“I have no illusions about the degree to which trust in the bishops has been damaged by these past sins and failures,” said Cardinal DiNardo, in one of the many statements he has issued on sexual abuse in recent weeks. “It will take work to rebuild that trust.”
Yet Cardinal DiNardo himself has recently been criticized for allowing a priest accused of abuse to serve in a parish in his archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, disregarding the warnings by a young woman who said she told the cardinal in person seven years ago that this priest had molested her when she was 16.
The priest, who also served as the vicar for Hispanics for the archdiocese, was not removed from ministry until August, when a second victim stepped forward and the priest was arrested and charged with four counts of indecency with a child.
Cardinal DiNardo’s troubled record illustrates why the sexual abuse problem has proved so intractable for the church. The bishops charged with rebuilding trust are still facing accusations that they neglected victims and protected abusive priests.
The church’s failure to police its own ranks, despite round after round in the abuse scandal, has led some Catholics to call for a total housecleaning. More than 6,100 Catholic theologians, educators and lay leaders have signed a petition calling for all the American bishops to offer the pope their resignations, as the bishops of Chile recently did.
“This wasn’t just a few bad apples, just a couple of unfortunate cases,” said Susan Reynolds, the author of the petition and an assistant professor of Catholic studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. “This was systemic evil in the church.”
When the American bishops gather in Baltimore in November to discuss how to respond to the crisis, Cardinal DiNardo will preside over the meeting. Also up on the dais will be the bishops’ vice president, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, who faced accusations in August that he paid a settlement to an adult woman who accused her priest of molesting her as she was decorating her church for Easter. The bishop then moved the priest, the Rev. Nicholas Assi, to a parish in the city’s Koreatown.
Church officials said in an interview that an investigator and review board at the archdiocese determined it was credible that Father Assi had inappropriately touched the woman, Catherine Bergin. But because Father Assi’s hand did not touch her breasts, buttocks or genitals, they said it did not qualify as sexual assault or battery. The district attorney decided not to prosecute, and Archbishop Gomez returned Father Assi to ministry until he retired this year.