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Catholic abuse scandal
January 8, 2019

On Monday, the global Catholic group Opus Dei acknowledged that in 2005 it had paid $977,000 to settle sexual misconduct allegations against a prominent priest, Rev. C. John McCloskey. McCloskey, who provided spiritual direction at the Catholic Information Center in Washington, D.C, was "the closest thing to a celebrity the Catholic Church had in the region," The Washington Post reports, and was widely known as the priest who converted Newt Gingrich, Larry Kudrow, Sam Brownback, and other prominent conservatives to Catholicism.

The settlement was paid to an unidentified woman who told the Post that McCloskey groped her several times while he counseled her over martial troubles and depression, then absolved her of her "misperceived guilt over the interaction" in confession. "I love Opus Dei but I was caught up in this coverup," she said. "I went to confession, thinking I did something to tempt this holy man to cross boundaries." Opus Dei said another woman told the community that "she was made uncomfortable by how [McCloskey] was hugging her," and the group is investigating a third, potentially "serious" but so far unsubstantiated misconduct claim against the priest.

Opus Dei went public with its settlement at the request of the first woman, who said she hoped it might help other potential victims come forward. Opus Dei Vicar Msgr. Thomas Bohlin said McCloskey's actions were "deeply painful for the woman" and "we are very sorry for all she suffered." McCloskey was removed from the Catholic Information Center a year after she made her complaint, Bohlin said. McCloskey was then sent to England, Chicago, and California for assignments with Opus Dei, his contact with women purportedly curtailed. Opus Dei said McCloskey, now in his 60s, "suffers from advanced Alzheimer's" and "has not had any pastoral assignments for a number of years." This is the only sexual misconduct settlement Opus Dei has ever paid in the U.S., spokesman Brian Finnerty said. Peter Weber

December 21, 2018

This year was nothing short of a reckoning for the Catholic church.

Thousands of sexual abuse allegations surfaced against priests and religious leaders worldwide. Pope Francis addressed the scourge in a major year-end message to cardinals Friday, and had an especially harsh message for abusers.

"To those who abuse minors I would say this: Convert and hand yourself over to human justice, and prepare for divine justice," Francis said on Friday, per The Washington Post. These "sins and crimes of consecrated persons are further tainted by infidelity and shame," Francis added, and they "disfigure the countenance of the Church and undermine her credibility." Francis also admitted the Vatican had made serious mistakes in handling abuse cases throughout its history, and thanked the "honest and objective" media for exposing these wrongdoings, NPR reports.

Looking to the future, Francis mentioned the importance of an upcoming February "abuse prevention summit," USA Today says. Francis also said the church would "never seek to hush up or not take seriously any case," despite dozens of bishops and leaders doing so in the past.

Throughout the still-ongoing scandal, Catholics and non-Catholics alike have grown disenchanted with the church. But Francis promised Friday the church would become stronger once it addressed these wrongs, saying it was time to "lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light." Kathryn Krawczyk

December 13, 2018

A court in Melbourne, Australia, has convicted Cardinal George Pell, the Vatican's finance chief, on five counts of "historical sexual assault offenses," according to several media reports. The trial, which began Nov. 7, has been subject to a strict gag order in Australia. Pell has denied all allegations of sexual abuse. In the case at hand, Pell, 77, was convicted Tuesday of sexually assaulting two choir boys at Melbourne's St. Patrick's Cathedral in 1996, when he was archbishop of Melbourne. He will be sentenced and taken into custody in February, Crux reports, though his lawyers are likely to appeal the convictions.

Pope Francis appointed Pell as the Vatican's secretary for the economy in 2014 and placed him on his nine-member council of advisers, or the C9, in 2013. Pell, who took a leave of absence in 2017 to fight the abuse charges, was removed from the council at the end of October, the Vatican said Wednesday, along with Chilean Carcinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz Ossa — who stands accused of covering up for abuser priests — and Congolese Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya.

"The Holy See has the utmost respect for the Australian courts," Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said Wednesday. "We are aware there is a suppression order in place and we respect that order." Pell, the highest-ranked Catholic official ever tried and now convicted of sexual abuse, still faces additional charges dating back to the 1970s. Peter Weber

October 12, 2018

On Friday, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Catholic archbishop of Washington, D.C. Wuerl, who previously served as Pittsburgh's bishop, was named by a Pennsylvania grand jury as one of the Catholic officials who covered up clergy sexual abuse of children. He also became embroiled in the scandal centered around his predecessor in Washington, former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. All bishops submit their resignations to the pope when they turn 75; Wuerl turns 78 in November. The Vatican did not immediately name Wuerl's successor.

Wuerl, once viewed as a reformer on clergy sex abuse, flew to the Vatican in mid-September to discuss his resignation with Francis. The pope's "decision to provide new leadership to the archdiocese can allow all of the faithful, clergy, religious, and lay, to focus on healing and the future," Wuerl wrote in a statement released Friday. "It permits this local church to move forward. Once again for any past errors in judgment I apologize and ask for pardon. My resignation is one way to express my great and abiding love for you the people of the Church of Washington." Peter Weber

October 6, 2018

Pope Francis has authorized a "thorough study," the Vatican said Saturday, of all its documents pertaining to the sexual abuse allegations against Theodore McCarrick, a prominent cardinal and former archbishop of Washington, D.C., who resigned in July.

An August letter from Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano alleged McCarrick's misconduct with seminarians was known in Catholic hierarchy for years, and that Francis removed sanctions against him despite this knowledge. The letter called for Francis himself to resign.

The pope initially refused to comment on Vigano's charge. By permitting an examination of the paper trail, the Vatican said, Pope Francis has determined to "follow the path of truth, wherever it may lead."

Read The Week's Matthew Walther on McCarrick and the Catholic Church's broader sexual abuse scandal here. Bonnie Kristian

September 17, 2018

Pope Francis on Saturday defrocked the Reverend Cristian Precht Bañados of Chile after a five-year investigation into allegations that he sexually abused children.

The expulsion is thought to be the first of its kind in modern Catholic history and is sure to raise questions of whether similar consequences will come for priests credibly accused of sexual misconduct in the United States and around the world. In Chile alone, 158 clergy and lay Catholics are under state investigation for sexual abuse, and a former priest was arrested there last month on charges of abusing seven children.

Precht, who was a popular human rights advocate before this scandal came to light, has denied the accusations of abuse. "I absolutely deny participating, in any way, in the acts which I'm slanderously being accused of," he said, per a local news report. "I will defend my personal and clerical honor in every way I can and any time it's violated." Bonnie Kristian

September 12, 2018

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Catholic archbishop of Washington, told priests in the archdiocese Tuesday that after speaking with them on Labor Day, "I intend, in the very near future, to go to Rome to meet with our Holy Father about the resignation I presented nearly three years ago," when he hit the retirement age of 75. He did not say if he will ask Pope Francis to accept his resignation, but with parishioners and some clergy angry over his role in handling child sex abuse cases when he was archbishop of Pittsburgh, it's "clear that some decision, sooner rather than later, on my part is an essential aspect so that this archdiocesan Church we all love can move forward," Wuerl wrote.

Wuerl, who has led the Washington archdiocese since 2006, spoke with Pope Francis once since a Pennsylvania grand jury report in August recounted his mixed record on handling priests accused of sexual abuse. In that conversation, The Washington Post reports, the pope told him to consult the priest in the archdiocese to determine what he should do. Wuerl can request to step down as archbishop, but Francis will have the final say. He did not give any timing for his visit to Rome. Peter Weber

September 7, 2018

The attorneys general of New York and New Jersey announced statewide independent investigations of Catholic dioceses on Thursday, saying the residents of their states deserve the same kind of accounting of child sex abuse by Catholic clergy as Pennsylvania delivered in August. In the three weeks since a Pennsylvania grand jury detailed more than 1,000 allegations of child sex abuse by 300 predatory priests over seven decades, the attorneys general of Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, and New Mexico have also launched inquiries into Catholic clergy sex abuse, The New York Times reports. Most bishops have said they will cooperate with the investigations, and in some cases, they requested them.

Every statewide investigation is a little different, given differing restraints on what attorneys general can and are willing to do. In Missouri, for example, Attorney General Josh Hawley is having a team examine sex abuse records that St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson voluntarily handed over; Hawley said he has neither subpoena power nor the ability to impanel a grand jury. New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood, who did reportedly subpoena all abuse-related documents from New York's eight dioceses, said she will coordinate her investigation with local district attorneys. In New Jersey, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal appointed prosecutor Robert Laurino to head up a task force that will have subpoena power through a grand jury. Peter Weber

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