Time to hold prelates accountable at the Vatican, too

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Aug 13, 2018

John Allen of Crux remarks that if the universal Church seeks to make prelates accountable, it’s unfortunate that Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who has a deserved reputation for trying to protect abusers and conceal evidence remains the Dean of the College of Cardinals. To be fair, Allen was asking the same question back in 2011—as was Edward Pentin, in Catholic World Report. And I myself have asked the question again and again and again and again and again and again.

Since Cardinal Sodano is now more than 90 years old, it would seem a natural thing to announce his resignation. In June, Pope Francis announced that four more cardinals would have be given all the privileges of cardinal-bishops—from whose ranks the dean is chosen. That might have been an opportune time to name a new dean. Still Cardinal Sodano, the former Secretary of State, retains his title.

And while we’re on the subject… Pope Francis created the Council of Cardinals in April 2013, and named the original eight members of the group to 5-year terms. A quick mathematical calculation shows that those terms expired in April of this year. Again, it would have been a convenient time to replace any cardinals who had been tainted by scandal. Four of those eight cardinals have now been accused, rightly or wrongly, of either engaging in sexual abuse or covering up the evidence of abuse. Three of those four have passed the age of 75, the normative retirement age for active bishops, so in their cases there were two handy reasons for replacing them. But all four remain in place.

If Pope Francis wants to send a clear message, the opportunities are still open. On the other hand, if all these cardinals remain in place—when it would have been so easy to replace them—that sends a message, too.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: MWCooney - Aug. 15, 2018 6:18 PM ET USA

    This Pope has never hesitated to send clear messages, even amidst the confusion that he is so good at sowing. Unfortunately, the clear messages usually involve denunciation of those with the temerity to uphold the clear teachings of the Church as understood in the two millenia preceding this pontificate. God help us--no one else can.

  • Posted by: LCRich - Aug. 15, 2018 11:34 AM ET USA

    Thank you, Phil, for clearly speaking the facts when this group of Cardinals appear not to do that. I pray the Pope will correct these errors.

  • Posted by: Edward I. - Aug. 14, 2018 3:19 AM ET USA

    dfp: The potential "removal" in question is from a special papal-appointed Council, a super-high-ranking and exclusive group even within the highest-ranking and most exclusive group of Catholics in the entire Church, namely, the Cardinals, who are already just a special and privileged group of Bishops. Nothing about justice or Christian charity entitles even an extraordinarily eminent and accomplished man to even the *priesthood*, let alone to membership in the Council of Cardinals.

  • Posted by: feedback - Aug. 13, 2018 11:52 PM ET USA

    dfp3234574, no one sane would endorse wrong accusations. My understanding of "rightly or wrongly" is to point to the lack of proper investigation of the alleged abuses, which starts with the temporary removal of the accused from his post until his name is cleared in a due process. Cardinal Pell, or the Chilean bishops are good examples.

  • Posted by: dfp3234574 - Aug. 13, 2018 8:15 PM ET USA

    You wrote, "Four of those eight cardinals have now been accused, rightly or wrongly, of either engaging in sexual abuse or covering up the evidence of abuse." I think your argument to remove a cardinal even if he is *wrongly accused* (wrongly accused!) is troubling. Where is the justice in that, Phil? Where is the Christian charity?