In an NBC News interview yesterday, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago insisted that it was more than acceptable for Pope Francis to refuse to discuss Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò’s shocking testimony, which implicates a host of Catholic Church leaders — including the pope — in covering up sexual abuse and immorality.
“The pope has a bigger agenda,” Cupich told interviewer Mary Anne Ahern when asked about the pope’s refusal to discuss Viganò’s claims. “He’s got to get on with other things, of talking about the environment and protecting migrants and carrying on the work of the Church.”
“We’re not going to go down a rabbit hole on this,” Cupich added. A rabbit hole, indeed. If this was satire crafted by SNL writers to mock the Catholic hierarchy, it’s hard to imagine how the cardinal’s remarks would come across any worse.
Viganò claims, in part, that the pope was aware of former cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s past sex abuse and misconduct but nevertheless lifted sanctions placed on him by Pope Benedict XVI. Interestingly, Cupich himself was named in the document — Viganò asserts that Pope Francis allowed McCarrick to advise on clerical appointments in the U.S., including the 2016 elevation of Cupich to cardinal.
But Cupich, apparently, doesn’t think any part of the document merits further discussion, despite the well-deserved furor it has raised among Catholic clergy and laity alike. Later in the interview, the cardinal dismissed out of hand Catholics criticizing the pope for his silence: “Quite frankly, they also don’t like him because he’s a Latino.” Never mind, of course, that Francis was born in Argentina . . . to Italian parents.
Cupich’s response to this brewing scandal — a watershed moment in the institutional history of the Catholic Church — is shockingly tone-deaf, the kind of statement one would expect from a corrupt politician protecting his allies, not from a shepherd meant to be guiding and protecting his flock.
The obvious implication of the cardinal’s remarks? That it doesn’t matter in the slightest whether Viganò’s allegations are credible. The pope needn’t waste his precious time with telling the truth; there are real issues to be concerned about, after all. Questions of sexual abuse, of who knew what and when — those come second to pushing the social-justice reforms that have characterized this papacy.
With these shameful comments, Cupich betrayed what’s lurking behind at least some defenses of the pope’s non-response to Viganò’s allegations: At the end of the day, the political agenda takes precedence. As long as Francis remains the leader of their causes célèbres, exposing the truth and cracking down on sexual-abuse cover-ups matters little.