The Roman Catholic Church could do more to help victims of abusive priests reconcile themselves with their faith, says Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, one of the front-runners to become the next pontiff.
As cardinals from around the world gather in Rome for closed-door meetings before choosing a successor to Benedict XVI, Cardinal Ouellet recalled in an interview with the CBC how he met with victims of clerical child abuse during a visit to Ireland.
Cardinal Ouellet had asked for forgiveness from the victims during a pilgrimage last year to St. Patrick’s Purgatory in Lough Derg.
“I remember one telling me, ‘You’ve not done everything; you have to do something more for us, because you know these facts happen in pastoral contexts with Catholic people,’” Cardinal Ouellet said in an interview with CBC anchor Peter Mansbridge which aired Monday night.
The victim said “‘We have received apologies and also compensation and also therapies, and so on, but we need also to be reconciled with the family in a spiritual way,’” the cardinal recalled.
“And there we have more to do.”
Knowing that it is untoward to campaign openly for the papal job, Cardinal Ouellet reluctantly acknowledged in the interview that he has to be prepared for the possibility that he could become the next pontiff.
“I have to be ready even if I think that probably others could do it better,” he said.
“We have to be, to some extent, prepared.”
He alluded to the old saying that the man who enters the conclave already anointed pope is usually the one who will leave still a cardinal. “My name is circulating, but I am very careful to go beyond this sort of media expectations.”
CBC said it was the only outlet among 122 news organizations who approached the cardinal to be granted an interview.
Cardinal Ouellet made his comments about sexual abuse after being prodded by Mr. Mansbridge about whether the church has apologized enough to survivors.
“This a very painful question always and everything that was bad, you know, is so regretful, and the Church has apologized many times,” he initially replied.
He noted that the church in Canada had been among the first to acknowledge the problem, following revelations in the early 1990s of abuse at the Mount Cashel Orphanage in Newfoundland.
He also said child abuse is not specifically a Roman Catholic issue but that the church has garnered more attention.
“It is not a Catholic problem; it is a human problem. Most of the abuse occurred in families in very general in society, and my hope is what was done by the Catholic Church, which is not yet perfect, but could be also of example for others in society,” he said.
Last month, SNAP, (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) singled out three papal candidates who, either by their comments or their deeds, had tried to brush off allegations of abuse by members of the clery.
The three SNAP named were Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras, Norberto Rivera Carrera of Mexico and the American Timothy Dolan.
Others cardinal, like Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila and the Italian Angelo Bagnasco, have been praised for their frank denunciations of past sexual abuse. Cardinal Bagnasco, for example, made headlines in 2011 when he said in an interview that mismanagement or cover-ups of such cases have to be “ rigorously prosecuted within and outside the Church.”
Cardinal Ouellet has been touted as a top contender ever since Benedict XVI’s surprise announcement last month that he is stepping down.
With the Roman Catholic church more dynamic in Latin America and Africa these days, there have been speculations that the conclave might pick a non-European cardinal.
A Vatican insider who can speak five languages and has been a seminary teacher in Colombia, Cardinal Ouellet is said to be well-liked and respected by his Latin American brethren.
However, his sole pastoral experience, as archbishop of Quebec City, was marked by controversy. His comments against gay marriage and abortion (he called it a moral crime, even after rape) created an uproar in his now ultra-secular home province.
According to the Vatican, 117 of the 207 members of the College of Cardinals are under 80 and eligible to vote for the next pope.
However, Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien was forced to resign last week for sexual misconduct. Another cardinal, Julius Darmaatmadja of Indonesia, said poor health and failing eyesight will prevent him from taking part in the vote.