Hannah Brockhaus reported on Saturday that 88 year old former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has been laicized, stripped “of all the rights and privileges of a cleric” and is now unable to function or refer to himself as a priest:
He was publicly accused last year of sexually abusing at least two adolescent boys, and of engaging for decades in coercive sexual behavior toward priests and seminarians.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith conducted an administrative penal process which found McCarrick guilty of “solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession, and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power,” according to a Feb. 16 Vatican communique. …
Because Pope Francis personally approved the guilty verdict and the penalty of laicization, it is formally impossible for the decision to be appealed. …
The allegations of sexual abuse against McCarrick became public in June 2018 when the Archdiocese of New York reported that it had received a “credible” allegation that McCarrick sexually abused a teenage boy in the 1970s, while serving as a New York priest. McCarrick stepped down that same month from all public ministry at the direction of the Holy See.
In July, Pope Francis accepted his resignation from the College of Cardinals, ordering McCarrick to a life of prayer and penance pending the completion of the canonical process concerning the allegations. Since the end of September, McCarrick has been residing at the St. Fidelis Capuchin Friary in Victoria, Kansas.
It’s worth committing to memory the gravity of McCarrick’s crimes and their inevitable effects on the faith and fortitude of those who were near to him, first from a legitimate concern for the spiritual wellbeing of those concerned, and second for the healing and strengthening of Christians and communities corroded by the nature of McCarrick’s mendaciousness. In July 2018, J.D. Flynn wrote:
A new allegation of child sexual abuse was leveled against Cardinal Theodore McCarrick last Thursday, one month after the June announcement that he had been suspended from priestly ministry following an investigation into a different charge of sexual abuse on the part of the cardinal.
Along with emerging accounts from priests and former seminarians of sexual coercion and abuse by McCarrick, those allegations paint a picture of McCarrick’s sexual malfeasance that may be among the most grave, tragic, and, for many Catholics, infuriating, as any in recent Catholic history.
From all corners of the Church, questions are being raised about those who might have known about McCarrick’s misconduct, about how the Church will now handle the allegations against McCarrick, and about what it means for the Church that a prominent, powerful, and reportedly predatory cleric was permitted to continue in ministry for decades without censure or intervention.
Because McCarrick was a leading voice in the Church’s 2002 response to the sexual abuse crisis in the United States, and an architect of the USCCB’s Dallas Charter of the same year, the credibility of that response has also, for some, come into question.
…when a bishop behaves with sexual immorality, the effects ripple across his entire diocese. Priests and seminarians who object to that sexual immorality leave quickly, or find themselves marginalized. Those who rise to leadership positions are those who are left: those who are willing to accept the bishop’s sexual immorality, those who are complicit in it, or those who are too naive to notice it. Those in the first two categories, being willing to accept some rejections of Catholic teaching, are usually also likely to accept other rejections of Catholic teaching. That can be reflected in their pastoral leadership and catechesis, and consequently, an entire diocese can be formed with a theological perspective framed by relativism, tolerance of immorality, or compromise. The effects of a bishop’s sexual immorality can lead to spiritual and catechetical decline across an entire diocese.
Matthew Schmitz highlighted the words of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, a Doctor of the Church, who lived from 1090 to 1153:
“When such men are protected, supported, honored, cherished, many are greatly amazed and scandalized; since they most surely know of that in their characters and lives, which in any of the laity, to say nothing of a Bishop, should be severely censured and execrated. What it is I should be ashamed to write, and it would not befit you to read. Be it so, that without an accuser they cannot be deposed, yet why should those whom common rumor accuses be honored, and yet further exalted, with the special favor of the Apostolic See?”
Sohrab Ahmari called for the return of “sackcloth and ashes:”
McCarrick’s depravities–and the culture of laxness in the Church that enabled them–made it that much harder for Catholics to speak moral truth in a secular world starved for it. They defile the Church. They scandalize the faithful. They invite God’s wrath. …
Writers wiser than I have offered important policy recommendations for moving forward. But the first step is, as I say, sackcloth and ashes. I mean that quite literally. Following ancient Israel’s footsteps, the early Church adopted ashes as an expression of sorrow for sin. Depending on the sin, public penitents were required to wear ashes and sackcloth. The Church should bring back such practices. Whatever criminal and civil consequences await McCarrick, he should also be called to Rome and forced to circle Saint Peter’s Square in sackcloth and ashes, perhaps while the pope observes from the steps of the basilica. Or how about having McCarrick spend hours kneeling at a prie-dieu while Pope Francis looks upon him with anger and contempt? Others have proposed corporal punishments. I’m not opposed to these, either. The point is that the old apologies and settlements won’t do.
Ryan Scheel offered further context and described past practice:
…in the ancient Catholic Church, the punishments for clergy who sexually preyed on victims were not as relatively urbane as these modern approaches.
Saint Basil the Great, a Doctor of the Church, writing in the 4th-century, described how the early Catholic Church dealt with those guilty of sexual abuse among the clergy.
“Any cleric or monk who seduces young men or boys, or who is apprehended in kissing or in any shameful situation, shall be publicly flogged and shall lose his clerical tonsure. Thus shorn, he shall be disgraced by spitting in his face, bound in iron chains, wasted by six months of close confinement, and for three days each week put on barley bread given him toward evening. Following this period, he shall spend a further six months living in a small segregated courtyard in custody of a spiritual elder, kept busy with manual labor and prayer, subjected to vigils and prayers, forced to walk at all times in the company of two spiritual brothers, never again allowed to associate with young men.”
Ross Douthat called for a formal investigation into the scope of McCarrick’s influence and impact:
In 2013, when Pope Benedict XVI resigned, McCarrick was too old to vote in the conclave but was active in the politicking. When Pope Francis was elected, he became an eminence grise, whose lobbying helped elevate several of the new pope’s choices for high office in the American church — including the new cardinal archbishop of Newark, Joseph Tobin, and the head of the Vatican dicastery for family life, Kevin Farrell, both of whom considered McCarrick a mentor.
In other words, two decades after McCarrick should have been removed from his offices, defrocked and handed over to the civil authorities, he was instead wielding remarkable influence in the church … right up until the moment when a lifetime’s worth of crimes were finally dragged into the light.
I think this long and sickening narrative should clarify why the McCarrick case, though “only” about one abuser, merits an expansive and public accounting of the facts. Over the course of multiple decades, across a period in which not just crimes but cover-ups devastated the moral credibility of the church’s hierarchy, many important figures in Rome and the United States must have known that a man who embodied the official response to the scandal was as guilty as any of the priests whose conduct he pretended to deplore.
Someone, or indeed many someones, needs to be held accountable for this disaster. And that accountability requires more than self-exculpating statements from the cardinals involved. It requires judgment — which requires more certain knowledge — which requires investigation — which probably requires an investigator with a mandate from the pope himself.
R.R. Reno connected McCarrick to the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report on Catholic abuse:
In one sense, the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report tells us nothing we didn’t already know. But it spells things out in inescapable detail, in a series of case studies complete with diocesan memos and letters from bishops.
The lurid details of the actions of predatory priests are troubling. But still more troubling are the evasions of responsibility by those in charge—including, in some instances, secular authorities, who in the 1960s tended to cooperate with Church leaders in keeping things quiet. Well into the 1980s, bishops and their staffs were still employing the old techniques: shuttling malefactors to remote dioceses, stonewalling civil authorities, and working hard to “avoid scandal,” which means keeping secrets and minimizing accountability. …
The current culture of the American episcopacy makes even good men incapable of rooting out the corruption in their midst. One can’t help but cringe while reading the Grand Jury Report, the way one does in a car spinning slowly off the highway.
In memo after memo, bishops and their assistants downplay and cover up misdeeds, and evade doing the hard but right thing. …
…the episcopal establishment has been failing for a long time, and in many phases. It failed to secure the theological loyalty of Catholic colleges and universities. No diocese has systematically implemented the reforms of the liturgy encouraged by Pope Benedict. The American episcopacy oversees parochial school systems in decline, and sponsors social justice ministries run by people who reject the Church’s teaching on many moral matters. In recent decades, the bishops’ conference has made feeble efforts to recover the electoral influence it had when archbishops and cardinals were part of the Democratic party’s urban machines.
Despair says, “Nothing will change.” But that is false. Many of us have long known that we cannot trust Catholic schools run by the established system to teach our kids to be Catholic. Our response has been to found lay-run schools. The Neo-Catechumenate Way, Opus Dei, Communion and Liberation—like the religious orders founded in earlier centuries, these movements seek to do what the chancery-dominated, establishment Church can’t.
These movements are not anti-clerical. They don’t reject the bishops. But they don’t wait around for the episcopal establishment, which is so often unable to meet the challenges of our time. …
Collectively, the American bishops lack moral and spiritual authority. That does not make them irrelevant. They will need to get their act together and address their obvious failures. But the sources of renewal will come from elsewhere, from determined, energetic, and faithful men and women who don’t wait around for bishops to act. That’s how the gospel has been well served so often in the past.
And Michael Brendan Dougherty calls for “better men” and investigation:
Fifteen years ago Frank Keating, the former governor of Oklahoma, resigned from a panel called the National Review Board, set up by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to monitor compliance with the Church’s new anti-abuse politics. He was under intense pressure to resign because he had offended bishops when he said some of them were acting like “La Cosa Nostra,” a reference to the Sicilian Mafia.
Cardinal Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles and other prelates made a great show of detesting Keating’s remarks. Keating refused to apologize. “My remarks, which some bishops found offensive, were deadly accurate. I make no apology,” he said. “To resist grand-jury subpoenas, to suppress the names of offending clerics, to deny, to obfuscate, to explain away; that is the model of a criminal organization, not my church,” Keating said in his resignation statement.
Keating was dismissed as a crank. …
Of course, Keating was right. Mahoney was later exposed as having engaged in an energetic attempt to cover up the truth about his own diocese. He shielded predators from law enforcement and even argued that the personnel files of the archdiocese were protected by the seal of the confessional. …
The Pennsylvania grand-jury report names hundreds of predator priests across seven decades of life in six Catholic diocese in the state. Some of the details in the report are so vile and lurid they would have been rejected from the writer’s room of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. They include priests “marking” their preferred boy-victims with special crosses, priests trading and compiling their own homemade child pornography. At one point in the report, a large redaction is made over what appears to be, in context, a ritualized and satanic gang-rape of a young boy by four priests. …
Other state attorneys general should do investigations like Pennsylvania’s. As a Catholic, I’m tired of waiting for the next red slipper to drop. If the Church cannot govern itself from within, then it will be governed from without. That’s not a policy, but the iron law of history.
“We are deeply saddened,” they say. Spare us this fake public-relations drivel. We don’t need your sadness, we don’t need new policies. We need better men.