If the Church won’t hold bishops accountable, then should the courts?

Less than a month into the McCarrick scandal, interest in the former Archbishop of Washington’s misconduct began to wane. The story that dominated headlines day after day slowly faded from the public eye as journalists turned back to more humdrum affairs.

It seemed the media was already looking for a way to bury the lede. Some members of the mainstream press resolved not to believe Archbishop Viganò’s allegations from the outset and immediately concluded that Francis was the victim of a smear campaign launched by right-wing bishops and pundits. The New York Times summed up this view with its headline: “Francis Takes High Road As Conservatives Pounce, Taking Criticisms Public.”

They were helped by Francis’s refusal to either confirm or deny Archbishop Viganò’s accusation that he rehabilitated McCarrick despite knowing about his grotesque behaviour. A confession was unlikely, but even an outright denial would have stoked outrage and sustained the story for a few more more news cycles. If the Vatican’s intention was to simply kill the story, keeping tight-lipped was the right way to go about it.

Many feared that the public’s short attention span would allow those who enabled McCarrick’s behaviour to get off scot-free. Reform was impossible, they said, if it required more than three or four weeks of our attention. And yet, on September 6 the Attorney General of New York, Barbara Underwood, issued a subpoena for every single diocese in the state. In short order, New Jersey (never to be outdone by their neighbours in the Empire State) announced that it was forming a criminal task force to investigate clerical abusers.

The announcements came less than a month after Philadelphia released its grand jury report identifying more than 300 sexual abusers in six of the state’s eight dioceses, and accusing bishops of mishandling abusive priests. Among those criticised was McCarrick’s successor, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who defended his record.

​How to continue reading…

This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week

The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection