HARRISBURG, Pa. — Vatican officials knew of efforts to cover up sexual abuse by priests in Pennsylvania, Attorney General Josh Shapiro said Tuesday morning during appearances on two national news shows.
“We have evidence that the Vatican had knowledge of the cover-up,” Shapiro said on NBC’s “Today” show. He said later in the interview that he “can’t speak specifically to Pope Francis” knowing.
Shapiro reiterated those comments during a later interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News. Shapiro said he was referring to portions of the grand jury report where diocesan officials contacted the Vatican about troublesome priests, often in an effort to get them removed from ministry.
There are a couple of dozen references to the Vatican in the grand jury report, along with the attached responses from people criticized in the document.
Many of those mentions concerned requests from Pennsylvania church officials to the Vatican that an abusive priest be removed from the priesthood following an allegation of sexual abuse or rape. Procedurally, the pope has to decide to remove a priest.
The report notes that the grand jury reviewed copies of some of those requests in the course of its two-year investigation. “Often called ‘The Acts’ of the subject priest, the summaries were often the most detailed documents within diocesan records and contained decades of long-held secrets only disclosed in an effort finally to remove an offending priest from the priesthood,” according to the report.
It was not clear how much detail those summaries included about the six dioceses’ prior responses to the allegations.
Shapiro would not elaborate beyond the report, saying grand jury secrecy prevented him from providing more detail about the evidence his office has involving those communications between the dioceses and the Vatican.
Multiple church leaders in their own responses to the report denied a cover-up. Some noted that the process for defrocking a priest is lengthy and that in some instances, bishops suspended priests from active ministry while the requests were pending. Among those who have criticized the report’s fairness is Cardinal Donald Wuerl, currently archbishop of Washington and previously bishop of Pittsburgh.
Shapiro, during a separate interview on “CBS This Morning,” said, “I believe that statements made by bishops in Pennsylvania, by Cardinal Wuerl specifically, to deny this does further the cover-up. It covers up the cover-up.”
The remarks came days after a former Vatican ambassador to the United States asserted that Francis knew of abuse accusations against former Washington Archbishop Cardinal Theodore McCarrick long before his resignation this summer.
A redacted version of the grand jury report was released to the public this month. The grand jury found that more than 1,000 children were raped or otherwise sexually abused by 301 “predator priests” over 70 years. The report covered six of the state’s eight Roman Catholic dioceses and called for changes to state law.
(Staff writer Angela Couloumbis contributed to this article.)
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Who is Carlo Maria Vigano, the man accusing Pope Francis of covering up sex abuse?
By Jaweed Kaleem - Los Angeles Times (TNS)
The Roman Catholic Church went into crisis mode this week after a Vatican official published an 11-page letter alleging that Pope Francis and U.S. Catholic leaders covered up sexual abuse by an American cardinal.
In the unusually detailed and direct letter, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the former Vatican ambassador to the U.S., made unsubstantiated claims that Francis, Pope Benedict XVI and several American cardinals and archbishops had teamed up over the years to protect Theodore McCarrick, who as a cardinal was one of the most powerful figures in the church.
Vigano, who released the letter as the pope was visiting Ireland, blamed church leaders for protecting a widespread “homosexual current” in the Vatican and said Francis must resign. He also said church leaders had a “pro-gay ideology” that ran counter to long-standing church prohibitions against homosexual acts.
But church experts say the letter’s significance may be less about those allegations than about power struggles within the church hierarchy.
Francis has set a more liberal tone by meeting with gay people and expressing more tolerance for homosexuality than any pope in history, though still hewing to the church’s prohibition on same-sex marriage. Vigano, who was the Vatican’s ambassador to the U.S. until 2016, is part of a more conservative wing of the church that has protested Francis’ leadership, especially on issues of sexuality.
“This letter has everything to do with factions in the church that are vying for power and influence,” said Massimo Faggioli, a professor of theology at Villanova University who studies the Vatican. “You have a convergence of interests that is making this a huge mess in the U.S. Catholic Church.”
Vigano’s long and intimate access to the inner workings of the papacy makes the letter difficult for the pope to brush aside.
Born into a rich Italian family, Vigano eventually became an archbishop in 1992 at the behest of Pope John Paul II. From there, he ascended the church’s ranks, becoming a diplomat for the Vatican, the secretary of the governorate of Vatican City and the Vatican’s ambassador to the U.S.
But throughout his rise, he clashed with church officials — including Benedict and Francis — over whether Vatican leaders were supportive of him, his attempts to change church governance and his views of homosexuality in the church.
He has said that by not cracking down on homosexuality within the church, the leadership has contributed to the problem of pedophile priests — a contention that is roundly disputed by liberal Catholic leaders and victims’ advocates who say sexual orientation has no bearing on whether somebody commits abuse.
In widely publicized leaked church documents in 2012, Vigano was shown appealing to church leadership to discredit anonymously sourced articles in the Italian press criticizing his performance and role in the Vatican. The documents — dubbed VatiLeaks — showed that the leaders refused to defend him.
The documents also showed that Vigano was desperate to not be transferred to the diplomatic position in Washington and protested to his superiors, including Benedict’s second-in-command, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.
Vigano said in the leaked letters that he was being punished for uncovering corruption in the Vatican. Bertone is among the church leaders Vigano named in his recent letter as co-conspirators in Vatican cover-ups.
In 2015, when Francis visited Washington, Philadelphia and New York, Vigano played a key role in one of the most controversial moments of the trip.
He arranged for the pope — who had until then received widely positive news coverage for saying it was not his place to judge gay people — to meet Kim Davis, a Kentucky county clerk who had become embroiled in national controversy over her refusal to give marriage certificates to gay couples. Vatican insiders said the pope, who shook hands and took photographs with many people during his visit, did not fully understand who Davis was when he posed with her at the ambassador’s residence.
The incident, which overtook otherwise glowing reports on the pope’s U.S. visit, was blamed internally on Vigano and said to be one of the reasons Francis did not ask him to stay in his post upon reaching the retirement age of 75. Catholic officials frequently stay in posts beyond retirement age at the request of the pope.
In his letter released over the weekend, Vigano wrote that Francis and Benedict were aware of sexual abuse by McCarrick, the former cardinal who led churches in the Washington region from 2001 to 2006.
McCarrick resigned in July and was stripped of his title of cardinal after U.S. news outlets reported that he had abused seminarians. Vigano also said that other Catholic figures, including Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, were aware of the abuse.
Wuerl said through a spokesman that he was never told that the Vatican had barred McCarrick from celebrating Mass.
Reaction to the letter varied.
In a statement released Monday, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the allegations must be investigated.
“The questions raised deserve answers that are conclusive and based on evidence,” DiNardo, the archbishop of Galveston-Houston, said. “Without those answers, innocent men may be tainted by false accusation and the guilty may be left to repeat sins of the past.”
Also named in the letter was Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, N.J., who said in a statement that the allegations had “factual errors, innuendo and fearful ideology.” Tobin said there needed to be “scrutiny of the claims” to “help establish the truth.”
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, a leader among conservative Catholics, issued a statement praising Vigano’s “integrity” but said he could not comment on the letter because it had details “beyond his personal experience.”
Bishop Joseph Strickland of the Diocese of Tyler, Texas, went further. In a letter to church members, he said that the details in Vigano’s letter “are still allegations but as your shepherd I find them to be credible.”
Though the U.S. church indicated it will investigate, it’s unclear what the Vatican will do.
When asked about the allegations after he departed Ireland on Sunday, Francis refused to address them.
“I will not say a single word on this,” he said. “I think this statement speaks for itself, and you have the sufficient journalistic capacity to draw conclusions.”
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