In the two weeks since the release of the grand jury report detailing widespread sexual abuse by priests in Pennsylvania archdioceses, we have been forced to move from the repulsive to the tawdry, as the scandal suddenly lifted a curtain on Vatican political intrigue and schisms within the church.
Last weekend, during Pope Francis' visit to Ireland, an archbishop released an 11-page letter that called for his resignation.
The letter writer, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, claimed that Francis ignored sanctions that Pope Benedict XVI imposed on the disgraced Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, thereby enabling yet another prelate to skate free after abusing those in his spiritual care. (McCarrick's case involved his relationships with young seminarians.)
Thus, the spotlight shifted from the actions of hundreds of predator priests and their victims, to roiling political intrigue within the Vatican – a nasty fight pitting conservative Catholics intent on undermining the liberal pope, versus his supporters who embrace a more modern version of the church (and are disputing Vigano's claims). More cynical people would note that this diversion is something out of the Trump playbook: Make one bad story go away by fanning the flames of another shocking story.
We don't hold that cynical view. Instead, we see the events of the last week as a disheartening detour from what should have been swift leadership from the pope on the institutional corruption that has allowed thousands of worshippers in the church he leads to be victimized and brutalized. The pope's actions have been disappointing this past week, refusing to comment on the Vigano letter's claims. ("I will not say a single word on this.")
It's exactly this refusal to address disturbing claims that created the culture of denial and secrecy in the church, allowing its leaders to cover up the crimes of predators. By their silence, they enabled and even encouraged these horrific acts.
The events of the last month suggests the Catholic church is in a fight for its very life. Such fights can be bloody and brutal. But for the church to now become embroiled in politics and internecine war would be a further affront to the victims of its abuse.
The pope must lead the way on a path that leads to the light, towards truth and transparency.
To that end, the grand jury in the Pennsylvania investigation has called for the release of a non-redacted copy of its report. Dozens of names had been blacked out of the original report because the clergy in question say they deserve due process and a chance to clear their names.