Cardinal Blase Cupich said Saturday night that Pope Francis and other church leaders, including himself, are confronting head-on the latest sex-abuse problems rocking the Catholic Church, but the cardinal didn’t directly address critics who have accused him of downplaying the scandal.
A special Mass celebrated by Cupich capped a nine-day Novena prayer service series that aimed to promote healing in the wake of the string of revelations about clerical sex abuse.
“This is a watershed moment,” Cupich said during his 9-minute homily at Holy Name Cathedral.
“And today . . . Pope Francis, he is calling to the church to a mature response to the crisis by prioritizing the need to address the type of abusive behavior by clergy, and the abusive behavior of leaders who walked away from victim survivors,” Cupich continued. “He has and will continue to remove bishops and cardinals who failed in their sacred duty to protect all people from sexual abuse. He has admitted to accountability. He has met with victim survivors, and he has admitted his own mistakes. ‘I was part of the problem,’ he has said.
“The Holy Father has been telling us from the beginning of this crisis that for change to happen, the church must reject the phony gospel of possessions, power and prestige, and follow the suffering who suffer in silence.”
The Novenas were held across the Archdiocese of Chicago as Cupich has faced growing scrutiny over comments that seemingly minimized the crisis, including telling Mundelein Seminarians last month that “we have a bigger agenda than to be distracted by all of this.” Cupich’s comments upset some seminarians so much that they took the unusual step of discussing their concerns with a Chicago Sun-Times reporter.
Cupich didn’t directly address those concerns during his homily. He did, however, note that he has personally spent time with sex-abuse victims. He also acknowledged “a crisis of confidence in church leaders who failed to protect those in their care, and a crisis of faith in the church itself.”
Cupich also said the church is committed to working with victims to “face these terrible crimes and fundamentally commit to working for justice. . . .
“My personal visits with victim survivors over these past few decades as a bishop has served as as point of reference, a compass, to keep me focused on this singular priority in the life of the church, and they will continue to do that,” he said.
People who attended the mass said the cardinal struck the right tone in a difficult time.
“I don’t think it’s a right or wrong in his address. We humbly recognize that there’s a problem in the church. And at the end, one of the priests said, you know, this mass will not even be enough,” said Maria Reyna, 52, of Schaumburg. “So it’s a lot of reconciliation and healing, and probably never, nothing in this world will be ever be enough. So we’re just going to keep praying for the victims who are suffering from this abuse. And we’re all together in this endeavor.”
“I think, obviously, they’re trying to let everyone understand their stance in it, and reassuring us that they’re going to do more this time to not let this happen again,” said Rose Grieco, 56, of Chicago’s River North neighborhood. “So I guess just keep in faith that you know, believing that we’re going to get through this as a church, and be stronger from it.”
The crisis exploded earlier this summer following revelations of abuse allegations against disgraced ex-Washington, D.C., Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, along with a report that found decades of abuse by priests and coverups by bishops in Pennsylvania.
For weeks now, Cupich has faced questions about what he knew about McCarrick following allegations in a letter from a former Vatican official, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, that McCarrick had helped Cupich’s career by encouraging Pope Francis to appoint him as head of the church in Chicago.
Cupich has said he doesn’t know whether McCarrick played any role in his 2014 appointment and that he didn’t know about McCarrick’s past.
In the same letter, Vigano wrote that Pope Francis had known for years about allegations of McCarrick’s sexual misconduct, yet allowed him to continue in ministry.
In an Aug. 27 NBC5 interview, Cupich said the pope has “got to get on with other things” like helping the poor and sick, insisting “we’re not going to go down a rabbit hole on this.” The cardinal claimed his words were edited out of context, and he took the unusual step of ordering priests to issue a statement during Mass that weekend addressing the interview.
Sources told the Chicago Sun-Times that Cupich later made similar comments during an Aug. 29 meeting with priests-in-training at the Mundelein Seminary, when he said “I feel very much at peace at this moment” — a statement some seminarians called “tone-deaf.”