NEW YORK — Following Pope Francis’s historic decision to accept the resignation of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick from the College of Cardinals, both fellow bishops in the United States as well as survivors and advocates say it’s a step forward but there’s still a great distance to be traveled until the pledge of “zero tolerance” is fulfilled.
“The somber announcement from the Vatican this morning will impact the Catholic community of the Archdiocese of Newark with particular force,” said Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark in a statement on Saturday.
Tobin — who now holds the post McCarrick held from 1986 to 2001 — went on to add that “this latest news is a necessary step for the Church to hold itself accountable for sexual abuse and harassment perpetrated by its ministers, no matter their rank. I ask my brothers and sisters to pray for all who may have been harmed by the former Cardinal, and to pray for him as well.”
Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, who succeeded McCarrick in 2006, spoke to WTOP, a local D.C. radio show, on Saturday, where he called the decision a “big step forward in trying to act quickly, decisively,” though he acknowledged that the “procedure isn’t concluded yet.”
In a statement on Sunday, the Archdiocese of Washington said a review of their files found no complaints against McCarrick there. Further, Wuerl said, he was unaware of the settlements in Metuchen and Newark.
“Those coming forward with new allegations show a confidence in the Church to take seriously these charges and act quickly in responding,” it said.
“We continue to pray for the survivors of such abuse and understand how difficult it is to share such painful memories,” the statement said. “While the struggle to confront such experiences is difficult for survivors, the archdiocese wishes to accompany them and help them through this process.”
“The archdiocese encourages all coming forward to share these experiences with any diocese in which they reside so that these grave issues can be reviewed promptly by Church authorities, and that we can offer assistance to begin the process for healing and peace,” it continued.
A Vatican communiqué issued on Saturday announcing the resignation said that McCarrick had been ordered “to remain in a house yet to be indicated to him, for a life of prayer and penance until the accusations made against him are examined in a regular canonical trial,” – and acknowledgement that further action perhaps awaits.
Following the Vatican’s announcement, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston and president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued a statement also thanking Francis for his actions.
“I thank the Holy Father for his leadership in taking this important step,” he said. “It reflects the priority the Holy Father places on the need for protection and care for all our people and the way failures in this area affect the life of the Church in the United States.”
The most extensive response to date, however, was issued by Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth, Texas, who on Saturday issued a two-page pastoral letter, wherein he used the McCarrick allegations to address the situation within his own diocese.
“We see in the scandalous crimes and sins alleged to have been committed by now former Cardinal McCarrick, the violation of that trust and the grave damage caused to the lives and health of his purported victims,” he wrote.
“Justice also requires that all of those in Church leadership who knew of the former cardinal’s alleged crimes and sexual misconduct and did nothing be held accountable for their refusal to act thereby enabling others to be hurt,” he continued.
He went on to reaffirm the Church’s pledge of zero tolerance against sexual abuse within his own diocese against both minors and vulnerable adults, “by its clergy, staff, and volunteers, including me as bishop.”
Yet while the response from Church leaders offered an optimistic, if cautious, tone for the way forward, the response from the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) was much more blunt.
“We understand that this action is without precedence, but it is nothing compared to the lifelong suffering inflicted on the victims,” they wrote on social media.
Patricia McGuire, president of Trinity Washington University in D.C. also penned a deeply personal blog post focusing on the need for repentance and atonement in light of the McCarrick revelations.
“The Pope and cardinals and bishops must find something else, something more: a deep, compelling, durable voice arising from the core of the Church, a practice of atonement leading to healing and reconciliation with victims and those who walk with the victims,” she wrote on Saturday.
“The exercise of such a voice cannot arise from a position of power and authority, or legality and self-protection, but rather, from a posture of genuine humility and vulnerability. Such a posture requires a reduction in trappings and ritual, a simpler and more human vocabulary that begs forgiveness and expresses a level of understanding about the hurt that we have not yet heard or seen,” she continued.
Meanwhile, Juan Carlos Cruz, a prominent victim of sexual abuse by the serial Chilean abuser priest Father Fernando Karadima used the occasion to call on the current and retired Cardinals of Santiago, Chile, Riccardo Ezzati and Francisco Errazuriz, who are under scrutiny for covering up sex abuse, to resign also.
Meeting with victims of abuse during his September 2015 visit to the United States, Francis said “God weeps” for them, adding that abuse “cannot be maintained in secret.”
Since allegations against McCarrick first came to light last month after a New York archdiocesan review board found claims by a 16-year-old altar boy that McCarrick abused him when he was then a young priest in the 1970s to be “credible and substantiated,” the U.S. Church has endured the most intense scrutiny of its sex abuse policies since the crisis first exploded in 2002.
In recent weeks, both Tobin and Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, president of the pope’s Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, have vowed that the U.S. bishops will, once more, examine ways to deepen their reform efforts.
In that sense, observers say, Saturday’s turning point does not mark the end of the road. For the U.S. bishops, if anything, it represents the beginning of a new phase in their “zero tolerance” campaign, one in which the question isn’t just holding abusers accountable but also those who facilitated it by failing to act.