WASHINGTON (CNS) – The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said he was “eager for an audience” with Pope Francis to gain his support for the bishops’ plan to respond to the clergy sexual abuse crisis.  

In an Aug. 27 statement, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston also said that the questions raised by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, former nuncio to the United States, in a letter published by two Catholic media outlets “deserve answers that are conclusive and based on evidence.”  

“Without those answers, innocent men may be tainted by false accusations and the guilty may be left to repeat the sins of the past,” the cardinal said.  

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Italian Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the apostolic nuncio to the United States, is pictured at his residence at the Vatican in this Oct. 20, 2011, file photo. The former nuncio has accused church officials, including Pope Francis, of failing to act on accusations of abuse by Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick.  Photo provided by CNS  

 

In his 11-page letter, published Aug. 26, Archbishop Vigano accused church officials, including Pope Francis, of failing to act on accusations of abuse of conscience and power by now-Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick. Archbishop Vigano claimed he told Pope Francis about Cardinal McCarrick in 2013.  

Archbishop Vigano, who served as nuncio to the United States from 2011 to 2016, wrote that he was compelled to write his knowledge of Archbishop McCarrick’s misdeeds because “corruption has reached the very top of the church’s hierarchy.”  

In his statement, Cardinal DiNardo reiterated an Aug. 16 call for an apostolic visitation, working with a national lay commission granted independent authority, to investigate the “many questions surround Archbishop McCarrick.”  

He also said he convened members of the USCCB Executive Committee Aug. 26 and that they “reaffirmed the call for a prompt and thorough examination into how the grave moral failings of a brother bishop could have been tolerated for so long and proven no impediment to his advancement.” 

The plan earlier outlined by Cardinal DiNardo also called for detailed proposals to make reporting of abuse and misconduct by bishops easier and improve procedures for resolving complaints against bishops. 

Cardinal DiNardo again apologized to abuse survivors and their families. “You are no longer alone,” he said.  

The statement explained how since 2002, professionally trained staff have worked with the U.S. church to support survivors and prevent future abuse. He pointed to the steps the church has put in place in response to abuse including the zero-tolerance policy regarding clergy abuse: safe environment training in diocesan offices, parishes and schools, background checks for church workers and volunteers working around children, victim assistance coordinators, prompt reporting to civil authorities and diocesan lay review boards.  

“In other ways, we have failed you. This is especially true for adults being sexually harassed by those in positions of power, and for any abuse or harassment perpetuated by a bishop,” Cardinal DiNardo said.  

“We will do better. The more she is buffeted by storms, the more I am reminded that the church’s firm foundation is Jesus Christ. The failures of men cannot diminish the light of the Gospel.”  

Pope Francis said Archbishop Vigano’s long document calling on him to resign is written in a way that people should be able to draw their own conclusions. 

“I read the statement this morning and, sincerely, I must say this to you and anyone interested: Read that statement attentively and make your own judgment,” he told reporters Aug. 26. “I think the statement speaks for itself, and you have a sufficient journalistic ability to make a conclusion.”  

Speaking to reporters traveling back to Rome with him from Dublin, the pope said his lack of comment was “an act of faith” in people reading the document. “Maybe when a bit of time has passed, I’ll talk about it.”  

Asked directly when he first learned of former Cardinal McCarrick’s sexual abuse, Pope Francis said the question was related directly to Archbishop Vigano’s report and he would not comment now.  

Archbishop Vigano, the former nuncio to the United States, claimed he told Pope Francis about Cardinal McCarrick in 2013.  

In June, the Vatican announced that the pope had ordered the former Washington archbishop to live in “prayer and penance” while a canonical process proceeds against him. The pope later accepted Archbishop McCarrick’s resignation from the College of Cardinals.  

The issue of clerical sexual abuse and other crimes and mistreatment of minors and vulnerable adults by Catholic priests and religious and the attempts by bishops and superiors to cover up the facts dominated the news coverage of the pope’s trip to Ireland for the World Meeting of Families.  

The pope said his meeting Aug. 25 with survivors of abuse was “very painful,” but it was very important “to listen to these people.”  

Asked by reporters what lay Catholics can do about the clerical abuse scandal, Pope Francis responded, “When you see something, say something immediately,” preferably to someone with the authority to investigate and stop it.  

The role of the media is important for getting the truth out, he said, but journalists should be careful to write about accusations “always with the presumption of innocence, not a presumption of guilt.”  

He pleaded with Catholic parents to listen to their children, even if the thought of a priest abusing them is horrifying.  

During the inflight news conference, Pope Francis also was asked about Ireland’s legalization of gay marriage and what advice he would give the parent of a gay child.  

“What would I say to a parent whose son or daughter had that tendency? I would say first, pray. Don’t condemn. Dialogue, understand, make room for that son or daughter, make room so he can express himself,” the pope said.  

“I would never say silence is a remedy,” he said. And “to ignore one’s son or daughter who has a homosexual tendency is a failure of fatherhood or motherhood.”