Cardinal Cupich responds to scathing letter by former top church official, defends record

CHICAGO — A firestorm in the Catholic Church – internationally, nationally and now here in Chicago.

On Monday, Cardinal Blase Cupich responded to a scathing letter by former top church official in a controversy that has the so-called whistle-blower calling for the pope’s resignation.

Carlo Maria Vigano penned a letter leveling substantial accusations against top Catholic leaders. His criticism begins with Cardinal Theodore McCarrick – and accusations he sexually abused seminarians for decades. Vigano said Pope Benedict sanctioned McCarrick, Pope Francis knew about it, and that Vigano personally told him but the Holy Father ignored his claims.

The pope said only, “I will not say a single word about this.” He called on journalists to make their conclusions and said “It’s an act of trust.”

“The pope knows we have a bigger agenda. We have to speak about the environment, about the poor, we have to reach out to people who are marginalized in society. We cannot be distracted at this moment,” Cupich said.

But who do Catholics trust? Vigano, who was in Chicago welcoming Cupich with open arms in 2014, is now highly critical of the archbishop for what he calls being blinded by “pro-gay ideology.”

Vigano, who was the top Vatican diplomat, was let go by Pope Francis in 2016. He is considered part of a more conservative faction in the church – among a group unhappy with Pope Francis and others who have been more lenient on social issues. Among them was Cupich.

Vigano says McCarrick was his king-maker, propelling him to the top job in Chicago. Vigano says the appointment of Cupich was orchestrated by McCarrick and Cardinal Wuerl, who were “United by a wicked pact of abuses by McCarrick and a cover up of abuses by others.”

“I did not have any pre-knowledge about this. I think that my record across 20 years as being a bishop would indicate that had I had any information about anybody who was abusing children or anybody else, I would have acted on it. So, the answer is a straight-forward ‘no,’” Cupich said.

“As someone who is supposed to be so focused on changing things with regard to the church’s sex abuse policy, how could you not know?” WGN’s Dina Bair asked the cardinal during an interview.

“All I know is that this knowledge was not given to me in any way,” Cupich said.

As president of the Committee on Protection of Young Children and Young People, outspoken about the need for reform in the church – addressing sex abuse, shining a light on it, protecting people from becoming victims and comforting those who fell prey, Cupich says he had no knowledge of McCarrick’s behavior, which is now documented to be the source of church payoffs and complaints dating back to the 1980s, including allegations he took seminarians to a beach house for sex.

“They groom the people around them,” Cupich said. “They can get all sorts of folks to believe that they are really, it’s impossible even if there is a rumor against them, that anything is wrong. Those people were groomed to believe that this could not happen. So, I don’t think there was anything unusual about the fact that he was able to manipulate the scene so that this would not become public.”

The cardinal handed McCarrick the “Spirit of Francis award through Catholic Extension. McCarrick helped raise millions for the organization to help those in need. The award has since been stripped. But at the time, Cupich praised McCarrick for his own unique way of making a mark on the Catholic Church.

“Do you really think that had I known that this was lurking in his background that I would have allowed Catholic Extension to invite him? There’s no way,” Cupich said.

So now among the infighting as the politics in the church continues – some say the need to protect children and victims of church sex abuse is falling by the wayside. Cupich says that’s not the case in Chicago.

“What are people to believe right now? I think they have to look at what is happening in their own local church. We are proud of the way we’ve handled this situation. We are transparent. We have given all of our documents over to authorities. We have the safest child protection program in this city, in this dioceses, and I would dare anyone to come forward and try to match what we have,” he said.

Cupich spoke with Attorney General Lisa Madigan on Monday about remaining tough on sex abuse. On Monday, she announced a Clergy Abuse Hotline in Illinois. Madigan urged Illinois residents to call 1-888-414-7678 with any information on allegations of sexual assault and abuse. People can also send emails to clergyabuse@atg.state.il.us.