(CNSNews.com) – Pope Francis’s “silence” on the sexual misconduct of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick is “deafening,” said Catholic Women’s Forum Director Mary Hasson on Thursday, following a meeting the Pope held in Rome with U.S. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo and other prelates about sexual abuse and cover-up in the Catholic Church.
“The Pope’s silence is deafening, and I worry that the cardinals are coming home empty-handed, with no further word on whether the Pope will pursue an official investigation,” Hasson said.
Hasson’s frustration stems from the continued lack of a substantial response from the Vatican since Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò accused the Pope of knowing about abuse allegations against McCarrick in 2013.
In his Aug. 22 statement, Viganò claimed that Pope Francis “knew from at least June 23, 2013 that McCarrick was a serial predator. Although he knew that he was a corrupt man, he covered for him to the bitter end.”
DiNardo, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), called Thursday’s meeting “a lengthy, fruitful, and good exchange.”
“We are grateful to the Holy Father for receiving us in audience,” DiNardo said in a statement. “We shared with Pope Francis our situation in the United States – how the Body of Christ is lacerated by the evil of sexual abuse. He listened very deeply from the heart. It was a lengthy, fruitful, and good exchange.”
“We look forward to actively continuing our discernment together identifying the most effective next steps,” DiNardo said.
When asked for further comment, Hasson told CNSNews that “Vatican leadership is extremely important.”
“Catholic women are looking to the Pope for specific answers and for concrete steps towards a full investigation and needed reforms,” she said. “Given the immense damage done by the hierarchy’s lack of transparency and its toleration of egregious sexual misconduct by priests and bishops, Vatican leadership is extremely important.”
She also called the Vatican’s knowledge since 2000 of the allegations against McCarrick “astounding.”
“It is astounding that the Vatican knew about former Cardinal McCarrick’s immoral and corrupting behavior with seminarians for at least 18 years before the laity learned of it,” said Hasson. “And in the meantime, McCarrick was promoted as the benevolent face of the institutional Church. It was a lie.”
Hasson’s remarks refer to the acknowledgement by a top Vatican official of allegations made by a priest in 2000 against McCarrick.
Hasson was one of the original signers of the Letter to Pope Francis from Catholic Women pleading for answers to Viganò’s allegations, a letter that now has over 45,000 signatures.
“To your hurting flock, Pope Francis, your words are inadequate,” the letter states. “They sting, reminiscent of the clericalism you so recently condemned. We need leadership, truth, and transparency. We your flock, deserve your answers now.”
In addition to the uproar over McCarrick, the Church continues to face outrage over alleged – and in many cases confirmed -- abuse by 300 priests from six Pennsylvania dioceses detailed in a grand jury report released on Aug. 14.
Hasson acknowledged the wounds caused by the abuse scandal.
“It’s not surprising that trust between the hierarchy and the laity has been ruptured,” she wrote. “Whether that can be restored depends greatly on how our bishops – and the Pope – respond in coming months.”
However, she encouraged Catholics to keep the faith and continue to pray for Pope Francis and Church officials.
“I encourage Catholics to remain faithful to the Church and to their own practice of the faith,” she said. “We need to love God fervently, to serve him and to trust in His Providence. We continue to pray for the Holy Father and our bishops, and to hope for further positive developments.”