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 www.archdiocese-chgo.org. 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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.