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Paul Petrick: Bishop Lawrence Persico should be next pope

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Diocese of Erie
Bishop Lawrence Persico
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If verified, the explosive testimony of Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, former apostolic nuncio (Vatican ambassador) to the United States, should lead to the resignations of all those named as having disregarded knowledge of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s unspeakable misconduct — including Pope Francis. Unfortunately, human history shows us that just because something should happen does not necessarily mean that it will happen.

The sorry history of abuse and cover-up in the Catholic Church that has and continues to be revealed over the past two decades is a sad reminder of this. But regardless of whether or not Vigano’s testimony hastens Francis’ exit, we do know that one day Francis will exit. And just as the revelations of abuse and cover-up in the church have exposed those unfit to serve the church in any capacity, those same revelations have identified one shepherd as uniquely fit to lead the church as the next successor of St. Peter, Bishop Lawrence Persico of the Diocese of Erie.

Last month’s grand jury report detailing the commission of heinous crimes against children by priests and other church employees, and their subsequent cover-up by church officials, exposed a shameful chapter in the history of the church in Pennsylvania that mirrors a similar pattern of misconduct across the global church that will probably take a century for the church to live down. Luckily for the church, a century is only a modest period of time in church history.

But if the church is ever going to transcend this era of spiritual and corporal corruption, it is going to need to fully purify itself of all predators and their enablers in the hierarchy. Naturally, this includes the pope. The church cannot fully begin to heal as long as it is led by someone tainted by this scandal. And while the vicar of Christ can never be a perfect man, it is not too much to ask that he not be someone who tolerated child predators.

Persico is such a man. The grand jury performed an invaluable service to both society and the church by publishing the stories of the victims and, to the extent permitted, the names of their abusers and those who abetted them. But it also provided an overlooked service by identifying Persico, who formerly served as chancellor and vicar general in the Diocese of Greensburg, as a man who faithfully serves God by protecting his flock.

For two years, the grand jury investigated six Pennsylvania dioceses and reported on over 1,000 cases of misconduct involving 300 alleged perpetrators spanning 70 years. Persico was the only bishop to testify before the grand jury. He was also the only bishop praised by the grand jury for his actions in protecting children by commencing an independent investigation into the Diocese of Erie and publicly listing the names of predators as well as pledging to refer allegations of abuse to law enforcement for investigation.

Persico also pledged to personally meet with victims and to provide counseling regardless of whether the victim is currently in the territorial confines of the diocese. All churches in the diocese were directed to remain open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sept. 15, the Feast of Our Mother of Sorrows, so that anyone could visit a church and pray for all of those affected by this scandal.

These are the actions of a prelate who serves God and the church best by putting victims first. Contrast Persico’s response to the grand jury report with other living bishops named in the report, and it becomes clear that the grand jury was on to something when it singled out Persico for praise.

But, more importantly for the future of the church, we know that Persico’s record has been vetted by the grand jury, and that is the best argument available for his accession to the throne of St. Peter in a time when the church must insist on someone with an immaculate record in dealing with child predators to be the next pope.

I freely admit that I have not always agreed with Pope Francis’ views. But I did believe that he was a holy man who devoted his life to God. However, his response to the Vigano allegations has not inspired confidence. We deserve a pope who we can trust to purify the church and restore the confidence of the world in her mission.

Coincidentally, Western Pennsylvania is the epicenter of President Trump’s electoral strength. Could it be that there dwells the man needed to Make Catholicism Great Again?

Paul Petrick is an attorney in Willoughby, Ohio.

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