ROME — Cardinal Blase Cupich defended on Thursday the “dramatic drop” in clergy sex abuse cases in the United States since the U.S. bishops enacted a zero tolerance policy against abusers in 2002.
“When we put in measures to protect children, when we make sure we cooperate with law enforcement, incidents of child abuse drop dramatically, and have since 2002 when we adopted a charter,” Cupich told veteran journalist Christiane Amanpour last week ahead of Pope Francis’s major summit on sex abuse this week at the Vatican.
In the interview, which aired on Thursday, Cupich made a strong case for the U.S. Church’s child protection measures, and said that further steps are now needed to improve policies for bishop accountability.
“In the U.S. over the last five years, we’ve had 5 cases of abuse by clergy,” he said. “That’s a dramatic drop since the late ’60s and ’70s, so we know when we address this in a forthright way… we can make significant improvements.”
“One abuse case is too many, but when you attack it head on, you can make significant improvements,” said Cupich, who is one of the members of the organizing committee for this week’s summit and broadly seen as one of the pope’s leading allies in the United States.
“We need to be clear in each country on procedures for reporting bishops and a process for investigating that and making that known to the people of God. That is already the direction we’ve started,” he said, referencing the pope’s 2016 new guidelines for bishop accountability.
While the cardinal archbishop of Chicago said he believes it is “unrealistic” to believe that the abuse of children in the Church will no longer exist, as it is a “social problem” throughout the world, he praised the pope’s honesty in dealing with the crisis.
“Whenever he’s made a mistake, he’s owned it. You see it time and again,” he said.
Cupich also weighed in on the role of women in the Church and discussed cases of abuse against consecrated women, which Francis recently acknowledged on his flight back to Rome from the United Arab Emirates earlier this month.
“This crime against religious consecrated women should be condemned by everyone, we should do everything possible to make sure it stops. This is a horrendous crime, and the pope is right talking about it, because the more it’s in the open, is chances it ceases,” Cupich said.
He added that he believes the root causes in both the abuse of consecrated women and the abuse of minors and children is related and is a “clerical mentality… where people think because they’re in a position of power… they can get away with this kind of thing.”
“That has to end, and the Holy Father is right,” he continued. “Clericalist culture has to stop, and that’s part of the cure that needs to take place as we address all these problems.”
The cardinal also discussed the broader role of lay leadership, particularly of women, that he said he believes is necessary at this moment in the Catholic Church.
“The more that we integrate the voice of lay men and women and all people in decision making, that’s where the change will take place. I’m a firm believer in that and so is Pope Francis,” he said.
“We lose some of the wisdom of religious women when we exclude them. Not just in consultation, but in positions of decision-making,” he added.
When Amanpour pushed him on whether the Church might now consider the possibility of ordaining women as priests, he said “the issue of authority needs to be understood as not being the sole preserve of those being ordained” and argued that the Church “should not collapse all authority around those ordained and treat them as separate.”
As for his expectations for the Vatican summit, where representatives of bishops’ conferences from around the world are present in Rome, Cupich said he believes Francis is seeking to hear from all voices, including survivors, lay leaders, and members of the hierarchy.
“We have to walk together and listen to each other,” he said. “When we look at where the Lord is calling us, when we take our time, we will get it right.”
When Amanpour asked the cardinal about the different opinions among the bishops on how to handle the crisis, Cupich said the pope was trying to listen to all perspectives.
“People on both sides have things to offer. The Holy Father’s role is to ensure church unity is preserved,” he added, while acknowledging that, “at the same time keep an open ear as people who approach things differently share their views.”
“When you do an approach that has people walking together, you’re going to create a better outcome and preserve the unity of the Church,” he concluded.