CARDINAL George, VOTF and Next Steps

The failure of Cardinal George to protect children in the archdiocese of Chicago is now well known and well documented, thanks to the independent audit conducted at the Cardinal’s request and then made public on the archdiocesan web site at The response to the incidence of yet another child sexually abused by a priest has raised many voices of protest within Voice of the Faithful and all around us. However, the messages vary even while the desired outcome does not. Some want to work with the Cardinal to repair the holes in the Charter that, in effect, enabled another abuser to hurt a child. Some want to remove the Cardinal from official positions in the Church for his personal judgment that placed children at risk. Let’s take a look at who is saying what. The outcome in Chicago might well determine the extent to which lay voices will be heard there and elsewhere as all of us move toward an accountable Church with greater lay involvement.

Some VOTF affiliates have called for the resignation of Cardinal George from his position as Archbishop of Chicago and/or his position as vice president of the USCCB. One affiliate has called on VOTF National to stand by its 2004 resolution. Other VOTF affiliates have gathered and concluded a different response – they will defer to and support the decision of the Chicago affiliates. Conservative organizations (one of which proposed that Catholics withhold Easter donations), such as Roman Catholic Faithful, have also called for Cardinal George’s resignation either from the USCCB or as head of the Chicago archdiocese or both. On February 25, the survivor support organization SNAP called for Cardinal George’s resignation

The reform organization Call to Action (initially launched by bishops in 1976) issued a statement that came just shy of calling for Cardinal George’s resignation: "In light of the absurdity of the Chicago diocese passing the audit, Call to Action asks that Cardinal George use his power to replace diocesan self-audits with independent audits, and independent review boards in every diocese. If Cardinal George will not call for this change to protect our children, then for the sake of the people of Chicago, for the sake of our children across the country who are affected by the failures of U.S. bishops, we ask that he step down."

VOTF president Mary Pat Fox has stated that the National VOTF position is to support the decisions of affiliates who must decide for themselves the management of conditions in their own dioceses. (VOTF National previously called for Cardinal George to step down from his position as vice president of the USCCB.) In the case of Cardinal George, the Chicago affiliates have chosen to continue dialogue with the chancery in the expectation of collaboration that will lead to substantive change in their diocese; they have not ruled out a call for the Cardinal’s resignation from his position as archbishop of the Chicago diocese. A significant outcome of this approach is the offer by the Cardinal of a May 12 meeting date. It is also significant that the Chicago archdiocese has met several of the demands made by VOTF Chicago in their letter to the Cardinal.

Some affiliates and many individuals do not see the breakdown in Chicago of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People as a Chicago problem. By virtue of Cardinal George’s place in the USCCB and as head of one of the largest Catholic dioceses in the US, these Catholics identify in Cardinal George a national profile; as a Cardinal, that stature is globalized.

On Good Friday, individuals, survivors, and survivor support organizations gathered in Chicago, Boston, and elsewhere in the US to remember the victims and survivors of clergy sexual abuse (see Commentary – “Good Friday Vigil: Bearing Witness”). Some specified the resignation of Cardinal George; some (VOTF Boston) chose to raise awareness of the Chicago situation and demand compliance with the intent of the 2002 Charter as well as call for the elimination of statutes of limitations in sex crimes against children; and some came simply to bear witness. Several who posted information about their vigils invited priests and bishops to join them.

Executive Director of VOTF Ray Joyce and VOTF president Mary Pat Fox note that an early and ongoing determination in VOTF was and remains dialogue. If the Chicago breakdown brings about genuine, cooperative dialogue between Church leadership and laity in that archdiocese, Catholics everywhere have a new model with which to move forward with Church reform. Much depends on the outcome of the May 12 meeting.

At present, dialogue and discernment continue among all of these groups. This has not been a quiet time; it has often been acrimonious; and while there is ongoing disagreement, there is ongoing listening. All voices are chiseling out a place in this discussion. We cannot afford to do less.

Watch upcoming issues of In the Vineyard for updates on the Chicago crisis – and do let us know what you think. Write to


In the Vineyard
April 20, 2006
Volume 5, Issue 8
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