Catholics are divided by the prospect of an inquiry into the College of Cardinals

Few would deny that this is the worst crisis the American Church has faced in living memory. As if the scandal surrounding ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick weren’t enough, a Pennsylvania Grand Jury report released in August identified more than 300 abusive priests – both living and dead – incardinated in the state. That’s more than were named in the Archdiocese of Boston during the infamous abuse crisis of the early 2000s.

Prominent US prelates such as Cardinals Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Huston and Timothy Dolan of New York have publicly requested an apostolic visitation – that is, an official investigation headed by a bishop who acts on the pope’s behalf. This is standard procedure following major revelations of sexual misconduct within the clergy. But so far, the Vatican has been noncommittal.

On 6 October, The Holy See released a statement promising that, “in due course, make known the conclusions of the matter regarding Archbishop McCarrick.” What constitutes “due course” is ambiguous, however; it doesn’t suggest that a visitation is imminent.

The statement also admitted: “It may emerge that choices were taken that would not be consonant with a contemporary approach to such issues”. The Holy See appears to be laying the groundwork for some admission of guilt or negligence by Vatican officials. But there is little detail beyond that hint.

In the absence of official Church action, members of the laity have taken matters into their own hands. On 30 September, members of a new organization calling themselves the Better Church Governance Group (BCGG) met on the campus of the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. They plan to spend upwards of $1 million on a “Red Hat Report”: a private investigation into all American members of the College of Cardinals young enough to vote in the next papal conclave. Their aim is “to name those credibly accused in scandal, abuse, or cover-ups” by 2020.

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