On Oct. 8, Pope Francis met with Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the president of the U.S. bishops' conference, and other senior members of the conference just 48 hours after ordering an investigation into Vatican archives concerning former archbishop of Washington Theodore McCarrick, who resigned in July, CBSNews.com reported.
On July 28, the pontiff effectively stripped McCarrick of his cardinal's title following allegations of sexual abuse, including one involving an 11-year-old boy. McCarrick, one of the most high-profile U.S. church officials, had been heavily involved in the church's yearslong response to allegations of sexual abuse by priests.
Francis received McCarrick's letter offering to resign from the College of Cardinals on July 27, after a spate of allegations that the 88-year-old prelate had for years sexually abused boys and had sexual misconduct with adult seminarians.
The McCarrick case is a test of the pontiff's recently declared resolve to battle what he called a "culture of cover-up" of similar abuses in the Catholic church's hierarchy.
In the case of Scottish Cardinal Keith O'Brien, accused by former seminarians in 2013 of sexual misconduct, Francis only accepted his resignation after the Vatican's top abuse prosecutor conducted a full investigation, two years after the first revelations.
The Rev. James Martin, editor-at large at America Magazine, which covers church issues, noted in a tweet that Bernard Law was allowed to stay a cardinal after he resigned as Boston archbishop, after revelations that he had sanctioned the systematic cover-up of pedophile priests while presiding over the Boston archdiocese.
After resigning from his Boston post in 2002, Law was transferred to a prestigious job at a Rome basilica, an appointment that triggered outrage from many abuse survivors. That happened under Pope John Paul II, who was widely considered to have underestimated the scope of the sex abuse scandals worldwide.
The Vatican’s swiftness in stripping McCarrick of his cardinal's rank was a notable shift in how the church hierarchy has dealt with allegations against high-ranking priests.
"The Vatican almost never moves at this speed," said Terence McKiernan, of BishopAccountability.org.Inc., a Massachusetts-based group that tracks clergy sexual abuse cases. The pope appears to "understand the gravity of the situation and further harm to the Catholic church's status," he told the AP.
We’re glad to see that the Holy Father does seem to understand that.
This issue is a raw wound in the Catholic Church in America, in light of the Bernard Law scandal and McCarrick’s resignation amid abuse allegations. All too fresh is the memory of the Aug. 14 grand jury report that, CNN.com reported, said internal documents from six Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania show that more than 300 "predator priests" have been credibly accused of sexually abusing more than 1,000 child victims, some cases dating back to 1947.
Any priest found to have sexually assaulted children, or participated in a cover-up of such assaults, must be expelled from the priesthood. Church leaders must also cooperate in any investigation of suspected criminal activity.
Catholics must be able to believe that the church hierarchy won't shuttle priests who sexually abuse children from parish to parish, as it has done in the past.
The church, from Pope Francis on down, must clean its house. Let justice be done.