Seminaries that train young men for the Catholic priesthood have been the focus of increasing attention and scrutiny in recent months following allegations that disgraced former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick sexually preyed on seminarians for years out East.
The Chicago Sun-Times has learned that Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich this week is visiting the sprawling Mundelein Seminary that falls under his domain, but his aides won’t say whether he’ll be speaking about the sex abuse crisis that’s stretching from the seminaries to the highest rungs of the Catholic Church.
“He is at Mundelein Seminary for retreat and meetings, all of which have been scheduled for some time,” Anne Maselli, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Chicago, the Church’s local arm that Cupich oversees, said on Thursday.
Cupich is “out of the office for the remainder of this week and weekend,” and the retreat and meetings are “with his fellow bishops and priests,” Maselli said. “He will be there until Sunday evening or Monday morning.”
Asked whether Cupich planned to address sexual misconduct or the Church policy requiring chastity — priests and those training to become priests are supposed to abstain from sex, and homosexual intercourse is considered a sin by the Church — Maselli said: “I do not have access to the agendas for his meetings.”
Cupich did not return a message left at the seminary. Neither did the Rev. John Kartje, Mundelein’s rector who was appointed by Cupich in 2015 and whose biography describes him as an astrophysicist as well as a biblical scholar.
Cupich’s visit to Mundelein, which is part of the Church-run University of Saint Mary of the Lake, was not listed on online calendars for the cardinal and the archdiocese.
Maselli said, “It is not a public retreat and they are not public meetings, so they are not on his public schedule. We publish only his public events on his calendar.”
It’s been an ugly week for the Church, with a former high-ranking Church official, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, releasing an explosive letter alleging that the Church’s top figure, Pope Francis, knew years ago there had been misconduct allegations against McCarrick and nonetheless allowed him to continue in ministry and as an influential adviser.
Vigano also alleged that McCarrick — who was only sidelined by the Church in recent months as “credible” sexual misconduct allegations publicly surfaced about seminarians, as well as minors — was instrumental in getting Cupich and other U.S. Church leaders appointed by Pope Francis.
“The appointments of Blase Cupich to Chicago and Joseph W. Tobin to Newark were orchestrated by McCarrick” and two other bishops, Vigano wrote. “Their names were not among those presented” formally to the Vatican embassy in the U.S., and onto the pope through regular channels.
Vigano was the Vatican’s U.S. ambassador from 2011 until 2016.
In a written statement, Cupich called the claims “astonishing.” In an Aug. 7 interview with the Sun-Times in which he was asked about McCarrick, Cupich said only Pope Francis knows the particulars of his appointment to Chicago, but he doesn’t believe there are “kingmakers” in that process.
Pope Francis took office in 2013. He appointed Cupich the following year, as Chicago Cardinal Francis George retired.
George, who died in 2015, and Pope Francis’ predecessor Pope Benedict were considered more conservative or traditional, while Cupich and Pope Francis are often portrayed as more liberal leaning — illustrated by some of their sympathetic remarks about gays.
Vigano’s letter plows into that subject, alleging Cupich has a “pro-gay ideology,” and saying: “Regarding Cupich, one cannot fail to note his ostentatious arrogance, and the insolence with which he denies the evidence that is now obvious to all: that 80% of the abuses found were committed against young adults by homosexuals who were in a relationship of authority over their victims.”
Cupich said in his statement on Vigano that: “Any reference I have ever made on” the topic of clerical abuse as it relates to homosexuality “has always been based on the conclusions” of a 2011 study that says: “The clinical data do not support the hypothesis that priests with a homosexual identity or those who committed same-sex sexual behavior with adults are significantly more likely to sexually abuse children than those with a heterosexual orientation or behavior.”
Pope Francis has refused to confirm or deny Vigano’s claims that the pope ignored McCarrick’s alleged abuses.
The pope challenged reporters to find out whether the accusations against him are true or not, a response some took as evasive.
Cupich’s office has likewise not been totally forthcoming about certain sex abuse topics in recent weeks, refusing for instance to provide details about an archdiocesan advisory group that reports to him and vets allegations of misconduct by priests against other adults.