Catholic Lawmakers Call on Church to Reform amid Sex-Abuse Scandals

House Speaker Paul Ryan (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Catholic members of Congress on Thursday expressed dismay over the sex-abuse scandals tearing through the Church and called on Church leaders to reform the institution.

“This is very disturbing,” said House speaker Paul Ryan, who will retire in January. “As a practicing Catholic, the last thing that this needs to be is become relegated to a fight between the Catholic left and the Catholic right. This needs to be elevated to truth and justice. That means cleanse the problem with total transparency and total accountability so that the healing can begin, and so that the Church can renew itself.”

Ryan’s comments came as Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, led a delegation of bishops that met with Pope Francis on Thursday to confront him about credible sexual-abuse allegations against disgraced former archbishop of Washington Theodore McCarrick. DiNardo asked for the audience with the Pope in order to address a bombshell letter by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, who accused the pope of being aware of the rumors swirling around McCarrick but ignoring them and lifting sanctions imposed on the former cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI.

“We shared with Pope Francis our situation in the United States — how the Body of Christ is lacerated by the evil of sexual abuse. He listened very deeply from the heart. It was a lengthy, fruitful, and good exchange,” DiNardo said, who himself has been accused of protecting abusers in his Galveston-Houston archdiocese.

Ryan said that DiNardo “is on the right track.”

Other Catholic congressmen opined that it is primarily up to the Church to address its internal problems.

“The primary responsibility still resides with the church,” said Representative John Larson (D., Conn.), before adding that beyond internal reform, responsibility for addressing the crisis “would fall on the shoulders of states more so than the federal government.”

Representative Bill Pascrell (D., N.J.) agreed, saying that, “The church is fumbling, but fumbling along trying to handle it.”

“I think the Congress should stay the hell out of it,” Pascrell said. “I fully support the tax-exempt status of churches, and synagogues, and mosques.”

“As a Catholic it’s frustrating and disgusting,” said Representative Raul Grijalva (D. Ariz.). “But we already have a law against the abuse of children and what we can do is make sure that it’s enforced. Nobody is above that, including a priest.”

Representative Matt Cartwright (D., Pa.) went further, saying that whether the Church can “self-police” is “severely in doubt.”

Pope Francis on Thursday accepted the resignation of yet another bishop, Michael Bransfield of West Virginia, who is accused of abusing adult seminarians.

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