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Scandal Spectacle: The 10 Most Corrupt and Compromised Cardinals Voting For the New Pope

While the world cries for the church to reform itself, the next pope's electors include cardinals who coddled priests who preyed on children.

Cardinals on balcony of Saint Peter's Basilica after electing Joseph Ratzinger to succeed John Paul II as pope on April 19, 2005.
Photo Credit: Rostislav Glinsky /


Ordinarily, the prelates of the Roman Catholic Church like a good spectacle. If you’ve ever witnessed the pomp and regalia of a bishops’ procession, you know what I mean: the robes rendered in luxurious fabrics, the exotic millinery, the swinging brass chancer billowing clouds of fragrant smoke. But as the cardinals assemble this week in Rome to begin the task of choosing a pope to replace the retiring Benedict XVI, the convergence of men in red hats and ankle-length cassocks is less a glorious display than a spectacle of scandal.

The pope’s abdication, unprecedented in the post-Renaissance period, comes under an acrid cloud of corruption that includes scandals involving the Vatican Bank, sexual harassment by prelates, and most troubling, the collusion of the hierarchy in covering the crimes of sexually predatory priests who preyed on young children and guileless teenagers, and once discovered, turned many of them loose to prey on still more.

Leaving aside issues concerning some fishy doin’s at the Vatican Bank (recounted here by Lynn Parramore), or the sexual harassment scandal that inspired this week’s resignation of Cardinal Keith O’Brien, archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh (in which three priests and one former priest accused the cardinal of making sexual advances toward them*), we focus our gaze here on 10 cardinals who either aided and abetted the priests who abused children, or who served as apologists for the church in its failure to report their crimes. This list is by no means definitive or complete; there are likely many more among the 120 cardinals entrusted with the election of the next pope who traded the safety and welfare of children entrusted to the church’s spiritual care for the safety of their own place in the hierarchy of the world’s oldest Christian denomination.

It is worth noting that during the height of the sex abuse of children by priests, the church’s presiding disciplinarian was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who went on to become Pope Benedict XVI. Offending priests were rarely disciplined, and were almost never reported to law enforcement authorities; Ratzinger instead focused his energy on silencing liberation theologians, threatening feminist nuns with expulsion, and punishing a bishop for being too accepting of gay people.

1. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York. For flash and visibility, the archbishop’s post in New York City’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral offers a level of media-conferred power second only to that commanded by the pope himself. (Pope John Paul II famously dubbed the New York post as “archbishop of the capital of the world.”) In the wake of Benedict’s abdication, Dolan fast became the subject of talk, perhaps generated by his own noise machine, that he was a contender for the church’s top spot.

Just days before he took off for Rome, however, Dolan sat for three hours of questioning during a legal deposition for a case brought by survivors of sexual abuse by priests in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee during Dolan’s tenure there. According to New York Times reporter Laurie Goodstein, lawyers for the plaintiffs, who claim to have been abused by priests when they were children, sought to ascertain when Dolan first learned of the allegations against the priests in relation to when he made those allegations public. It appears the plaintiffs seek to show that Dolan deliberately stalled in order to let the clock run out on the statute of limitations governing the prosecution of such crimes. In the meantime, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee declared bankruptcy, apparently a result of settlements made with abuse claimants.

From Goodstein’s report:

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