Why are we here again? Over the past two weeks, we learned that multiple journalists and clergy knew about Cardinal McCarrick’s behavior before he became a cardinal. Others have asked why the story got spiked one time after another. One journalist sought to explain that the unwillingness of people to step forward and have their names associated with the story prevented the story from being anchored in enough detail to see print. We’ve been here before, with the non-talking, the atmosphere of fear, the closed ranks, the non-admissions, the silence and the settlements, all of which are worldly solutions to organizational problems, but not spiritual ones.
Yet, if all these people in the Church knew, why was Cardinal McCarrick allowed to remain such a public figure? My heart aches in this instance, because as a regular reader of his columns and resident of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C, I thought I knew this man. We’d see his video every year during the Cardinal Appeal, asking us to help with the good works that the church does for the residents of DC and the surrounding areas. I’d attended some of his Masses and heard his homilies, and so my heart is pierced.
Where others are nodding their heads and saying, “Knew it!”and “Everybody knew.” I admit, I didn’t, and my heart hurts. As someone who loves the Church, I beg all priests to remember, they’ve been called, they’ve responded to Jesus’ invitation to follow him. Each time one of you fails, it hardens hearts. It makes conversion harder, evangelization harder, even every day faith, harder. Yes, you have a hard standard, “Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect,” but you knew that when you signed on, and you know when you’re not, souls including yours, suffer.
The associate pastor at my church spoke about the feast of Saint John the Baptist, this weekend, and about how Zechariah lacked the fullness of faith to trust in the Lord, and how terrible it is, when a priest fails to have faith. He understood the pain of his parish, at witnessing the fall of a family member, and wishing it weren’t so. We are the Body of Christ, so when one member suffers, all of us suffer. When one member sins, it hurts everyone.
The injury done by both the cardinal himself to others, and by the institutional silence which allowed him to live decades in secret, leaves a spiritual mark on those who thought they knew this man, and we weep for all the victims, which include all of us hurt by these acts, however old they may be.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen said, “it is a sin to be scandalized by sin,” and so this news saddens rather than shocks, but the Church is supposed to be peopled with clergy and laity seeking to be saints. We should be fighting tooth and nail to become saints, and willing to face the modern lions (lawyers) and be humbled (priests not coming forward for fear of what it would do to their job) rather than not try to live according to the Gospel in all things, with all people and in all places. Since none of us has a monopoly on either virtue or sin, the only thing the rest of us can do as part of the process of healing from this latest black eye to the Church by one of her princes, is pray for our priests with all our hearts, and repeat over and over again, “Have mercy on us and the whole world,” and with apologies to Saint Augustine, “Lord, make us chaste today and every day.”