During a consistory in which new cardinals are created, the cardinal elect receives the scarlet biretta from the Pope and makes the following oath:
I [name and surname], Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church, promise and swear to be faithful henceforth and forever, while I live, to Christ and his Gospel, being constantly obedient to the Holy Roman Apostolic Church, to Blessed Peter in the person of the Supreme Pontiff, and of his canonically elected Successors; to maintain communion with the Catholic Church always, in word and deed; not to reveal to anyone what is confided to me in secret, nor to divulge what may bring harm or dishonor to Holy Church; to carry out with great diligence and faithfulness those tasks to which I am called by my service to the Church, in accord with the norms of the law. So help me Almighty God.
The newly created cardinal is reminded that upon declaration of this oath he must be willing to shed his blood for the welfare of the Pope and the Church (hence the scarlet attire). A recent article provides a “top ten” list of those cardinals who were the most notorious in keeping this oath in terms of protecting the institution in the wake of the sexual abuse scandal. Many of the names will be familiar to those of us living in the United States since half of them are Americans who served in major Archdioceses in the US such as Los Angeles (Mahony), New York (Dolan), Philadelphia (Rigali), and San Francisco (Levada).
Once these men were created cardinals or elected Pope as the former Cardinal Ratzinger was they had the power and the ability to change the oath to fit the new circumstances in which the Church finds itself in light of the sexual abuse scandal. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if one of them had had the moral courage to re-write the oath to state “to divulge to the proper authorities what may bring harm or scandal to the children of God”. What a powerful witness that would be.
In the meantime, those of us who are committed to protecting children rather than institutions must continue to seek justice in the courts. Our children can’t afford to wait for the cardinals to change or take a different oath.