Over the weekend I saw many people speaking out in frustration over Pope Francis putting Cardinal Cupich of Chicago on the planning committee for the February meeting in Rome addressing the abuse crisis. Those critical of this appointment are, unsurprisingly, conservative American Catholics who generally distrust the pope already. They are presenting Cupich’s appointment as yet another reason to doubt the pope and this upcoming meeting. This mistrust of Cupich largely rests on three recent events which themselves rely on unsubstantiated accusations, poor reporting, and unnamed sources.
The first event is Archbishop Viganò’s infamous letter. There Viganò seeks to discredit Cupich, and other American prelates, by associating them with Archbishop McCarrick. He alleges that McCarrick played “kingmaker” in making Cupich a cardinal. Thus, as Catholics critical of Francis say, the recent appointment of Cupich should make us doubt the pope and be critical of the February meeting.
No surprise though, Viganò fails to produce any evidence to support such claims, and all the prelates he discredits just happen to be his ideological opposites. However, as they did with all of the accusations in Viganò’s letter, American Catholics who already distrusted the pope (and didn’t really like Cupich anyway) latched onto this “guilt by association” tactic to confirm their doubts and dislikes.
The second reason we’re told we should mistrust Cupich’s appointment to the planning committee is that he recently said that the pope has a bigger agenda than the abuse crisis, like talking about the environment. Francis appointing someone that clueless should make us doubt the pope and lose confidence in this crucial meeting, right?
Except that Cupich didn’t say that the pope has more important things than the abuse crisis. Rather, he said that the pope has a bigger agenda (like urging moral responsibility for the environment and migrants) than to address each and every accusation Viganò made in his letter. And when the press reported that Cupich said the environment was more important than the abuse crisis, he quickly clarified and then apologized. So clearly that wasn’t what he meant.
The final reason presented for why we should mistrust Cupich (and thereby Francis for appointing him) is because two weeks ago, during the USCCB conference, he proposed a “metropolitan model” for how bishops deal with abuse accusations. This proposal was quickly viewed with suspicion, in part because Catholic News Agency ran a story with the headline “Cupich and Wuerl collaborated on alternative sex abuse proposal.” By associating Cupich with Cardinal Wuerl, who has been highly criticized for the way he has handled abuse allegations, we can discredit the Chicago prelate and his proposal. If Cupich is working behind the scenes with someone like Wuerl, he clearly can’t be trusted to plan this meeting, can he? Nevermind that the only evidence for this alleged collaboration is testimony from unnamed sources and that both Cupich and an official representative of Wuerl have denied such corroboration.
Why should we be so suspicious? That Pope Francis called this February meeting in the first place is good news for a Church trying to respond to the abuse crisis. It’s unprecedented. Never before have all the heads of national bishops’ conferences been called to Rome like this. Further, along with Cupich and several others, the pope appointed Archbishop Scicluna to help plan this meeting. Scicluna is well respected for his work investigating and prosecuting clerical abuse over the past two decades. Notably, he helped bring down the infamous founder of the Legionaries of Christ, Fr. Maciel, and he played a role in investigating the bishops of Chile earlier this year.
It’s really concerning that many Catholics who profess their orthodoxy and respect for the papacy are so quick to view everything he says and does with suspicion. These efforts to cast doubt on the Holy Father, Cardinal Cupich, and the upcoming meeting via guilt by association and unfounded rumors do nothing but divide the Body of Christ, undermine legitimate authority, and ultimately exploit the abuse crisis for an ideological agenda.
[Image Credit: Simone Orendain via Wikimedia Commons]
Paul Fahey is a husband, father of four, parish director of religious education, and co-founder of Where Peter Is. He can be found at his website, Rejoice and be Glad: Catholicism in the Pope Francis Generation.