The Catholic year from hell

Vigano August letter still unanswered

Carlo Maria Vigano (photo by Edward Pentin, National Catholic Register)

The following comes from a Dec. 28 story posted by CNN.

A prominent cardinal resigned in disgrace. Grand jurors accused hundreds of Catholic clerics of secretly abusing children. A former Vatican ambassador urged the Pope himself to step down.

It was enough for New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan to call it the Catholic Church’s “summer of hell.”

The cardinal may have been overly optimistic.

In fact, the church’s hellish year began in January, when Pope Francis forcefully defended a Chilean bishop he had promoted. He later had to apologize and accept the bishop’s resignation.

But the clergy sex abuse scandal shows no signs of abating, with a federal investigation and probes in 12 states and the District of Columbia in the works.

The Pope has convened a meeting of bishops from around the world in Rome next February 21-24, saying he wants the church to tackle the scandal together. But lay Catholics and law enforcement officials appear to be losing patience with the church’s hierarchy.

“The Catholic Church cannot police itself,” said Lisa Madigan, Illinois’ attorney general, in announcing that Catholic leaders had withheld the names of 500 clergy members accused of abuse.

The church’s institutional crisis was mirrored by individual soul-searching, as American Catholics questioned whether to stay in the church. 2018 saw parents challenging priests at Mass, prominent Catholics urging the faithful to withhold donations and parents worrying whether their children are safe in the sacristy.

One Catholic historian called it the church’s greatest crisis since the Reformation in 1517. 

Here’s a guide to how the Catholic Church got to this point in 2018:


The Pope began the year with an apology to sexual abuse survivors in Chile, where he aroused anger by saying he had seen no “proof” against Bishop Juan Barros, who has been accused of covering up for an abusive priest.

Francis’ top adviser on the issue, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, called the Pope’s comments “a source of great pain” for survivors of sexual abuse by clergy.

Barros denied the accusations and the Pope continued to defend him, even as he sent the Vatican’s top sex abuse adviser to Chile to investigate the allegations.


The Pope had received a letter from a Chilean abuse survivor in 2015, saying that Barros had witnessed a priest molesting teenagers, according to the author of the letter and another source. The news raised questions about whether the Pope had read the letter and what, if anything, he did about it.


In a dramatic reversal, the Pope admits he made “grave errors” in handling the accusations against Barros. After reviewing his investigator’s report on Chile, Francis said his previous comments were based on a “lack of truthful and balanced information.”

The Pope later meets with three Chilean survivors of sexual abuse, including Juan Carlos Cruz, who says Francis told him, “I was part of the problem. I caused this and I apologize to you.”


Vatican treasurer Cardinal George Pell stands trial on multiple counts of historical sexual abuse in his native Australia. Pell is the most senior figure in the Catholic Church to face criminal charges for alleged assault.

Also in Australia, Archbishop Philip Wilson is convicted of covering up sexual abuse, though his conviction was later overturned.

All of Chile’s 34 bishops offer to resign, after a three-day emergency summit at the Vatican. The simultaneous resignation of all the bishops in a single country is thought to be unprecedented in the modern history of the Catholic church. The Pope would later accept the resignation of seven bishops, including Barros.


Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former Archbishop of Washington and an influential voice in the church and international politics, is removed from public ministry by Pope Francis after a church investigation finds an allegation that McCarrick sexually abused a minor in the 1970s “credible and substantiated.” McCarrick said he had “no recollection” of the alleged abuse.

McCarrick is also accused of sexual misconduct with adults “decades ago” while he served as a bishop in Metuchen and Newark, New Jersey, the bishops of those cities said. Two of those allegations resulted in settlements, the bishops said, raising questions about how McCarrick rose through the church’s ranks despite rumors about his conduct.

McCarrick has not commented on those allegations.


After more media reports accuse McCarrick of abusive conduct with seminarians and a young boy, Pope Francis demotes him from the College of Cardinals, a rare step. McCarrick is ordered to lead “a life of prayer and penance until the accusations made against him are examined in a regular canonical trial.”

Pope Francis accepts the resignation of Australian Archbishop Philip Wilson, the highest-ranking Catholic official ever to be convicted of covering up sex abuse.


A sweeping report by a grand jury in Pennsylvania accuses more than 300 “predator priests” of sexually abusing more than 1,000 children in six dioceses since 1947. Though most of the accusations date back decades, before the church instituted new protocols, the report plunges the church into crisis, as Catholics across the country express outrage.

Two days later, a Vatican spokesman calls the alleged abuses detailed in the Pennsylvania report“criminal and morally reprehensible.”

Pope Francis pens a letter “To the People of God,” in which he apologizes for the Catholic Church’s failure to protect children from abusive clergy. “We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them.”

The Pennsylvania grand jury report prompts law enforcement officials in other states to begin investigating the Catholic Church. Eventually, 12 states and Washington, DC, would announce probes of varying scope.

During a visit to Ireland, where government reports have found widespread abuses by Catholic clergy, the Pope says the failure of church officials to address “these appalling crimes has rightly given rise to outrage and remains a source of pain and shame for the Catholic community.”

In an 11-page “testimony” released to conservative Catholic media, a former Vatican ambassador to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, accuses Francis of ignoring his warnings about McCarrick’s conduct and calls on the Pope to resign.

The Pope declines to answer Vigano’s accusations, telling journalists to dig for the truth.

New York’s attorney general issues civil subpoenas for all eight Catholic dioceses in the state to investigate how they handled accusations of clergy sexually abusing children.

New Jersey’s attorney general forms a task force to investigate allegations of sexual abuse by clergy and any attempted cover-ups.


Vigano unveils a new charge against Francis and other high-ranking Vatican officials: that they have told untruths about the Pope’s controversial meeting in 2015 with Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who refused to sign same-sex marriage certificates.

The Vatican announces that Pope Francis has summoned leaders of national bishops’ conferences from around the world to Rome to discuss the clergy sex abuse crisis, an unprecedented step in the history of the church.

Pope Francis accepts the resignation of West Virginia Bishop Michael Bransfield and orders an investigation into allegations that Bransfield sexually harassed adults.

A week after meeting with Pope Francis in Rome, leaders of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops say they intend to adopt new policies to hold bishops accused of abuse or cover-ups accountable.

More than 46,000 Catholic women sign an open letter asking Pope Francis to answer Vigano’s charges. Francis and his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, remain silent on the matter.

A report from Germany’s Catholic bishops admits to “at least” 3,677 cases of child sex abuse by the clergy between 1946 and 2014.


The sex abuse scandal sends the Pope’s approval ratings among Americans to a new low, according to Pew Research Center survey.

Michigan authorities seize records from every Catholic diocese in the state as part of an investigation into possible sexual abuse by clergy

Under pressure to respond to Vigano’s allegations, the Vatican says Pope Francis ordered an investigation last year into the accusations against Archbishop McCarrick, adding that the results will be released “in due course.”

Pope Francis accepts the resignation of Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the embattled archbishop of Washington, after the Pennsylvania grand jury report accuses the former Pittsburgh bishop of mishandling clergy sex abuse cases.

Federal prosecutors in Philadelphia subpoena records from every diocese in Pennsylvania, the first federal investigation of that size into the abuse of children by priests and the cover-up of those crimes by Catholic leaders. The same federal prosecutor tells every Catholic diocese in the country not to destroy records pertaining to child sexual abuse.

Attorneys general in Washington, DC, and Virginia launch investigations into the Catholic Church’s handling of clergy sexual abuse.

A bishop in New York is removed pending an investigation into allegations that he sexually abused a minor. The bishop denied the allegations.


The Vatican dramatically intervenes in the US Catholic bishops annual meeting, instructing them not to adopt new policies to hold bishops accountable for misconduct and failing to protect children from sexual abuse.

Law enforcement officials in Texas raid the offices of Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, looking for files related to a priest accused of abusing a minor. DiNardo’s diocese said it is cooperating with the investigation.


An Australian court overturns the conviction of Archbishop Philip Wilson, saying there was reasonable doubt that he covered up the abuse of children.

Pope Francis removes three cardinals from his small council of advisers. Two have been the subject of allegations relating to sexual abuse or covering it up.

Four Jesuit regional provinces in the United States reveal that at least 230 Jesuits had been credibly accused of abusing minors since the 1950s. A fifth province will release its list of abusive clergy in January.

Illinois’ attorney general says the state’s six dioceses have failed to disclose accusations of sexual abuse against at least 500 priests and clergy members.

In a speech to the Vatican curia, Pope Francis tells priests who abuse minors to turn themselves in to civil justice authorities and “prepare for divine justice.”


  1. Matthew de San Luis Obispo says

    2019 is going to be even more painful. Let’s hope that real progress is made in cleaning up the Church during what’s sure to be a very bloody year.

  2. St. Christopher says

    Two divergent themes are at work here, Dear Catholic Readers (and George Soros memes, too). First, the institutional Roman Catholic Church, by rejecting its own history, its Tradition, has voluntarily become something else from the Church started by Christ (which is perfect). The polyglot nonsense that goes on now regarding the Novus Ordo Mass, and the reworded sacraments, new “mysteries for the Rosary,” new wording for the “Our Father,” etc., shows that the men in charge now simply do not like the Church and think it wrong for millennia on many issues (e.g., death penalty). Things only get worse until the Church embraces its own Tradition. Second, the Church has elected to define itself relative to perverse sexual ethics for which…

    • Folks, what you read above from “SC” is the tired and old narrative of those who espouse the religion called “traditionalism.” It has only marginally something to do with the historical and true (and genuinely traditional) Catholic Faith–the interpretation of which is authentically handed down to each generation only by the Magisterium (that’s the popes and the bishops, for you protestants and other dissenting Catholics out there). They are the ONLLY authentic teachers of the Catholic faith, of Scripture, and Tradition. Folks, divorce, separate, despise, or otherwise malign the rulings and teachings of the Magisterium, then you are divorcing and separating yourselves from the true and only Catholic Church: folks, this is…

      • Divorce, Jon? Divorce? Glad you brought that up. I was told that a Catholic could not get a divorce, just an annulment if they qualified. Now we are being told that we can commit adultery, divorce our spouse, and marry the other person — all without an annulment — and going to Communion is just fine. Do you really think that we do not know that Chapter Eight of Amoris Laetitia contradicts what was previously written in the other chapters and also contradicts what Jesus Christ and Pope John Paul II taught? Something is wrong, and we all know it.

        • Dear Anne TE: Quote for us the pertinent citation that proves your point that Amoris Laetitia “contradicts what was previously written in the other chapters and what Christ and JP2 taught.” And do identify and quote for us the person who has told “us that we can commit adultery, divorce, and marry the other person without an annulment.”

        • To be fair, I should add that there is much beauty, truth and good advice given to engaged and married couples, including older ones, in the first half of Amoris Laetitia. It is starting at the eighth chapter where many find the difficulties. Also i should say that many things that Pope Francis has done have impressed me that he is a truly compassionate person. When he hugged the man with the severe facial deformities, I thought what a wonderful and needed thing to do. I took Latin in high school as I wanted to become a doctor, and one of things I wanted to do was to repair facial deformities, either from birth or later mishap.

    • I completely agree. The true Catholic Church was done away with by Vatican II evidenced by the very issues pointed out by St. Christopher. Heresy excommunicates a member of the church. That being said, the Roman Catholic Church has not had a pope since Pope Pius the XII. The Novus Ordo Mass is not a true mass and ordinations made under the new reworded rites are not valid!

    • Marie Gauley says

      Pray the Traditional Mass. Pray the Traditional Rosay daily. Seek to live in holiness, trusting in Our Lord and God. Petition Our Lord to purify Our one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.

      • Marie, I pray the Traditional Rosary at the Traditional Latin Mass, and sometimes even in Latin, but I also pray the Luminous Mysteries at other times as I think Pope John Paul II was wise to give us the Luminous Mysteries at this time since they contain the Marriage Feast at Cana, and we need everything we can have now to reinforce Holy Matrimony between one man and one woman. Just a thought.

  3. Through out the year and will continue this year nothing but confusion from Francis. Many of us are still waiting for an answer about the dubia and will probably never get an answer.

    • Steve Seitz says

      I thought we got the answer in 2018: He intends to go in one direction but is repeatedly forced to go in the opposite direction.

  4. James Flynn says

    No one holds the Bishops accountable, especially not the Pope and not parishioners.

    Supposedly, each diocese is a corporation with the bishop as the Corporate Sole (no soul). But you won’t be able to find any public financial disclosures through the IRS or other sources. Many dioceses also own cemetery corporations and land development corporations. No accountability.

    The IRS must make the Catholic dioceses subject to full disclosure just like other charities.

  5. Since Vatican II, there has been very little discipline in the Church. And very little catechesis, too! Things will just get worse, without good discipline, and solid Catholic teaching and religious practice! I don’t think the Vatican II Popes and prelates have understood this.

  6. Props to WB Yeats:

    “Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned”

    -The Second Coming

  7. Religious Tradition is how you worship, and how you live the Faith. It is an important pillar of our Catholic Faith! And Tradition has nearly been destroyed, since Vatican II! At home, as well as in church– many Catholic parents today struggle, worldwide — as without Tradition– it is very hard to daily live and transmit the Faith, to your family!

    • Actually, how you worship is mostly not part of Sacred Tradition. It’s part of tradition. There is a huge difference. How we worship has varied from place to place and time to time since the institution of the Eucharist itself on Holy Thursday.

      • Our Sacred Tradition has been quite stable, for centuries — with minor changes, as needed! The Second Vatican Council was quite radical!

        • Prior to the Council, a Catholic could go anywhere, worldwide, with their family– and enter a Catholic church for Mass, the Sacraments, etc.– and find out, it was all just the same, as in their hometown!

        • The Second Vatican Council was quite radical?! Prove it. Quote for us the radical citations from any of the documents of Vatican II.

          • Sorry– this is not about the Documents of Vatican II, and things written down. Many radical, new things occurred, and ancient practices of many centuries, were discarded– in religious practices– after the Council! For example– a “clown Mass,” with “inclusive language” (vernacular, not Latin) and discarding a Corpus Christi procession. Quite radical!

          • A “clown Mass”–whatever that is–is not the responsibility of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, nor is “inclusive language.” The last I checked there are parishes who still observe Corpus Christi Processions, and growing. In other words, you are unable to substantiate your false allegation that “Vatican II is quite radical.”

          • Jon– the Council Fathers and Popes decided on “religious freedoms” and “equality,” as far as possible, for all– laymen and clerics. So– you get “un-Catholic” things like “clown Masses,” “Gay Masses,” “all inclusive language,” “feminist’s rights,” etc.– with some priests “ad libbing” things, during Masses— and none of this is in any AUTHENTIC Catholic book, of our true, Catholic religious practices– Tradition obliterated! Your parish priests have limited authority– and your Bishop has little authority, to govern Catholic schools, colleges, charities, hospitals, and etc., in his Diocese– quite radical!

          • Again Anonymous, these are the typical “complaints” that the traditionalist-dissenters are wont to unjustly blame the Conciliar Fathers, but which are empty accusations. It is well-known that the liturgical abuses some people see in some parishes ARE NOT the intentions of the Council. The point stands that you have failed to prove your hypothesis that “Vatican II is radical.” If you have a problem with religious freedom and equality, it is YOU who are radical.

          • Again– you misunderstand! The Vatican II Church does not favor authority, and tradition and orthodoxy are unpopular in Rome, right now. Prior to the Council, our Church was very strict with authority, orthodoxy, and Tradition. So, it has been through radical changes– they were trying to help their people! So— don’t let that upset you! You can still seek Christ’s Salvation, He is right there, always! Go to Mass!

          • “Vatican II Church.” Right. Folks, you’re believing that the Church is divided (“True Church” vs. “Vatican II Church”) plays right into the hands of the the Devil. He more than anyone would want YOU to think the Church is made of the “fake” one and the “true” one–where those who have special “insight” and knowledge (knowledge of “tradition”) belong. It’s nothing more than the same old “gnostic” heresies of the past. The Devil loves that trick and has sadly pulled it again.

          • Relax, Jon. Focus on Jesus. Stop being so upset! Mankind is not perfect. Let Our Lord handle that. Just go to Mass, pray, and be at peace. Have a happy New Year! With lots of love, respect, understanding, forgiveness, and tolerance of your fellow man! All is in God’s Loving hands!

          • Who’s upset? Please, I am not lambasting bishops, priests, and the Holy Father; I am not believing and bemoaning that there are “two Churches”; I am not resenting the popularity of the Ordinary Form.

  8. William Robert says

    The crisis in the Church has nothing to do with Vatican II or the Traditional Latin Mass. The Church is in crisis because of its teachings regarding human sexuality. While the clergy were preaching to the laity about the sacredness of the sexual act, natural family planning and fidelity, they were engaging in pedophilia, heterosexual affairs, cover ups, pay offs for silence and outright deception. The Church needs to be transparent about these scandals, fiscal corruption and take responsibility for failed leadership. It is time for repentance and change.

    • Put another way — emphasis on a so-called “paradigm shift” is slowly eroding the foundation upon which the Catholic (Universal) Church has been built.

  9. Not addressed is the issue of homosexual priests and those many victims both in the seminary and elsewhere who were traumatized by homosexual priests. We have one priest in particular very blatantly promoting acceptance of this sin. We have seen so many abominations taking place on altars during Mass – balloons and foot ball decorations, rainbow flags, dancing of various sorts, roller blading, skating, drone flying by priests.The list is endless. As one popular bishop said, we have the hope hell is empty. Too many Catholics today do not believe in purgatory or hell. The crisis in our church is more than the sexual abuse and how very sad is that?

  10. Pope Francis is being accused of things he never actually said. As far as divorce, communion and annulment goes, these subjects are up for discussion. How can one convert a sinner if we are judging them so harshly. Yes sin is sin, but human beings are so wounded in these days. We can’t convert someone if they are not felt welcome in the CHURCH. The Pope does not have all the answers just as other Popes, but he is making a fair proposition for the people to pray and help the world to figure out how to bring about conversion without pointing fingers at each persons life beliefs. We can only convert others and ourselves if we LOVE. God is Judge, but he is also very MERCIFUL. All of us will learn the TRUTH BY FEELING WELCOME IN CHURCH!

  11. Comeuppance is a good thing . . . and for all concerned. Banner year.

  12. Meg, sometimes Pope Francis has been misunderstood and thus falsely accused and sometimes not. There is a sin of silence, and his not answering the Dubia seems to be one as it has caused a lot of confusion. Also, be careful with the use of the word “love”. For some it means the love of ones neighbor as Jesus Christ taught it, and for others it means nothing less than the worship of the god Eros who taught “If it feel good, do it no matter whom you hurt.

  13. The Catholic Church is a religion, not a social club! Christ loved and welcomed all– but had strict religious requirements, for His followers! “If you love Me,” He said, “Keep My Cmandments!”. He died to set us free of sin, and open the doors to Heaven!

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