Ryan, lawmakers call on Catholic Church leaders to come clean

Ryan, lawmakers call on Catholic Church leaders to come clean
© Getty

Catholic lawmakers on Thursday called on church leaders to come clean in the sex-abuse scandal rocking the Vatican.

“This is very disturbing …” said Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanHow does the 25th Amendment work? Sinema, Fitzpatrick call for long-term extension of Violence Against Women Act GOP super PAC drops .5 million on Nevada ad campaign MORE (R-Wis.), who like Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiDemocrats opposed to Pelosi lack challenger to topple her Sinema, Fitzpatrick call for long-term extension of Violence Against Women Act Internal RNC poll shows Pelosi is more popular than Trump: report MORE (D-Calif.) is Catholic.

But he warned against those trying to politicize the scandal: “As a practicing Catholic, the last thing that this needs to be is become relegated to a fight between the Catholic left and the Catholic right. This needs to be elevated to truth and justice.

ADVERTISEMENT

“That means cleanse the problem with total transparency and total accountability so that the healing can begin, and so that the church can renew itself,” Ryan added.

The Speaker, who will retire in January, did not say whether Congress should get involved or has any oversight role in the matter. And aides and other lawmakers were quick to note Congress’s limited powers when it comes to oversight of religious institutions.

“The primary responsibility still resides with the church,” said Rep. John Larson John Barry LarsonDemocrats opposed to Pelosi lack challenger to topple her Ryan, lawmakers call on Catholic Church leaders to come clean More than 150 Dems launch caucus to expand Social Security benefits MORE (Conn.), a Catholic Democrat. After that, he said, “it would fall on the shoulders of states more so than the federal government.”

Rep. Bill PascrellWilliam (Bill) James PascrellRyan, lawmakers call on Catholic Church leaders to come clean Congress losing faith in Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi On The Money: Trump threatens 7B more in Chinese tariffs | Obama mocks GOP for taking credit for economy | US adds 201K jobs in strong August | Dems vow to get Trump's tax returns if they take the House MORE (D), a New Jersey Catholic, was even more forceful.

“The church is fumbling, but fumbling along trying to handle it,” he said, “I think the Congress should stay the hell out of it.”

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), another Catholic, said Congress could play a role overseeing the Department of Justice and other law enforcement agencies, which have been criticized in places like Pennsylvania for doing too little to rein in the abuse.

“You could hold DOJ and our investigative and enforcement arms accountable for explaining why. Absolutely,” Grijalva said. Aside from that, he said, Congress is essentially toothless.

“We can be disgusted and frustrated by the fact that we haven’t seemed to make progress on that issue — as a Catholic it’s frustrating and disgusting,” Grijalva said. “But we already have a law against the abuse of children and what we can do is make sure that it’s enforced.

“Nobody is above that, including a priest.”

Potentially, Congress could punish the church by revoking its tax exempt status. But there’s little appetite to take such a drastic step, even despite the nature of the charges, which center on rampant pedophilia by American clergy.

“I fully support the tax-exempt status of churches, and synagogues, and mosques,” said Pascrell. “Period.”

The Catholic Church is not known for reforming itself quickly or admitting mistakes. It wasn’t until 1992, for instance, that the institution conceded that Galileo was right to assert that the earth moves around the sun — 350 years after he was persecuted for saying so.

Some lawmakers suggested the church this time around will need external pressure to adopt reforms.

“I believe firmly that the Catholic Church has to abide by the law of the land,” said Rep. Matt CartwrightMatthew (Matt) Alton CartwrightRyan, lawmakers call on Catholic Church leaders to come clean Mellman: When attack ads cross the line Election Countdown: Senate, House Dems build cash advantage | 2020 Dems slam Trump over Putin presser | Trump has M in war chest | Republican blasts parents for donating to rival | Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders to campaign in Kansas MORE (D-Pa.).

“That’s clearly severely in doubt, that they can self-police.”

But Ryan said that Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops who’s launched a plan to tackle the abuse scandal, “is on the right track.”

The lawmakers’ remarks came on the same day Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Bishop Michael Bransfield of West Virginia, who had been facing allegations that he sexually abused adults. That development came as Francis was convening a rare summit at the Vatican with U.S. cardinals and bishops to discuss the sex-abuse crisis that has shaken the Catholic church and threatened the papacy.

“We shared with Pope Francis our situation in the United States, how the Body of Christ is lacerated by the evil of sexual abuse. He listened very deeply from the heart. It was a lengthy, fruitful, and good exchange," DiNardo said after the gathering, according to CNN.

Francis, who in 2015 became the first pontiff ever to address Congress, has become embroiled in the controversy after an archbishop, Carlo Maria Viganò, proffered charges that Francis had turned a blind eye toward sexual misconduct by Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the archbishop of Washington.

Pascrell fervently rejected the charge that Francis knew of the abuse and is therefore complicit. Those making that claim, Pascrell said, are disgruntled conservatives who’ve had it in for the Jesuit Francis for years, and are merely using the recent crisis as a political justification to topple him.

“Those dissenters from the beginning — before this Pennsylvania report came out — … have carried on a conservative agenda [of] attacking the pope … because they didn’t like what this pope stood for,” Pascrell said. "Are you trying to say that Pope Francis associated with McCarrick even though he knew, he already knew, that there was something going on seriously? I don’t believe that. I don’t believe that for a moment.

“This is just a way for them to try to push an agenda.”