So I think that - I think that it’s - but, you know, somebody told me something very interesting. They said, you know, there’s this business of grooming victims by predators. They kind of get them in a position. But the psychologist told me there’s also grooming of people around him or her, so that they are put in such a position that they can never, ever believe that something like that is true.
But you have that in your own industry. You have people who have been news anchors and heads of communications systems who have for years abused people and they have created this atmosphere that nobody would ever believe any rumor and so nobody acted on it. So I think that it is part of the illness, but also part of the clever tactics of abusers to build that scenario around themselves.
NBC: When did you become aware of the McCarrick allegations?
Cupich: Well after- right when, uh - right when the decision, I think I had a few days ahead of time that it was going to be announced, that it was going to be announced. And that’s - at the time, at the time that when the decision was made by the Holy See that to have him not only removed from public life as a cleric, but also to make it public, I was told that.
NBC: So, because of Archbishop Vigano’s claims that McCarrick had lobbied for you.
NBC: I know you responded by a statement, but what do you say to that?
Cupich: Well, I would say - first of all - I’ve been appointed by three popes. Not just by Francis. I was appointed in 1998 by John Paul II, 2010 by Benedict XVI. It’s not as though I just fell out of the sky.
I worked at the Vatican embassy in the ‘80s, I was the rector of the pontifical seminary, the only pontifical seminary in the United States, so it’s not as though I was a newcomer. People knew me in Rome, and so on. I don’t think that I needed one person to be my advocate and I believe that- I believe that the pope wanted someone who was pastoral, as he said, and I was a candidate that he looked at seriously.
NBC: Were you involved in choosing Cardinal McCarrick for the Catholic Extension St. Francis Award?
Cupich: Yeah, I was consulted about that and I agreed to it and, in fact, had I known any of this I surely wouldn’t have. I think that’s a good indication that I didn’t have prior knowledge. I surely wouldn’t choose somebody that had that kind of record behind them and, and yes I was.
NBC: So those allegations, then, did not - they weren’t common knowledge, as some have suggested.
Cupich: No, they were not to me. I mean, if they were common knowledge, I don’t know who had that information. Maybe on the East Coast, where he was, on a day-to-day basis, but I surely did not know that. And I wouldn’t be so stupid and foolish as to allow him to be recognized by Catholic Extension, which does enormously good work, and have their reputation threatened if I knew this information about him.
NBC: Is this the Catholic Church's #MeToo scandal with adult clergy in positions of power not just abusing children but adults like seminarians who are subordinate to them?
Cupich: Right. Mary Ann, you are hitting the nail on the head, because this is not about sex. It’s about power and clericalism. That’s what has to change in the life of the Church, and that’s what the pope is talking about.
But let’s also be clear that people who want to make this about sex, in terms of homosexuality and all the rest of it, are a diversion from the real issue that we need to attack in the life of the Church. And that is that there are some people who believe that they are both privileged and protected. That has- that wall has to come down.
Any institution, like the Church or other larger institution, that have that kind of insular protection for their members, always gets in trouble. I have told other people that I’ve talked to, who have asked me to come to talk about the issue from their own perspective of kind of a lay clerical culture in their industries, is that if you circle the wagons when you have an issue, you’re gonna end up circling the drain. And that’s what’s happening.
NBC: Is there a Catholic civil war underway? I mean, today you would think the headlines are so-
Cupich: Well, I would say, I would say not a civil war. There’s a small group of insurgents, who have not liked Pope Francis from the very beginning.
They don’t like the fact that he’s calling for more lay involvement. They don’t like the fact that he is calling for a synodal Church, where we get the advice of people. They don’t like that he’s talking about the environment or the poor or the migrants or that the death penalty is something that we should outlaw. They don’t like the fact that he is saying that economies kill. There are people who don’t like that message. And so there’s an insurgency of people who don’t like that. And, quite frankly, they also don’t like him because he’s a Latino and that he is bringing Latino culture into the life of the Church, which we have been enriched by and I think that that’s part of all of this too.
NBC: When’s your next visit to Rome and do you believe that all of these issues - Archbishop Vigano, Cardinal McCarrick, the grand jury - will this something that will be discussed between you and the pope?
Cupich: I don’t think so. I’ll tell you why, because I know that the president of our conference is going to be going to Rome, as he said, to talk to the pope. He represents our conference. I’m consulted from time to time by our conference leadership and directly by the Holy See and I stand ready to do my part.
But let’s be clear, I think it’s important right now, in view of the letter that was issued today by the president of our conference, that this is not on the pope’s plate to fix. This is on us.
We, as the bishops’ conference of the United States, obviously need to look at what went wrong here and hold each other accountable. So before we give the pope another task to do, let’s look at what we’re supposed to do. What’s on our agenda to fix this? That’s where the failure is.
CNA's Kate Veik transcribed this interview.