The revelations about Archbishop Theodore McCarrick’s shocking sexual misconduct have rightfully shattered Catholic Americans’ confidence in the collective leadership that has been provided by their own bishops.
And, in the face of a crisis of this gravity and magnitude, there is simply no room for half measures in how Church leaders, both in Rome and here in the United States, address this renewed crisis.
Any sound analysis of the McCarrick scandal — and other cases now coming to light that similarly involve clerical abusers accused of preying upon seminarians and other clergy — must acknowledge two fundamental dimensions: an almost incomprehensible absence of effective structures of episcopal accountability; and, even more fundamentally, an appalling lack of fidelity to what the Church teaches with respect to sexual morality.
It is therefore heartening that Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, squarely addressed the concerns of outraged Catholics on both fronts in his Aug. 1 statement that sketched an initial outline of the conference leadership’s response to the crisis. The U.S. bishops’ Executive Committee will develop plans to be discussed at the conference’s annual meeting in November, and Cardinal DiNardo signaled his intent to press for an investigation that would expose Archbishop McCarrick’s enablers.
An insistence on a full examination of McCarrick’s abusive behavior and the episcopal cover-up that protected him from censure is an essential first step and will help guide subsequent reforms. What’s also promising is that the USCCB president didn’t attempt to gloss over the second central problem brought to light by Archbishop McCarrick’s misconduct.
“Our Church is suffering from a crisis of sexual morality,” the cardinal stated bluntly. “The way forward must involve learning from past sins.”
Nevertheless, in the weeks and months ahead, it will not be easy to reconcile the very real tensions between the cautious mindset of many American prelates and the fury of lay Catholics demanding change. Yet a patient, frank and respectful dialogue is needed to map out the best way to deal with the substance and scope of the problems before us.
Likewise, we need time to develop a plan of action that hews to the ecclesial nature of the Church, even as it harnesses the expertise of lay Catholics.
Thus far, there appears to be general agreement among U.S. bishops and the faithful on the need for a mechanism that will allow seminarians and priests to report allegations against their superiors without fear of reprisals. Some prelates have already proposed that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops convene a panel to receive and vet allegations and even rumors involving bishops.
At the same time, Marie Collins and other lay authorities on clergy-abuse issues are lobbying for a more radical national response, such as mandated annual reporting of settlements involving bishops and priests, or even an external financial forensic review designed to expose previous cover-ups.
Philip Lawler, the author of The Faithful Departed: The Collapse of Boston’s Catholic Culture, has pressed for a comprehensive investigation of the Church leaders who knew about McCarrick’s behavior. Any such effort, said Lawler, should be led by Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, the former prosecutor of clergy-abuse crimes for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, whom Pope Francis dispatched to address Chile’s widening abuse scandal.
In the meantime, Lawler has called for bishops and others to forcefully challenge moral corruption within the Church. And some lay leaders are prepared to take action on their own, if Rome and the USCCB fail to secure a comprehensive investigation.
Lay leaders told the Register that several strategies for exposing immoral behavior by priests and bishops are under review and would likely begin with forwarding testimony about specific individuals to relevant Church authorities and new reporting offices. And if these initial measures did not bear fruit, the media would be contacted, and information would be posted on a designated website.
Again, such proposals underscore the need for prompt action. But it would also be a mistake for Church authorities to endorse limited solutions in the rush to tamp down this crisis.
Our leaders must tackle the major failures of the past, including the acceptance of widespread homosexual activity among the U.S. priesthood.
That aspect, unfortunately, was notably absent from the public responses of a pair of prominent U.S. cardinals in the week immediately following the release of Cardinal DiNardo’s response as USCCB president.
In public statements, media appearances and in an interview with the Register, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington was silent about the problem of active homosexuals in chanceries, rectories and seminaries, despite the revelations involving Archbishop McCarrick.
Meanwhile, in an interview with America magazine, Cardinal Blase Cupich went even further, asserting that it is “a diversion” to call attention to the homosexual dimension of the scandal, even though homosexual misconduct is known to have been preponderantly in play throughout the clergy-abuse crisis, and, indeed, it is exclusively involved when it comes to Church leaders who prey on seminarians and priests.
The McCarrick case surely confirms that powerful forces have tolerated and even fomented sexual immorality within the priesthood, and will resist exposure. Those who downplay this fact should consider a troubling irony. Even as the Church is grappling with multiple scandals involving homosexual predation and the abuse of seminarians and priests, well-placed Catholic leaders have signaled their sympathy and support for homosexual relationships as a legitimate alternative to the marriage of one man and one woman instituted by God.
“While the Church upholds the ideal of marriage as a permanent commitment between a man and a woman, other unions exist which provide mutual support to [couples],” reads a preparatory booklet for this month’s 2018 World Meeting of Families in Dublin. The booklet, which was published last year, had featured a section on same-sex couples. It was subsequently revised after pushback.
This month, Jennifer Roback Morse, the founder of the Ruth Institute, a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to promoting lifelong married love, noted an equally disturbing development. On the “very day the news about Cardinal McCarrick broke, the Vatican released the working document for the upcoming Synod on Youth,” she noted. “It used the ‘LGBT’ acronym, the first such use in a Vatican document.”
While Pope Francis has rightly emphasized the need to respect the dignity of persons with same-sex attraction, he also has repeatedly warned that men with deep-seated homosexual inclinations should not enter seminaries or supervise the education of future priests. But a parallel campaign in Rome and elsewhere appears to be fueling moral confusion and complacency at the very moment that the new clergy-abuse scandals in the Church point to a need for moral clarity and vigilance.
This is why a partial response to the unfinished business of the 2002 abuse crisis won’t pass muster with active Catholics. The Body of Christ rightly demands a thorough housecleaning. Nothing less will do.