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View imageAs the College of Cardinals begins to gather for the upcoming Papal Conclave, the sexual abuse scandals that plague the Catholic Church continue to overshadow the event.
At least a dozen of the Cardinals now in Rome to prepare for the conclave have faced accusations of failing to remove priests who were accused of sexually abusing minors. In several cases, there is mounting evidence that — in addition to trying to cover-up cases of sexual abuse — several Cardinals may have manipulated church funds to hide assets from victims seeking settlements.
Advocates for abuse victims have also begun to gather in Rome to protest what they see as the blatant hypocrisy of the Catholic Church. While Pope Benedict had repeatedly apologized to the victims of sexual abuse, he never instituted any serious reform. During his Papacy not a single prelate was removed, even after court cases and documents revealed Cardinals who had put children at risk by failing to report pedophiles or remove them from the priesthood. Now those same prelates meet to pick Benedict’s successor and their new defender.
Much of the anger has been directed at Cardinal Roger Mahoney, retired from the diocese of Los Angeles. When sexual abuse charges were brought against priests in Los Angeles it was revealed in thousands of pages of church documents that Cardinal Mahoney attempted to cover-up and shield priests charged with abuse. His failure was so great that it has even prompted a rare rebuke from the church. Prominent Italian Cardinal Velasio De Paolis said that Mahoney’s presence at the conclave would be “troubling” and privately asked him not to come.
But to the dismay of his critics, Mahoney will attend the conclave. Hours after the Pope’s resignation he tweeted, “Am planning to be in Rome and vote for the next Pope.”
Days before he left for Rome, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York was also questioned behind closed doors in a legal deposition concerning the sexual abuse of children by priests in Milwaukee, where he was Cardinal for seven years. At present, 575 people have filed abuse claims against priests in the Milwaukee diocese. While Dolan’s role in the cover-up continues to be examined, he is widely seen as the leading American candidate for Pope.
Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz of Chile, Cardinal Sean Brady of Ireland, Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Canada — all of whom have been implicated in abuse cover-ups and been widely criticized in their home countries — will attend the conclave and are expected to vote for the new Pope.
The church continues to be rocked by abuse scandals worldwide, yet the Vatican remains silent as the College of Cardinals convene. Critics continue to hope that the next Pope will have the courage to address the sexual abuse crisis in the church. But how much hope for change can there be when many of those selecting the next Pope have been complicit in the very crisis all along? Will they want the next Defender of the Faith to protect the Cardinals or the victims of sexual abuse?