The leader of Long Island's 1.5 million Catholics said Tuesday he wants the Vatican to provide “decisive answers” to allegations that Pope Francis knew about accusations of sexual abuse by a former American cardinal but failed to act.
Bishop John Barres of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, the nation’s eighth-largest, also called for an overhaul of the American Catholic church’s system of reporting abuse and misconduct by bishops.
Barres’ push for change falls in line with a plan detailed by Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. On Monday, DiNardo requested an investigation into accusations that former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick for years sexually abused boys and had sexual misconduct with adult seminarians.
“The allegations against Archbishop McCarrick are extremely serious,” Barres said in a statement. “If those allegations are true, then he disgraced his offices and the Church — which is dedicated to helping, not victimizing, people — and committed terrible sins.”
McCarrick, a former archbishop of the archdioceses of Washington, D.C., and Newark, New Jersey, and a prominent spokesman for the church, attended Barres’ installation as head of the Diocese of Rockville Centre last year. McCarrick was removed from public ministry in June.
Pope Francis accepted his resignation as a cardinal in July and ordered McCarrick to conduct a "life of prayer and penance” before a church trial is held. He became the first cardinal to resign because of allegations of sexual abuse.
DiNardo said he wants to meet with Pope Francis to discuss McCarrick and how the American system can be changed. He also wants McCarrick investigated in part by an independent nationwide commission led by lay people.
Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the former papal nuncio, or Vatican ambassador, to the United States, alleged in a letter released Sunday that top-level church officials, including Pope Francis, knew of the allegations against McCarrick, but took part in a cover-up. Viganò said Francis should resign.
On board the papal plane Sunday after a trip to Ireland, Francis dismissed Viganò’s letter, telling journalists, “You read the statement attentively, and you make your own judgment. I will not say a single word about this.”
Barres said he supports DiNardo “in his articulation of the need for decisive answers regarding the issues raised in the recent letter of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò. Further, I fully support Cardinal DiNardo’s pursuit of a dedicated plan to make reporting of abuse and misconduct by bishops easier, and to improve procedures for resolving complaints against bishops.”
Barres said he first met McCarrick in the early 2000s when Barres was chancellor of the Diocese of Wilmington, Delaware.
After he was ordained as bishop of the Diocese of Allentown in 2009, Pennsylvania, Barres said, he “saw Archbishop McCarrick, who by that time had been retired for a number of years, at various bishops’ functions. He seemed to be gregarious and very knowledgeable about global affairs, and attended many installations around the country, including mine at Rockville Centre.”
Barres himself has faced questions about how he dealt with allegations of sexual abuse among clergy. A Pennsylvania grand jury report released earlier this month alleged Barres mishandled two incidents of sexual abuse by priests. Barres denied it, pointed out inaccuracies in the report, and said the Pennsylvania attorney general never got his side of the story.
On Tuesday, Barres said bishops found guilty of covering up sex abuse should be removed, “assuming that they have been given a fair opportunity to defend themselves.”
Some advocates are calling for a federal investigation of the church sex abuse scandal, or one done state by state.
The New York State attorney general’s office said Tuesday that it is working with district attorneys throughout the state to launch a statewide grand jury investigation into the church sex-abuse scandal.
Barres did not explicitly say he supports such an investigation.
“Catholic dioceses in this state have long been cooperating with local district attorneys whenever a new allegation is brought, no matter how long ago it occurred,” he said. “The vast majority of the sexual abuse within the Church occurred decades ago, and there have been few episodes of it since 2002” when the national abuse scandal broke in Boston, and the church instituted a “zero tolerance” policy.
“From my perspective it is intolerable that abuse ever happened within the Church, and I, along with I believe all Catholics, am dedicated to the continued vigilant protection of children within our institutions,” Barres said.