Pope Francis has defrocked former US Cardinal Theodore McCarrick after Vatican officials found him guilty of soliciting for sex while hearing confession and sexual crimes against minors and adults, the Holy See said Saturday. (Feb. 16)
Two groups representing the leadership of Catholic religious orders apologized Tuesday for their failure to quickly act to halt sexual abuse of children by priests.
The apologies, issued by the male group Union of Superiors General and its female counterpart the International Union of Superiors General, came two days before the opening of a global summit at the Vatican on the protection of minors in the church.
“We bow our heads in shame at the realization that such abuse has taken place in our congregations and orders, and in our church,” the statement said.
The statement added that the groups’ members, including more than 100,000 priests and more than 500,000 religious sisters around the world, now understand that abusers are manipulative and deliberately hide their actions. Leaders failed to see or take seriously the warning signs of abuse, the statement said.
“We acknowledge that there was an inadequate attempt to deal with this issue and a shameful lack of capacity to understand your pain,” the statement said. “We offer our sincerest apologies and our sorrow. … We invite you to work with us to put in place new structures to ensure that the risks are minimized.”
Chilean abuse victim Juan Carlos Cruz, who is coordinating a meeting Wednesday between a dozen abuse survivors and summit organizers, said his group will further urge bishops to stop pleading ignorance about abuse.
“Raping a child or a vulnerable person and abusing them has been wrong since the 1st century, the Middle Ages, and now,” he said.
John Thavis, a former Catholic News Service reporter and author of “The Vatican Diaries,” said the meeting with abuse victims was added after the Vatican program.
“The bishops will no doubt hear some very direct criticism of their past failures,” Thavis said.
The summit itself will bring together almost 200 church leaders from around the world, including presidents of more than 100 bishop conferences – and Pope Francis himself. The summit will focus on making bishops aware of their responsibilities, accountability and transparency, the Vatican said.
Father James Bretzke, a theology professor at Marquette University, said the pope is demanding that summit leaders go beyond dealing with abuse by priests at the local level.
“The pope is saying this isn’t just a problem for the United States, or Europe or elsewhere,” Bretzke told USA TODAY. “The problem is the clerical culture that looks to protect the institution even at the expense of individuals who have been harmed.”
Last week, former U.S. cardinal Theodore McCarrick, 88, was defrocked by Pope Francis after Vatican officials found him guilty of sex crimes against minors and adults. He became the most senior Catholic official to be defrocked for such crimes.
Thavis said McCarrick’s case sends an important signal ahead of the summit that even cardinals and powerful archbishops will be held accountable.
“Unfortunately, the McCarrick case is also an example of just how long it has taken the church to face facts when it comes to sexual abuse,” Thavis said. “And it highlights the unresolved question of accountability for bishops who have moved abusive priests around and hidden these facts from the Catholic faithful.”
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