Editors’ note: This is the first of a two-part series featuring an exclusive interview on Liberty Nation Radio with one of America’s most prominent and well-connected Catholics, George Weigel. Mr. Weigel is the author of the official biography of Pope John Paul II, Witness to Hope, has served as Senior Vatican Analyst for NBC, and is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the DC-based Ethics and Public Policy Center.
It has been among the worst of times for the Catholic Church in this annus horribilis of 2018. The billion-member church has been engulfed by credible reports of past sexual abuse and complicity in the reinstatement of a proven sexual predator by Pope Francis himself. These revelations have been embarrassing at best and scandalous at worst, and add up to one of the most damaging crises in the centuries-long history of the institution.
The sane and sober voices of many prominent figures within the Church have remained mute, but an exception is George Weigel, official biographer of Pope John Paul II and Senior Vatican Analyst for NBC, who granted an exclusive interview on Liberty Nation Radio:
Tim: There’s always a tendency for the establishment media to press their feet on the throats of the Catholic Church and diminish Christianity in general. Let me start by asking you, what in the mainstream reporting on this story, or narrative, has been accurate and fair, and what has not?
George Weigel: Well, I think the reporting on the overseas cases of this very bad situation in Chile, a situation of … what appears to be very bad abuse of seminarians in Honduras, the reporting on what had happened in years past in parts of Australia, I think that’s been reasonably straightforward. It hasn’t been that straightforward in the U.S. What really ignited this summer of horrors after the revelations about Archbishop McCarrick, was the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report, which involved some 680 abuse cases. What the media didn’t really tell you is that that was over a 70-year period and that only 23 of those cases have been since 2002, when the U.S. Bishops put some very stringent rules into place to deal with abuse charges. You’re left with the impression that this is going on all over the place right now. That’s not a fair impression.
There have been, since 2008, 600 abuse cases reported in Pennsylvania Public Schools. There’s no Grand Jury. There’s no media firestorm. That having been said, I think the really unfortunate spinning from the mainstream media in recent days has been on these charges from the former Vatican Ambassador of the U.S., Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, that Pope Francis had been warned by him about reports that Cardinal McCarrick, as he then was, was a serial predator. Virtually the entire storyline on this, with a few exceptions, but virtually the entire storyline has been, kill the messenger. That’s just not right. That’s a very serious allegation. It deserves a serious response. That response has not been forthcoming from the Vatican, but the President of the U.S. Bishops Conference, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, said this past Monday that he thinks this deserves a serious response. We’ve not seen the end of that story by any matter of means.
Tim: Is it helpful for the Pope to tell the world, as he did recently, that he “won’t say a single word” about this scandal. Why would he adopt such a position?
George Weigel: Well, he said that about this specific allegation from Archbishop Vigano that Vigano had warned him about McCarrick. I think it would be extremely helpful if the Holy Father would respond to that. I think the people of the church deserve that response. I think the world deserves that response. I have known Archbishop Vigano for a long time and I believe him to be a man who would not deliberately make a false accusation. If the Pope was warned and for whatever reason chose not to take an action, I think that ought to be out on the record.
But in any event, it would be, I think, useful not to stonewall this and say, “Well, this is just something I’m not going to comment on.” Because it leaves it out there and it contributes to this atmosphere of people accusing everyone else who doesn’t happen to agree with them of bad faith, of duplicity, etc. It doesn’t help clear the air and it doesn’t contribute to the reform of the church that’s obviously necessary.
Tim: As you’ve referred to, the most troubling of these reports is that this pope in effect reinstated and promoted Cardinal Theodore McCarrick to a position of greater influence, offering advice, for example, on the naming of Bishops after his predecessor, Pope Benedict, had sanctioned McCarrick for years of serial sexual abuse of young seminarians, as in the report by Archbishop Vigano. Why would a man like Cardinal McCarrick not be removed from the church altogether after it became clear what he had done?
George Weigel: Well, these are the two questions on the table, Tim. First of all, was McCarrick sanctioned by Pope Benedict the 16th and told to simply retire to a life of prayer and penance. That is one claim by Archbishop Vigano. Second claim by Archbishop Vigano is that he warned Pope Francis about these allegations against Cardinal McCarrick. That hasn’t been responded to either. Those are two very serious allegations and they deserve a serious response. I don’t see what good is served by the Holy Father simply saying, “Well look, you people look into this.” This is what he said on the press conference on the flight back from Dublin this past Sunday. “And draw your own conclusions.” That’s just not a response that is satisfactory to people who are deeply concerned that what we thought had been a problem that had been solved, at least in the Catholic Church in the United States, appears not to have been solved in other parts of the world.
What’s different about this annus horribilis of 2018 from 2002 is that this is not about priest predators, this is about Bishops failing to deal with that. This is reaching right into the heart of the structure of the church – accountability, transparency, the willingness to discipline each other. When they fail in their obligations to be shepherds and stewards, they need to be called to task.
In the final part of this series tomorrow, George Weigel discusses how progressive politics has become increasingly prevalent in the Church, and how its leaders plan to address the fast-growing number of young Catholics who have grown up amidst a cloud of sexual scandal and left the Church.