A worldwide summons to bishops, Cummings continued, is “a big move, but I’m not sure how bold it is. This crisis has been created by the bishops. The people who create crises are not the ones who are going to lead you out of them.”
Stephen Schneck, a former Catholic University professor, likewise told me, “I’ve come to the conclusion that the bishops can’t be trusted to police themselves. I think the ultimate solution, especially here in the U.S., is going to require an active, permanent role for the laity, because of the problem of oversight.”
A new bombshell report
A study has alleged that more than 3,600 children were sexually abused at the hands of some 1,670 clergy members over the past seven decades in Germany. Commissioned by Church officials and conducted by university researchers, the report was supposed to be released on September 25, but it was leaked to German outlets Spiegel Online and Die Zeit and reported this Wednesday instead. The findings implicate no less than 4.4 percent of the country’s clergy in abuse. A German bishop called the revelation “depressing and shameful.”
To the American Catholics I spoke to, it was something else, too: unsurprising. “A year ago, I would have been surprised,” Schneck said. “But now I think we have to recognize that this is a systemic problem within the clergy ranks around the world.” Cummings put it more bluntly: “I thought, ‘Of course. Here we go.’”
This study comes on the heels of another bombshell report. Just last month, a 900-page Pennsylvania grand-jury report detailed accusations against about 300 priests and alleged that their actions—which the report said involved more than 1,000 children—were covered up by diocese officials.
A cardinal on the verge of resignation
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, said Tuesday that he plans to travel to Rome soon, where he will ask the pope to accept his resignation. Wuerl has been heavily criticized after the Pennsylvania grand-jury report alleged that, as archbishop of Pittsburgh from 1988 to 2006, he had permitted priests accused of abusing minors to be reassigned or reinstated. He said Thursday that new leadership is needed to help the Washington archdiocese get past the “current confusion, disappointment, and disunity.”
The power play driving the latest Vatican crisis
Wuerl initially presented his resignation to Francis three years ago upon reaching the Church-mandated retirement age for bishops, 75, but the pontiff did not accept at the time. (This is fairly common; if the pope does not accept the pro forma resignation, the bishop continues to serve.) It’s unclear whether Francis will accept the resignation when Wuerl tenders it again.
“The fact that an archbishop has been chased into early retirement is very significant,” noted Schneck, who said he knows Wuerl personally. “He probably would’ve retired soon anyway, but nevertheless this was precipitated by the Pennsylvania grand-jury report. He has come to realize that he’s no longer effective as archbishop of Washington.”