There is a church in Rome called the Church of Domine Quo Vadis (Latin for “Lord, where are You going?”). It is situated on the spot where the apocryphal Acts of Peter described a meeting occurred between St. Peter and Jesus. Peter was fleeing Rome and Nero’s persecution. On his way, Peter saw Jesus walking in the opposite direction. Peter asked Him, “Domine, quo vadis?” Jesus responded, “I am going to Rome to be crucified again.” Shamed, Peter returned to Rome and was crucified, upside down.
Pope Francis, too, has abandoned his post… except he hasn’t done by leaving Rome. Instead, he has dawdled, fiddled, and worse. He must address Archbishop Viganò’s allegations about his personal conduct. And then he must take up the sins of the victims and the perpetrators, and, with the help of bishops, priests, religious, and laity, energetically, and with a sense of urgency, clean house.
The Catholic Church in this country — never mind Chile, Australia, Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands, and more — has witnessed nearly daily, just since June, one scandal after another, one cover-up after another, one lie after another, one failure to address all of this after another. Let’s recount some of this: On June 20, Pope Francis removed Cardinal McCarrick, the retired archbishop of Washington, D.C., from ministry following a report from the Archdiocese of New York. On July 27, he accepted McCarrick’s resignation from the College of Cardinals.
On August 14, the Pennsylvania grand jury issued its report. The next day, Cardinal O’Malley of Boston announced that he would not attend the “World Meeting of Families” in Dublin Ireland (Aug. 21-26) because he needed to review allegations of sexual misconduct at the Archdiocesan seminary. The next day, Cardinal DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, asked Pope Francis to initiate an investigation on how McCarrick was able to rise in the Church. Two days later, August 18, Cardinal Wuerl of Washington, D.C., withdrew as keynote speaker for the “World Meeting of Families.” On August 22, the bishop of Pittsburgh approved, following demands by the laity, the removal of Cardinal Wuerl’s name from an area high school.
On August 25, Archbishop Viganò, former papal nuncio to the United States, released his “testimony” (his word) and went into hiding. The next day, Pope Francis, on board a plane returning from the Dublin meeting says to journalists, regarding Archbishop Viganò’s allegations: “I will not say a single word on this. I think this statement speaks for itself, and you have the sufficient journalistic capacity to draw conclusions. When some time passes and you have your conclusions, maybe I will speak. But I would like that your professional maturity carries out this task.”
On August 28, Cardinal Cupich of Chicago reacted to Archbishop Viganò’s allegations, stating that Pope Francis will not go down that “rabbit hole” but has more important things to do like the issues of climate change and migration. He then argued that his statement had been corrupted by the press. The entirety of the paragraph in which Cupich referenced a “rabbit hole” was not, however, of any help to him: “But for the Holy Father, I think to get into each and every one of those aspects, in some way is inappropriate and secondly, the pope has a bigger agenda. He’s gotta get on with other things of talking about the environment and protecting migrants and carrying on the work of the Church. We’re not going to go down a rabbit hole on this.” One source explains the idiomatic expression “going down the rabbit hole”: “To enter into a situation or begin a process or journey that is particularly strange, problematic, difficult, complex, or chaotic, especially one that becomes increasingly so as it develops or unfolds. (An allusion to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.)”
On August 30, Cardinal Wuerl met with Pope Francis in Rome who suggested that Wuerl consult his priests. Later that day, Wuerl wrote a letter to his priests. (On Labor Day, Wuerl met with his priests.) Also on August 30, Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia, a man passed over many times for Cardinal by Pope Francis, announced he had asked the Pope to cancel the month-long October Synod on Youth (and Faith and Vocational Discernment) because the Church has no credibility and should instead convene a synod on the life of bishops. Pope Francis ignored such pleas without comment.(A month later, on September 29, Archbishop Chaput wrote, “A more ironic, and more difficult, confluence of bad facts at a bad time for the meeting can hardly be imagined.”)
The nine-member Council of Cardinals met with Pope Francis in Rome September 10-12. Three of the Cardinals ended their membership. Two of the three were under a cloud concerning abuse but the Vatican cited only their advanced age. On September 12, Pope Francis said, in his morning homily: “In these times, it seems like the Great Accuser has been unchained and is attacking bishops. True, we are all sinners, we bishops. He tries to uncover the sins, so they are visible in order to scandalize the people.” (Yes, sins scandalize people, but, sorry, uncovering sins among bishops is not the work of the devil.) On the same day, he called a summit for February 21-24 of all the presidents of the Catholic bishops’ conferences of the world (over 100 people) to discuss the issue of sexual abuse of children. (Will it consider the abuse of seminarians? Will it consider how the likes of McCarrick was promoted? Will it consider how bishops, priests, the laity, may hold bishops to account rather than being fully dependent on a pope?)
The next day, September 13, Pope Francis suggested to the U.S. bishops that they hold a retreat for themselves. They did so January 2-8 at a seminary in Mundelein, Illinois. On January 3, Pope Francis, saying he could not attend the retreat, sent a 3600-word letter to them.
Cardinal Wuerl arrived in Rome on September 17, his second trip to Rome in 14 days, reportedly to resign. Four days later, he submitted his resignation. He remained in Rome several days. By letter of October 12, Pope Francis accepted Wuerl’s resignation, submitted 21 days earlier (slow as molasses), as Archbishop of Washington, but appointed him Apostolic Administrator, that is, an interim archbishop, until a new archbishop is named, and praised him. There is never any deadline for a pope to name a successor, so his position as Apostolic Administrator is indefinite. Nothing was stated about his position as Cardinal, so he remains a Cardinal, allowing him to vote in a papal conclave and, moreover, he retained his positions such as on the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith that, as it happens, supervises sex abuse allegations.
On September 21, Cardinal Tobin of Newark announced he could not attend the Youth Synod in Rome because he needed to investigate sex abuse in his archdiocese.
On October 6, three and one-half months since Pope Francis ordered McCarrick out of public ministry, and two months after Cardinal DiNardo had requested the Pope to act, Pope Francis authorized the Vatican archives to examine how McCarrick had risen in the hierarchy. (Slow as molasses.)
By letter hand-delivered by Cardinal Cupich on the afternoon of Sunday, November 11, Pope Francis canceled the agenda of the U.S. Conference of Bishops for their meeting commencing the next day in Baltimore. The bishops had planned to vote on particular action items (actions, not words) concerning the role of bishops and sex abuse of minors and seminarians.
Pope Francis appointed Cardinal Cupich to organize the February summit on November 23. (No doubt giving confidence to American and world-wide bishops, priests and laity.) On December 21, Pope Francis delivered a 4,000-word address to the Roman Curia on the February summit.
On January 4, the Vatican acknowledged allegations of perversion and financial misconduct of Argentinian Bishop Zanchetta, implicitly implicating Pope Francis of enabling it. The Washington Post reported on January 9 that the canonical investigation of McCarrick had started slow but had accelerated and may conclude before the February summit.
The Washington Post reported on January 11 that Wuerl was in Rome consulting with (lobbying) the Congregation of Bishops about his successor. (No doubt giving confidence to American bishops, priests and laity in any successor.)
What matters and events, pray tell, have kept Pope Francis so busy during August, September, October, November, December, and January — 180 days — so busy that he could neither address Archbishop Viganò’s testimony nor engage with bishops on their conduct in abusing, or enabling the abuse of, children and seminarians?
There are the papal routines: daily morning Mass, weekly Wednesday afternoon audiences, weekly Sunday praying of the Angelus with comments. He also celebrates many special Masses, such as one for the closing of the Youth Synod and one on November 3 for the repose of the souls of Cardinals and bishops who have died in the preceding year.
What other things are on a papal calendar? There are trips abroad. (He traveled to Palermo, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.) There are the unscheduled messages of condolences and prayers to victims of natural disasters, accidents, war and civil strife, and persecution. There are appointments to Curial offices. There is the receiving of new ambassadors. There are meetings with Curial officials such as those that result in papal decrees of miracles and the naming of bishops. (In his first three years, Pope Francis appointed 500 bishops. That’s a rate of over three weekly.) There are ad limina (or ad limina apostolorum) visits which are week-long meetings that occur every five years between bishops from a geographic territory and Curial officials, including meetings with the pope. (He met with bishops from Sudan, the UK, Venezuela, and Taiwan.) None of the activities I identified in this paragraph appear on the formal online papal calendar.
I have examined every item on Pope Francis’ online calendar from August 2018 through January 17, 2019, and into February, 2019, and I can assure you that these events, audiences, written messages, videotaped messages, singly or together, could not, except in his own mind, eclipse the importance of responding to allegations against him personally, or the protection of minors and seminarians from priests and bishops. Here is a selection from his calendar:
Sept. 5: Pope Francis addresses the Italian Motorcycle Federation.
Sept. 6: Pope Francis addresses the International Conference for Consecrated Widows.
Sept. 13: Pope Francis addresses the bishops participating in the course promoted by the Congregation for Bishops and, separately, participants at the conference on the theme “The theology of tenderness of Pope Francis.”
Oct. 16: Pope Francis sends a message on World Food Day.
Oct. 22: Pope Francis addresses the General Chapter of the Congregation of the Passion of Jesus Christ (Passionists).
Oct. 31: Pope Francis addresses the American Bible Society.
Nov. 1: Pope Francis sends a video message to the Scholas Occurrentes of Buenos Aires.
Nov. 8: Pope Francis sends a written message to a conference in Rome on drinking water.
Nov. 12: Pope Francis sends letters, one to mark the 50thanniversary of the founding of the monastic community of Bose, and another for the inauguration of the academic year of the Pontifical Lateran University.
Nov. 13: Pope Francis sends a message to the XXV General Assembly of the Spanish Conference of Religious Men and Women meeting in Madrid, Nov. 13-15.
Nov. 27: Pope Francis tours a Russian art exhibit.
Nov. 28: Pope Francis sends an address to the International Christian Union of Business Executives.
Dec. 4: Pope Francis sends a message on the occasion of the 23rdPublic Session of the Pontifical Academies.
Dec. 13: Pope Francis sends a message to participants in the Study Day on Water organized by the FAO, meeting in Madrid.
Dec. 17: Pope Francis addresses the International Commission Against the Death Penalty.
Dec. 22: Pope Francis addresses the Italian National Civil Protective Service.
Jan. 12: Pope Francis addresses the Italian Association of Church History Professors.
When I read these activities, my cheeks flush. I am enraged. I burn.
The laity put their sons under the care of priests and bishops. The laity provided the funds for the education and housing and food and clothes and cars and retirements of priests and bishops. Yet, some of them, too many of them, abuse our sons, wreck their lives, their faith, their vocations to married life or the priesthood. And then our bishops take our money, not their personal funds, and pay compensation to victims. Some have filed for bankruptcy. So, our dioceses lose these funds for the purposes for which they were donated: to evangelize, to pay for charities, to pay for the maintenance of our churches. Where is the response, in deed not just in word, of Pope Francis?