There’s an adage that seems to be a common thread in the Church regarding clergy sexual abuse: things move at a ‘glacial pace.’ However, as of late, it seems that Church officials have injected some serious adrenaline into the system, with movement happening faster than you can say Hail Mary. I want to bring three recent incidents to your attention, each of which raises a critical question about decision-making rhythms in the Vatican.
- A cardinal in Rome who’s been an outspoken critic of Pope Francis has been stripped of his Vatican housing and salary.
- A Texas bishop has been ousted after repeatedly making what many deem extreme political statements and criticisms of Pope Francis.
- A Brooklyn priest has been relieved of his duties as a pastor after he let a pop star film a video in his church.
If the church hierarchy can act quickly in cases of wrongdoing by clergy that do NOT involve sex crimes, why does the church hierarchy so often excuse and explain away its glacial pace or inaction in child sexual abuse cases by claiming that decision-making in this institution always takes years and years?
Cardinal Raymond Burke
Coming straight from Rome is the news that Pope Francis has stripped one of his top American critics, Cardinal Raymond Burke, of his Vatican housing and salary privileges. According to the Associated Press, Pope Francis had apparently deemed Burke a source of disunity within the Church, exploiting his privileges afforded to retired cardinals against the Church. In the AP report, which is based on conversations with two anonymous sources briefed on the measures, the pope discussed his planned actions against the American prelate at a Nov. 20 meeting of Vatican office heads. The Italian Catholic news blog La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana first reported pending actions against Burke on Nov. 27. It states that Pope Francis said, “Cardinal Burke is my enemy, so I take away his apartment and his salary.” All media questions have been referred to Burke, as the Vatican spokesperson stated no comment.
However, a curious element is how quickly this disciplinary action was undertaken. Burke, in the past, had raised queries around various contemporary issues, such as the blessing of same-sex unions, women’s ordination, and other hot-button topics that shook many pews of the traditionalist faithful. But the speed of his sidelining was exceptional.
Burke was ordained a priest by Pope Paul VI in Rome in 1975, was bishop of La Crosse, Wisconsin, from 1995 to 2004, and was archbishop of St. Louis from 2004 to 2008. Widely regarded as an expert in canon law, Burke was appointed in 2008 as prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura (the highest judicial authority in the Church) by Pope Benedict XVI. Two years later, Benedict made him a cardinal. Pope Francis removed him from the post of prefect in 2014. Instead, he appointed him cardinal patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, a primarily ceremonial role dedicated to the spiritual welfare of the members. He remained patron until this year but had held only the title, having been reportedly restricted from active involvement since 2016 and thus sidelined during the extensive institutional reforms of the order over the last years. In June, Pope Francis named Cardinal Gianfranco Ghirlanda, SJ, as Burke’s official replacement. At the time of the announcement, Burke was only a few days away from the customary retirement age for bishops of 75.
This would not be the first former curial official this year asked to leave his Vatican living quarters. According to a German newspaper report in June, Pope Francis ordered Archbishop Georg Gänswein to leave the Vatican and return to Germany. Gänswein, a longtime secretary to Pope Benedict XVI, served as prefect of the Papal Household to both Benedict and his successor, Pope Francis, until February 2020. Gänswein’s departure from the Vatican following the death of Benedict and subsequent dismissal by Pope Francis was seen by some as a fall from grace. According to the German media report, Pope Francis, in his comments on the decision, “referred to the custom that the former private secretaries of deceased popes did not remain in Rome.”
Bishop Strickland of Tyler, Texas
Bishop Strickland of Tyler, Texas, is another case that left me scratching my head. In the Nov. 28 KLTV media report, Joseph Strickland publicly addressed his removal as bishop of the Diocese of Tyler in a recent blog post. Nothing like getting fired and then discussing it on WordPress. Strickland, known for his outspoken critiques of Pope Francis and less-than-flattering views on welcoming LGBTQ+ Catholics, was shown the door rather briskly. Strickland, 65, was removed from his position by Pope Francis on November 11, 2023.
Though he offered little in the way of details regarding his dismissal, Media reports reveal that Strickland has been vehemently outspoken in his opposition to progressive reforms within the Catholic Church and resistant to change. Strickland maintained a defiant tone, insisting that the actions that led to his firing were done purely in what he considers the best interest of “my flock.” Strickland has become a vocal, leading critic of Francis, accusing him of “undermining the deposit of faith.” Strickland said he was read a list of reasons for dismissal by the Apostolic Nuncio of the United States but was not given a copy and thus unable to specifically cite them in his post.
However, he did claim that none of the reasons mentioned “administrative problems or mismanagement of the diocese,” insinuating that his dismissal was more ideological in nature and an attempt to silence him. He then stated, “This is the time for everything now covered to be uncovered, and everything now hidden to be made clear. In fact, it was at a time when things were being hidden regarding disgraced now-former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and the Church sex abuse scandal that it seems I first entered the Vatican’s radar. My main crime, then as now, seems to always have been about bringing to light that which others wanted to remain hidden. Sadly, it now seems that it is Truth Himself, Our Lord Jesus Christ, that many desire to be hidden.
Bishop Joseph E. Strickland was named the fourth bishop of Tyler in September 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI. Before being named bishop, he served several roles in the diocese, including vicar general, judicial vicar, and pastor of the Cathedral parish. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1985. Strickland’s situation could be considered political—his dismissal could be seen as an ideologically driven action. However, that would imply that ideological differences are considered more severe offenses than sexual misconduct. Which, of course, without a doubt, sends mixed signals.
Monsignor Jamie J. Gigantiello
On November 28, 2023, Brooklyn pastor Monsignor Jamie J. Gigantiello was swiftly relieved of his administrative duties at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel-Annunciation Parish in Williamsburg when he allowed a pop star to film a music video in his church. Gigantiello, a man who made the ambiance of a 160-year-old church a backdrop for Sabrina Carpenter’s pop music video, was punished rather quickly, demonstrating incredible speed from the hierarchy in making ‘example-setting’ decisions.
According to the NY Times, Gigantiello was demoted in November 2023 after Carpenter’s video “Feather” debuted on YouTube on Halloween. Parts of the video — which has amassed 11 million views in a month — featured the 24-year-old blonde songstress strutting around the 19th-century Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in front of four upright pastel coffins while wearing a tiny black dress. Brooklyn Bishop Robert Brennan said he was “appalled” to learn about the video — which also featured scenes of men killing each other as they vied for Carpenter’s attention — and that he would investigate. Gigantiello’s tenure as the Diocese’s vicar for development has also been stripped from him, according to a statement to CNA. He held the position for 15 years.
In a letter to parishioners, Gigantiello – who has been a priest since 1995 – asked for forgiveness and hoped his fellow followers of Christ would “forgive my oversight in this unfortunate matter.” He stated that he was told most of the video would be “filmed outside” the church, and he and his team were “not aware that anything provocative was occurring in the church, nor were we aware that faux coffins and other funeral items would be placed in the sanctuary. After looking up the young artist, his search “did not reveal anything questionable,” so he allowed the shoot to proceed. The $5,000 the church made from the video will also be donated to Bridge to Life, a pregnancy crisis center in Flushing, Queens, Gigantiello said. A parishioner told The Post that it was a “lapse in judgment” to strip Gigantiello of his administrative duties. The church certainly did not waste any time disciplining Gigantiello.
The troubling questions I want to present—are Church officials picking up the pace only when it suits their narrative or when they’re dealing with issues that do not involve child sexual abuse? Maybe it’s a hard pill to swallow, but it begs for serious consideration.
Why does the hierarchy excuse and explain away its lethargic pace or inaction in child sexual abuse cases instead of taking swift and decisive action as they do with political disagreements or pop-music videos? Is it because dealing openly with such heinous crimes shatters the faith of millions who look at the Church as a beacon of hope and morality? Or is it that the stakes are too high, and it’s easier to sideline critics and censor music videos than address the elephant in the sacristy? I don’t find pleasure in asking these questions—it shatters my faith a bit more each time. But until we see swift actions taken in child sex abuse cases, we should continue raising these questions.
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