DUBLIN — Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago is one of the few American prelates making an appearance at this week’s World Meeting of Families in Dublin, after both Cardinals Donald Wuerl of Washington and Sean O’Malley of Boston withdrew due to abuse-related scandals.
Amid fears that after the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report the Church in the United States could face a new eruption of the abuse crisis, Cupich acknowledged that “a lot of damage has been done” to the faith of believers, but the primary focus should be the wellbeing of the victims and not the Church’s reputation.
Speaking to Crux, Cupich said his first concern “is not my credibility or the bishops’ credibility. My first concern is that it’s damaged the faith lives of people.”
“If it’s damaged our credibility, then we have to do something about it, but my major concern is that we need to focus our attention on the damage it does to people’s faith lives. Also, [the focus should be on] the hurt that’s revisited victims as a result of this. This is something we as Church leaders should be concerned about, not our own skin,” he said.
As Church leaders, “we have to own this,” he said, explaining that in his view, the root of the problem is a systemic clericalist mentality that led to a collective failure in protecting the vulnerable and gave a free pass to a small privileged group.
This problem is not related to any one pope but would have come regardless “because of the clerical culture that’s there,” he said, adding that he’s grateful for the steps Pope Francis has taken in helping the Church to move forward.
Cupich spoke at a press briefing alongside the Primate of Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh on the second day of the Aug. 22-26 World Meeting event. Others present at the press conference were Lorna Gold from Trocaire Ireland, an organization dedicated to environmental protection, and Deidre O’Rawe from Accord Catholic Marriage Care Service, who will be leading a panel on caring for wounded families.
In comments to the press, Cupich said the lack of transparency on the part of the Church “is part of the disgust and anguish people are feeling” about the abuse scandals, and voiced hope that reports such as the Pennsylvania grand jury report will help encourage other victims to come forward.
Noting how the abuse scandals detailed in the report have led to a pseudo-#Metoo movement in the Catholic Church, Cupich said he believes that people are finally finding the courage to speak out about what happened to them.
“That might seem threatening to certain people in the organization,” he said, but this is the only way for progress to be made.
Despite the mass cover-up detailed in the grand jury’s findings, Cupich said he believes the 2002 Dallas Charter on child protection implemented by the U.S. bishops after scandals broke earlier that year has been effective.
“Retrospectively, it forced us to be honest and transparent,” he said, pointing to numerous background checks and auditing systems the Church has put into place.
On ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who lost his red hat last month following accusations that he had sexually abused a minor and engaged in sexually inappropriate behavior with seminarians, Cupich said it’s a prime example of the charter working since Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York launched an investigation when complaints were raised, submitted the findings to a review board and published the results.
The only way to go forward and to heal this wound in the Church “that’s so infected,” he said, is to “put the child in the middle of the room as Jesus did in the Gospel.” If this is done, he said, “We’ll get it right.”
“If we have other ancillary concerns, we’re going to mess it up,” Cupich said, adding that the present time is “a very black moment” for the Church, but the darkness “is not about the trouble that it’s causing us…the real darkness is the victims…that’s where we have to go, because that’s where Jesus is.”
Referring to Francis’s upcoming meeting with abuse survivors during his Aug. 25-26 visit to Dublin, Martin said the pope has “always been very clear that he wants to reach out to survivors.”
These meetings can be difficult because “survivors sometimes simply don’t trust us,” he said, but stressed the meeting will be “a sacred and special moment both for the survivors and for Francis.”
The pope, he said, will be “in listening mode, as we should all be.”