Cardinal Defends Pope: He ‘Has a Bigger Agenda … the Environment, Protecting Migrants’

Over the weekend, news broke that a former apostolic nuncio had alleged that Pope Francis knew about sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic Church in America and failed to act. Many are demanding Francis' resignation if the claims are true. One cardinal named in the allegations — Cardinal Blase J. Cupich — has minimized the importance of the accusation, saying Pope Francis has a "bigger agenda" and should not get distracted by this "rabbit hole."

"The pope has a bigger agenda. He’s got to get on with other things, of talking about the environment and protecting migrants and carrying on the work of the church," Cupich told NBC Chicago. "We’re not going to go down a rabbit hole on this."

The cardinal defended the pontiff, saying, "The record shows that whenever there's actionable information, Pope Francis acts."

He even went so far as to suggest that some people are calling for the pope's resignation ... because they are racist. "Quite frankly, the also don't like him because he's a Latino."

Cupich himself has come under fire. The testimony of Carlo Viganò — the document accusing Pope Francis — mentioned the cardinal six times.

"The appointments of Blase Cupich to Chicago and Joseph W. Tobin to Newark were orchestrated by [Theodore] McCarrick," former archbishop of Washington, Viganò wrote. The former nuncio wrote to reveal McCarrick's "gravely immoral behavior with seminarians and priests" — forcing them to sleep with him — and to recount how, when he revealed this damning information to Pope Francis, the pope already knew it was happening, and refused to act.

"Regarding Cupich, one cannot fail to note his ostentatious arrogance, and the insolence with which he denies the evidence that is now obvious to all:that 80% of the abuses found were committed against young adults by homosexuals who were in a relationship of authority over their victims," Viganò declared.

"During the speech he gave when he took possession of the Chicago See, at which I was present as a representative of the Pope, Cupich quipped that one certainly should not expect the new Archbishop to walk on water. Perhaps it would be enough for him to be able to remain with his feet on the ground and not try to turn reality upside-down, blinded by his pro-gay ideology, as he stated in a recent interview with America Magazine," the testimony added.

Viganò noted Cupich's remarks to America Magazine: "He asserted that the main problem in the crisis of sexual abuse by clergy is not homosexuality, and that affirming this is only a way of diverting attention from the real problem which is clericalism."

Ironically, this discussion of "clericalism" lined up with Pope Francis' remarks on the scandal.

The former nuncio accused the cardinal of dodging the homosexuality issue, ignoring independent reports by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in 2004 and 2011, "which concluded that, in cases of sexual abuse, 81% of the victims were male." Viganò concluded, quoting church leaders that "in most cases it is a question of homosexual abuse."

Cupich has insisted that there are no secret documents in his diocese, and denied Viganò's charges. The cardinal insisted that he knew nothing of the allegations against McCarrick before they became public.

"I really was taken aback by, not just his words, but the derisive language and scorn behind them because that wasn’t anything close to anything I’d ever experienced with him," Cupich told the Chicago Tribune.

He did continue to insist, however, that the sex abuse scandals are not about homosexuality.

"If you say that this is about homosexuality, then in the end what you’re really saying is that people who are gay are more prone to abuse children than straight people are, and that’s an injustice," Cupich argued. "The research does not bear that out. And I’ve said that time and time again."

"Well, people are saying, ‘Well, you know you had so much of this abuse that was male-on-male.’ That’s true. But it was due not because homosexuals are more prone to injure kids, it was due to opportunity and also situational factors," the cardinal insisted.

Francis has indeed pushed environmental and immigration issues — and his encyclical on the environment hurt his credibility among conservative Catholics. While Viganò's charges have yet to be confirmed, the fact that Cupich treated the sex abuse as a "rabbit hole" to be avoided, rather than a real issue like the environment, spoke volumes, and supported the contention that the cardinal has some "ostentatious arrogance."

Watch his remarks below.