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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Current, former Spokane bishops respond to Vatican’s order on sexual abuse crisis

Members of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops gather at the USCCB's annual fall meeting, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018, in Baltimore. (Patrick Semansky / AP)

An order from the Vatican on Monday widened a rift in the Roman Catholic Church over how to handle the ongoing sexual abuse crisis in the United States.

That rift was exemplified in comments by two church leaders who have overseen the Spokane diocese.

Spokane’s current bishop, Thomas Daly, and his predecessor, Blase Cupich, were quoted in a Wall Street Journal story on Monday. Both are taking part in a gathering of American clergy this week in Baltimore.

The Journal reported that the Vatican had barred U.S. bishops from taking action to confront clergy sexual abuse, sending the Baltimore conference into disarray. Some bishops had been eager to address the problem this week, in part to signal they are taking the issue seriously as Catholics across the country grow angry and disillusioned with the church.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo announced the Vatican’s order during opening remarks at the conference Monday morning, saying the bishops may not take any steps on sexual abuse before a global summit on the issue scheduled for February, the Journal reported. The bishops had planned to vote on a package of new procedures for handling allegations against clergy.

Daly was among those who criticized the delay.

“It makes it look like we don’t care,” he told the Journal. “No reason is good enough for the laypeople who expect the bishops to act. … How are we going to explain this to the people back in our dioceses?”

Cupich, who left the Spokane diocese in 2014 to become the archbishop of Chicago, offered a different response.

“It is clear that the Holy See is taking seriously the abuse crisis in the church, seeing it as a watershed moment not just for the church in this country but around the world in putting so much emphasis on the February meeting,” Cupich told the Journal.

Pope Francis made Cupich a cardinal in 2016, and the Journal described him as a close ally of the pope. The newspaper reported that Cupich stood up immediately after Monday’s announcement to suggest that the bishops follow the Vatican’s order. But, he said, the bishops should schedule a meeting in March to vote on the proposed overhauls, moving as soon as possible after the global summit.

The long-running sexual abuse scandal began making headlines again in June, when allegations emerged that Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, D.C., had sexually abused minors and adult seminarians over the course of decades. Francis accepted McCarrick’s resignation in July. And then in August, the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office released a grand jury report finding that church leaders had covered up the abuse of more than 1,000 people over a 70-year period, prompting investigations in several other states.

Francis has faced allegations that he and other Vatican officials knew about McCarrick’s sexual abuse for years without reporting or punishing him.

In a series of open letters, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò – a former papal ambassador, or nuncio, to the United States – has accused the pope of covering up McCarrick’s sexual abuse and giving comfort to a “homosexual current” within the Vatican.

The letters have exacerbated cultural and ideological divides within the church, pitting Francis’ inclusive vision against conservative opponents of abortion and homosexuality. Viganò previously stirred controversy and ran afoul of Francis in 2015 when he invited Kim Davis, a Kentucky county clerk who denied marriage licenses to gay couples, to greet the pope in Washington, D.C.

In a recent interview with The Spokesman-Review, Daly said he had no firsthand knowledge of the McCarrick situation, but said he could attest to other claims made in Viganò’s letters.

Daly said he believes Viganò “wants to make sure his conscience is clear before God.”