US lay people are launching a new initiative to assess cardinals’ records on combatting abuse and corruption.
Better Church Governance has signed up former FBI agents as investigators, led by Phil Scala, a former FBI Supervisory Special Agent.
Academics, lawyers and editors will help to draw up a dossier, “The Red Hat Report”, which will cover all cardinals able to vote in the next papal conclave – that is, those under the age of 80.
It aims to increase transparency and honesty in Church governance, to “empower members of the Church to courageously stand up for the truth”, and to help the cardinals themselves.
Better Church Governance (BCG) say in a briefing document: “Cardinals have commented that accurately knowing the backgrounds of the other cardinal electors is the most precarious part of each conclave. Our mission is to change this.”
The report “will not endorse or attack any cardinal,” BCG say. Rather, they say they intend to help the hierarchy in the work of reforming the Church.
BCG says that “lay movements have often outstripped the Church hierarchy” in matters of reform, pointing to St Catherine of Siena’s advice to the popes, and St Peter Damian’s belief “that in ages of abuse or corrupt, interventions by foreign sovereigns and average laity were tasked with the maternal correction of the hierarchy”.
The project is led by Philip Nielsen, Director of Research at the Centre for Evangelical Catholicism.
Jacob Imam, BCG’s Operations Director, told the Catholic Herald that the idea had been in the works since last spring, “but it was not until the Viganò letter broke that we saw what a great need there was”.
Imam stressed that the project was “not in opposition to the hierarchs but rather a service to them”, and that the abuse scandal called for prayer, sacrifice and practical help.
The report will assess cardinals’ record, both positive and negative, on areas such as abuse and cover-ups, legal and financial misdealing, and “equivocation, evasion, or deceit when faced with credible charges of abuse or corruption”.
It will also seek to understand the networks of patronage, money and influence which help corruption and sexual abuse to flourish.
BCG is seeking donations; if it meets its targets, the leaders hope to publish a full edition of the Red Hat Report by April 2020. The first dossier, on North American cardinals, could appear early next year.
Imam said the project was motivated by reading about the extent of clerical abuse. “Instead of offering themselves as living sacrifices for the good of the flock, these cardinals, bishops, priests sacrifice the innocent and young for their own demonic ends. When we see such an inversion of Christ’s own self-giving love, we must help reform in every way we can.”
In the briefing document, BCG say that they also want to show a more positive side of the Church: “There are still many holy and courageous men within the episcopacy. Our job is to empower them – and to prove to the world that they are there. We hope to tell their stories in the hope that we can demonstrate the beauty of our Church and the goodness of the hierarchy to the world.”