Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

Tongue-tied bishops—is it fear of retribution?

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Mar 12, 2019

John Allen of Crux does his best to be balanced, but he can only do so much. When he suggests that “Vigano may have made it harder to get to the truth on McCarrick“, he can’t avoid implying that many American bishops are keeping their silence, rather than demanding a thorough investigation and public explanation of the McCarrick affair, because they fear being labeled as critics of Pope Francis.

But why would that be—unless Archbishop Vigano’s charges are essentially accurate? And if they are essentially accurate, wouldn’t it be incumbent on a successor to the apostles to demand the truth, rather than to worry about the possible consequences for his ecclesiastical career?

Allen offers another possible explanation for bishops’ reticence: The rumors in Rome that a thorough investigation “could stain the legacy of St. John Paul II and some of his key aides, including Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, the pontiff’s priest secretary, and Cardinal Angelo Sodano, John Paul’s Secretary of State.” That’s possible. But again, isn’t the truth more important than the preservation of a public image? The Church has already made a definitive judgment on the holiness of John Paul II—who, let’s recall, was known for his repeated invocation of the phrase, “Be not afraid!” And as a matter of fact, those Roman rumors (at least the ones that I’ve heard) point toward Cardinals Dziwisz and Sodano rather than the late Pontiff.

Those two cardinals, Allen points out, remain alive, capable of defending themselves and perhaps of retribution against less powerful prelates who might challenge them. So there’s another potential explanation for our bishops’ silence.

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 See full bio.

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