DUBLIN — Pope Francis is worried about the mounting abuse crisis within the United States Catholic Church according to his top representative in the country.
“I see a serious concern on the part of the bishops and also on the part of the pope,” said Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio to the United States on Sunday.
“We must help this Church and the Holy Father to overcome this crisis and this scandal,” he said.
Pierre’s remarks came at the annual Rimini Meeting, organized by the Catholic lay movement Communion and Liberation, which regularly draws tens of thousands of participants from around the world to the Italian coastal town for a weeklong cultural celebration, where he said the issue of abuse would require more than just talking.
“Allow me to be very discreet in this context of scandal and suffering, because it’s important on our part not to add to the confusion,” Pierre continued. “The temptation would be to talk and talk too much. All members of the Church, and not just the bishops and the priests, must look for answers in order to be a Church and must offer a real response to the problem.”
Pierre’s comments come just days before the pope will travel to Dublin for the World Meeting of Families, a Vatican-organized family gathering which takes place every three years.
Ahead of Francis’s arrival in the country, the issue of sexual abuse has dominated headlines as the Irish Church continues to suffer fallout from its own scandals which came to light nearly a decade ago, along with a developing crisis in the United States Church leading two high-ranking prelates to bow out of participating in the Dublin gathering.
Earlier last week Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, widely viewed as one of the pope’s closest advisors and his point person on child protection, announced he would be staying home to oversee an internal investigation in his archdiocesan seminary related to the abuse of seminarians.
On Saturday, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington also withdrew from delivering a keynote address at the Pastoral Congress, amidst calls for his resignation over his handling of sex abuse cases during the 1980s and 1990s as bishop of Pittsburgh.
Those developments add to the atmosphere of crisis created by revelations in June that former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, D.C. had engaged in decades-long abuse. In an historic move, Francis accepted McCarrick’s resignation from the College of Cardinals, although U.S. Church officials continue to face pressure over questions regarding payouts and settlement agreements related to McCarrick’s history.
Last week’s devastating revelations from a Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report — which identified more than 300 abuser priests and over 1,000 victims in six of the state’s eight dioceses over 70 years — has prompted further outrage and raised questions regarding the seriousness of the Church’s “zero tolerance” policy on abuse.
While the head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, has called the situation a “moral catastrophe” and vowed new accountability measures, including requesting a Vatican investigation and scrutiny for bishops involved in abuse, many observers believe the situation has reached a breaking point.
According to Pierre, while new systems and oversight must be put into place as a first and necessary step for reform, he used his remarks on Sunday also to call for a change of heart.
“It cannot just be a juridical or management answer to avoid evil, because we all know that we will never be able to avoid evil even with the best juridical systems,” he said. “In a moment of crisis, I know well the American bishops and I see a serious concern that is also that of the Holy Father.”