As point man for the inner ring of cardinals advising Pope Francis, Cardinal Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras is sure that he knows a partisan political attack when he sees one.
Take, for example, the firestorm of controversy surrounding ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick, once the church's media-friendly voice in Washington, D.C. In press reports, and a fiery testimony by the Vatican's former U.S. ambassador, McCarrick has been accused of decades of sexual harassment and abuse of seminarians, as well as sex acts with male minors.
"It does not seem correct to me to transform something that is of the private order into bombshell headlines exploding all over the world and whose shrapnel is hurting the faith of many," said Cardinal Maradiaga, in a Religion Digital interview. "I think this case of an administrative nature should have been made public in accordance with more serene and objective criteria, not with the negative charge of deeply bitter expressions."
On another "private order," "administrative" issue in church affairs, he said the "notion of a gay lobby in the Vatican is out of proportion. It is something that exists much more in the ink of the newspapers than in reality."
Pope Francis has not directly addressed recent accusations that he helped shelter, and rehabilitate, McCarrick. But in a blunt Sept. 11 sermon, the pope -- echoing a theme in several other recent addresses -- said Satan is the villain behind these new attacks on leaders at the highest levels of the Roman church.
"In these times, it seems like the 'Great Accuser' has been unchained and is attacking bishops," said Francis. "True, we are all sinners, we bishops. He tries to uncover the sins, so they are visible in order to scandalize the people. …
"A bishop's strength against the 'Great Accuser' is prayer. … Let us pray, today, for our bishops: for me, for those who are here, and for all the bishops throughout the world."
On that same day, another symbolic Vatican voice addressed the same crisis in America, and the global church, in words that were subtle and powerful.
Drawing on themes from the work of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Archbishop Georg Ganswein said Catholicism is facing -- with the McCarrick scandal and a searing Pennsylvania grand-jury report on abuse by 300-plus priests -- a crisis of the highest order, one he described as a kind of spiritual 9/11. His comments carried great weight since he remains Benedict's personal secretary, while also serving as "prefect of the papal household," a key gatekeeper for Francis.
"I am neither comparing the victims nor the numbers of abuse cases in the Catholic Church with those 2,996 innocent people who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon," he said. Archbishop Ganswein spoke as part of a forum in Rome marking the release of the Italian edition of "The Benedict Option," the controversial bestseller by American journalist Rod Dreher.
"No one has -- to this date -- attacked the Church of Christ by passenger plane. St. Peter's is still standing, as are the cathedrals of France, Germany or Italy," he said. "And yet, the recent news from America, where so many souls have been permanently and mortally injured by priests of the Catholic church, is worse than any news could be of Pennsylvania's churches suddenly collapsing, along with the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C."
Catholic leaders will not be able to hide from this crisis, he said, which has been gathering like a storm for quite some time. Consider the warning that was issued in 2005 by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger -- who became Pope Benedict XVI.
This was one of several times when Benedict tried to warn bishops and other church leaders about what was ahead, noted Ganswein.
"How much filth there is in the church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to him! How much pride, how much self-complacency," said Ratzinger, in a Good Friday sermon. "His betrayal by his disciples, their unworthy reception of his Body and Blood, is certainly the greatest suffering endured by the Redeemer -- it pierces his heart. We can only call to him from the depths of our hearts: Kyrie eleison -- Lord, save us."