because it’s not illegal. It wasn’t a crime. Who am I to judge?’ Well, 15 years old happens to be the age of a number of the abuse victims detailed in the Pennsylvania attorney general’s report. So this does have something to do with [the sex abuse of minors],” Mansour said.

Consensual sexual relations between adults and priests can be abusive, said Lawler. “Even if he’s 25, the relationship between an adult and a priest is not an equal relationship,” he said. “It’s abusive when you take advantage of that relationship. Just the same as if a doctor takes advantage of a patient. That’s abusive.”

“When people have something to hide, when you have a whole lot of people within the clergy with something to hide, even if it’s consensual sexual relations, the fact that they have something to hide puts them in league with other people who have something even more nefarious to hide,” Lawler said. “We have a whole generation or more of clerics who are trained to look the other way. This is something that has to end.”

Lawler agreed with Mansour’s assertion that the Catholic Church’s hierarchy lacks credibility in handling this problem, considering that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) allowed McCarrick to take the lead in drafting their reform charter following the 2002 sex abuse scandal. McCarrick was careful to exempt bishops like himself from any potential discipline for sex abuse.

“You cannot trust them,” held Lawler. “They’ve proven that, and I think the better bishops know they can’t be trusted. The only way to get this done with any degree of credibility is to have laypeople involved and have an independent investigation, and to have a pretty solid guarantee of real independence; not having bishops looking over their shoulders. … If an investigation doesn’t result in multiple resignations, I don’t believe that it’s honest, because it’s very clear that the corruption is deep enough, so a lot of heads have to roll.”

Lawler expressed support for state-run investigations of the Catholic Church within America by the attorney generals in various states, similar to the investigation launched by the Pennsylvania attorney general. “I think that’s a good move,” advised Lawler. “Under any ordinary circumstances, I’d think it would be very dangerous to let the government inside the church, exposing the church to political dangers, but the dangers from within right now … are much greater than the dangers from political influence.”

Lawler sees Pope Francis as unwilling to undertake a good faith investigation of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.

“I think [Pope Francis] is going to try to ride it out,” predicted Lawler. “He has refused to answer questions about the Viganò letter, which is his pattern, he doesn’t answer tough questions. He doesn’t answer questions from cardinals about his apostolic exhortations. He probably won’t answer questions about this at least until he sees where it’s going, what line of defense would be most promising.”

Lawler added, “I doubt the calls for [Pope Francis’s] resignation will go anywhere. Nobody can force him to resign, that much is clear in canon law. He is immune if he wants to be. However, I do think that his leadership will be severely hampered. His credibility is …. severely hampered, so he will be much less powerful in any case. Where it’s going from here, I just don’t know. We are in uncharted waters. I have been following the Catholic Church as a journalist for 40 years, but that experience gives me no basis to tell you what’s going to happen next. This is all new.”

Lawler continued, “It took a very long time for the secular media, particularly, to notice that [Pope Francis’s] actions have not matched his words, and that he is creating dissent and division within the church. I think [the secular media] have noticed, and as their investigative journalists dig deeper into this story, it’s going to be more and more difficult for him to hold the line. I do think his leadership is shattered, at this point.”

Lawler speculated on a potential schism within the Catholic Church resulting from differences among Catholics over Pope Francis and ongoing investigations into allegations of sexual abuse within the institution.

“There’s a definite possibility that the divisions will be so great that the church will split,” estimated Lawler. “Of course, that would be a great tragedy, and I hope and pray that doesn’t come to pass. I do think that enough people, as they see the developments, will recognize that the hard core of people who just can’t reconcile themselves to acknowledge the difficulties, it’s not a very attractive picture. Right now, the most fervent supporters of Pope Francis would rather talk about the sexual abuse of children than about his leadership. That’s a measure of desperation.”

Mansour described ongoing developments as “another 500-year Reformation moment.” She said, “It seems that every 500 years in the church’s history there’s some big, catastrophic event, and we’re long overdue.”

Lawler replied, “I agree with you completely. I think that this is the equivalent of the Reformation, and I think that what’s going to emerge eventually is there are going to be some church leaders who really are dedicated to reform and they will capture the attention of the faithful and they will lead a revival [and] inspire people. But they won’t do it by business-as-usual, and they sure won’t do it by protecting the people who have been responsible for such shoddy leadership over the last 20 or 30 years.”

Lawler added, “Let me give you an optimistic note about the cardinals who will elect the next pope. Sure, Pope Francis has put in some of his friends in the College of Cardinals. He has also put in a lot of people from places like Myanmar and countries that have never had cardinals before, and these are cardinals nobody knows too much about, including the pope. They’re sort of wild cards in the deck.”

Lawler continued, “Pope Francis has not brought together the College of Cardinals as his predecessors did to have occasional meetings, talk things over, and get to know each other. So you have a group without, sort of, internal dynamics. We don’t know what’s going to happen in the next conclave. We don’t know who the most influential cardinals are, or who the power-brokers and the kingmakers.”

Lawler concluded with hope that the Catholic Church will emerge stronger after its internal reckoning.

“I’ve got to believe that at this point, a whole bunch of cardinals who were at the last conclave that elected Pope Francis will have a sort of buyer’s remorse,” Lawler said. “They do not want more of the same. No sane person wants this. Again, I think we’re in uncharted waters. I still am optimistic in the long-run. I think we’re in for some very rough times, but in the long run I think the church will emerge, be reformed, and be stronger than ever.”

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