Scandal Spectacle: The 10 Most Corrupt and Compromised Cardinals Voting For the New Pope
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 / Shutterstock.com
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
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:
In the Milwaukee Archdiocese, 575 people have filed claims saying that they were abused, over many decades, by Catholic clergymen. About 70 said they were victims of the Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy, who, church records show, admitted having molested deaf students at a boarding school outside Milwaukee, said Jeff Anderson, a lawyer in St. Paul who represents 350 of the 575 plaintiffs.
A report filed by Goodstein last year revealed that while presiding over the Milwaukee Archdiocese, Dolan approved payouts to abusive priests of as much as $20,000, in exchange for their agreement not to contest their defrocking. They also continued to receive their pensions.
2. Cardinal Roger Mahony, former Archbishop of Los Angeles. Upon receiving the shocking news of Pope Benedict’s resignation, I speculated that recent revelations in the sexual abuse scandal involving the cardinal archbishop of the City of Angels might have something to do with the timing of the unusual papal retirement.
In a settlement reached with some 500 survivors of priestly sexual abuse, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles was compelled to release tens of thousands of pages of documents about the abuse scandals -- including correspondence between then-Archbishop Mahony and Cardinal Ratzinger, the Vatican official who went on to become Pope Benedict XVI.
Some of the documents revealed in the settlement dump are harrowing, including a letter from Mahony to Ratzinger in which he reports that one Father Lynn R. Caffoe initiated more than 100 “masturbatory and copulative acts” with a single boy, and another report of Father Peter Garcia’s abuse of 20 boys, including one he tied up and raped. Instead of turning Garcia in to law enforcement authorities, Mahony sent the criminal priest to a treatment facility in New Mexico, and warned him to stay away from California, where he would be liable for prosecution.
As I wrote earlier this month:
What is clear, though, is that Mahony repeatedly failed to act on concerns about the sexual abuse of children by priests that were brought to him by pastors and church officials throughout the diocese, and that when he did, his actions were designed to avoid criminal prosecutions of the predator priests.
3. Cardinal William Levada, Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. When Ratzinger won election to the papacy, the man he chose to replace himself in his old job of top Vatican enforcer was Levada, the former archbishop of Portland, Oregon and former archbishop of San Francisco.
Like Ratzinger before him, he valued the reputation of the church above the welfare of its victims and, like Ratzinger, has made a specialty of tormenting feminist nuns -- most recently claiming control over the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an umbrella group for most orders of U.S. sisters.
While in San Francisco, Levada dealt with the case of a pedophile priest by punishing and defaming the whistleblower. As I wrote last year:
Such was Levada's brutality, in fact, that he punished a priest who reported a child-abusing fellow priest to the police -- a move that came back to haunt him when the whistleblower, Father Jon Conley, brought a defamation case against the archdiocese after paving the way for the family of an abused child to win a $750,000 settlement from the archdiocese. (Politics Daily contributor Jason Berry told the sordid tale here in 2010.)
Berry also reports the story of Robert McMenamin, the former Portland church counsel who said Levada refused, against the counsel’s advice, to inform the clergy of their obligation to report crimes against children to law enforcement authorities. When McMenamin subsequently resigned and began representing plaintiffs in the sex-abuse cases, Levada “petitioned the Oregon State Bar Association to disqualify McMenamin from such cases,” according to Berry’s report. The Bar declined to do so.
4. Cardinal Angelo Sodono, Dean of the College of Cardinals. In an unprecedented speech on Easter Sunday 2010 that opened the Vatican’s religious services for the day, Sodano blamed the church’s pedophilia scandal on people with “visions of the family and of life that run contrary to the Gospel,” according to the Associated Press.
He went on to exonerate the bishops and the pope from any role in the scandal, saying:
"But it's not Christ's fault if Judas betrayed" him, Sodano said. "It's not a bishop's fault if one of his priests is stained by grave wrongdoing. And certainly the pontiff is not responsible."
If he sounds a bit defensive, Sodano had his reasons. It was he, among other prelates, who championed the works of Father Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legion of Christ, who was found to have sexually abused dozens of seminarians, in addition to fathering at least three children out of wedlock. And even though Maciel’s crimes were revealed by a 1998 exposé in the Hartford Courant, Sodano put the kibosh on an investigation begun at the time by the Vatican.
Later it was learned that Maciel won the allegiance of many inside the Vatican by plying them with expensive gifts -- cars and foodstuffs worth thousands, and envelopes of cash. Sodano, it turns out, was among thebeneficiaries.
5. Cardinal Justin Rigali, former Archbishop of Philadelphia. The level of abuse experienced by children in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia under Rigali’s predecessor, the late Anthony Bevilacqua, is epic. As described by the National Catholic Reporter’s Tom Roberts: “Bevilacqua oversaw priests who were involved in nothing short of sexual torture of youngsters.”
As Robert Huber of Philadelphia magazine recounted: “Instead of being reported to the DA’s office, pedophile priests were moved -- sometimes repeatedly, from parish to parish to parish. Abusive priests kept right on abusing children.”
Rigali’s claim to fame is that he did nothing to stop it.
In 2005, a damning grand jury report was issued, detailing many of the crimes committed against children, such as the anal rape of a boy at Roman Catholic High School by his guidance counselor, Father Schmeer. Rigali seems to have regarded it as water under the bridge, because he was shocked, according to people present at a meeting where he received the news, that a 2011 grand jury investigation laid the continuing scandal at his own feet. According to Huber’s account of the 2011 investigaton, “[t]he Archdiocese of Philadelphia still allowed alleged pedophile priests -- 37 of them, the report said -- to continue ministering to children.”
In August, Monsignor William Lynn became the first church official convicted of a crime in the coverup of pedophilic assaults by priests; Lynn had worked for Bevilacqua. While Lynn languishes in prison, Rigali is off to Rome to join the conclave.
6. Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz, former Archbishop of Santiago, Chile. In 2003, José Murillo claims, he wrote to Cardinal Errázuriz to complain of sexual abuse by a prominent priest, Father Fernando Karadima, who led an organization for young people known as Catholic Action. According to a 2010 report in the New York Times, no action subsequent action was taken against Karadima.
James Hamilton, now a 47-year-old medical doctor, told the Times that he filed an official complaint against Karadima two years later for abuse that began when he was a teenager and went on for 20 years. Hamilton says he never heard back from the diocese.
In 2010, Errázuriz claimed that he had opened an investigation into the complaints against Karadima in 2005, then shut it down to await further evidence, according to an AP report. He reopened it in 2009, not long before four men came forward claiming to have been abused by Karadima -- one said he was 14 when the abuse began -- and criminal complaints were filed. A total of eight men ultimately came forward with accusations against the priest.
The AP reported that, after a criminal investigation of Karadima was initiated, Errázuriz sent a letter that was read aloud to all parishes in the archdiocese. It read, in part:
"He is a priest who has worked fruitfully and generously nearly his whole life," Errázuriz said of Karadima. Nevertheless, "There is no place in the priesthood for those who abuse minors, and no excuse that can justify this crime."
7. Cardinal Francis George, Archbishop of Chicago. As part of a 2008 settlement with victims of child sex-abuse by priests in the Archdiocese of Chicago, Cardinal George released the deposition he had given in the case. It revealed some of the details of a coverup at the highest levels of his staff.
For instance, wrote Chicago Tribune reporters Margaret Ramirez and Manya Brachear, George’s testimony revealed “evidence of his repeated refusal to follow recommendations and promptly remove abusive Chicago priests from ministry.” These were priests like Rev. Daniel McCormack and the Rev. Joseph Bennett, who were accused of molesting dozens of children.
In fact, George said in his deposition, his vicar of priests, Edward Grace, actually coached the pedophiles on how to beat the rap, according to the Chicago Tribune account:
Rev. Edward D. Grace, and Auxiliary Bishop George J. Rassas withheld information about abuse allegations.
Grace coached Joseph Bennett on how to handle questions involving a victim's knowledge of Bennett's private parts, according to a memo included in the deposition. Grace also advised McCormack not to talk to police when first arrested in August 2005, the cardinal said.
The deposition also revealed that George had sought to help another pedophile priest, Norbert Maday, who had been sentenced to 20 years in prison, win a commuted sentence. (He later changed his mind on that idea.)
George served as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops from 2007-2010.
8. Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops. The former Archbishop of Quebec is said to be a frontrunner for the papacy, but Canada has not been immune to the clergy sexual abuse scandal. While Ouellet has not been accused of covering for pedophilic priests -- indeed he issued an apology in 2007 for the sex-abuse scandal -- he has been criticized for refusing to meet with the victims of abuse by priests. One notorious case in his archdiocese involved children at a school for the deaf, with allegations dating from before his tenure as archbishop. Some 30 clergy at the school of Clercs de Saint-Viateur stand accused of abusing and raping children from 1944 to 1982.
Adding insult to injury is that, acting as the papal legate, Ouellet traveled to Ireland to meet with victims of sexual abuse by Irish priests.
9. Cardinal Sean Brady, Primate of all Ireland. While the widespread scandal of the sexual and other abuse of children in schools run by the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland cannot be laid at the feet of any one bishop (a recent report damned four in the Archdiocese of Dublin alone), Brady played a special role in the scandal in 1975 when, as a priest, he met with children to hear their complaints of sexual abuse, and then swore them to secrecy. As reported by the BBC:
Brendan Boland was 11 years old when he was sexually abused by Fr Brendan Smyth. Back in 1975, he reported the abuse to Fr (now Cardinal) Sean Brady and two other priests, hoping to end the abuse of him and others. After giving evidence to them he was sworn to secrecy.
Cardinal Brady signed two reports about the abuse of Boland and another boy and passed them on to his bishop, but the police were never informed.
It was not until 1994 that Smyth was convicted of dozens of offences against children over a 40-year period.
(The BBC profile of Smyth and his crimes is here.)
Honestly, there must be a special place in hell...but not before stopping off at the conclave and electing the next pope.
10. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican Secretary of State. Before he was a globe-trotting diplomat, Bertone was the Number Two at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, reporting to Cardinal Ratzinger, the future pope. It was then that he personally called a halt to the 1998 investigation of Father Lawrence Murphy, who was accused of abusing some 200 disabled children at St. John’s School for the Deaf in Milwaukee, according to the AP. Several months later, Murphy died, still a priest, and never arrested, despite decades of crimes against children, some of whom had alerted authorities in the church.
When confronted, during a visit to Chile (where parishioners were reeling from that country’s priest sex-abuse scandal, about the church’s role in the sexual victimization of children, Bertone played the Vatican’s favorite card: blame the gays. From an AP report:
"Many psychologists and psychiatrists have demonstrated that there is no relation between celibacy and pedophilia. But many others have demonstrated, I have been told recently, that there is a relation between homosexuality and pedophilia. That is true," said Bertone. "That is the problem."
Bertone is also part of the VatiLeaks scandal. That’s the one in which the pope’s butler, Paolo Gabriele, was convicted of leaking papal correspondence to an Italian journalist in what is widely believed to be an internecine Vatican war. Bertone is said to have set himself against Cardinal Carlo Maria Viganò, a reformer in a top Vatican job who reportedly sought to cut waste and introduce greater transparency to the Holy See. After after making his recommendations, Viganò was abruptly shipped out of Rome to become the Papal Nuncio to the United States. He received word of his new post from Bertone.
*Members of the priesthood are bound by a vow of celibacy, a rule that Cardinal Keith O’Brien, just before accusations against him emerged,suggested had outlived its usefulness.