The fall of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, whose resignation from the College of Cardinals was accepted by Pope Francis last Saturday, makes distressing reading. Although there has been no response to the allegations, we have heard many stories of ruined lives. The Archdiocese of New York describes one allegation of McCarrick abusing a teenager as “credible”. Other dioceses have reached settlements with adult claimants. But the story shows no sign of abating, and several fresh allegations of more serious misbehaviour have emerged.
But the story of Theodore McCarrick, bad as it is, goes much further than this. The McCarrick case is a sign of a deeper and persistent malaise: he is the third Cardinal to have been involved in such scandals.
The late Cardinal Groër of Vienna was accused of similar misconduct, but was allowed to retire quietly. The late Cardinal Keith O’Brien was censured by the Vatican for sexual misconduct, brought to book by his own priests. There may well be other cardinals and bishops whose behaviour would not bear close scrutiny.
One thing is clear. Prelates, even princes of the Church, are not immune to the temptations that plague less exalted men. This long-overdue realisation should have immediate consequences. First, the Church should only appoint men of proven moral character to high office. This means the system for choosing bishops has to be tightened up; it is not working.
The Church also needs to oversee the behaviour of its bishops more effectively. The word “bishop” comes from the Greek word for overseer: who is to provide oversight of the overseers? Amidst the Church’s many structures there does not seem to be an effective way to discipline bad bishops.
One of the most shocking aspects of the McCarrick case is that, as more than one journalist has said, “everyone knew” about the rumours. While Archbishop of Washington, McCarrick’s alleged activities were a matter of common gossip. This means, as the scandal works its way out, the focus now moves on to who knew, what exactly did they know, and whether they did anything about it.
In responding to the disaster, we will need to work together. As Christopher Altieri wrote on our website, “We can use this crisis as a proxy in our ideological battles, or we can fight this fight together, ruthlessly and without stint, until we have won. We cannot do both.
“If we choose the first path, we shall make ourselves the evildoers’ accomplices. The second path is the only one that offers hope. But it will also require us to smash our own idols.”
Britain’s never-ending summer – after a recent blip, temperatures are again approaching thirty degrees Celsius – has been something of a mixed blessing for the country.
The lack of rain has turned this green and pleasant land temporarily brown; in the long run the summer drought may have an adverse effect on agricultural productivity; but at the same time we must be grateful that the water industry has coped remarkably well, a sign of the huge investment in infrastructure that has taken place since the terrible drought of 1976.
Unlike then, there are no standpipes in the streets, though there has been a hosepipe ban in the North-West.
It is possible that the long summer’s heat may have an adverse effect on economic productivity, as well as an effect on the mortality rate; but we will only know to what extent when the figures are published. Statistics may well show a temporary economic boom in seaside resorts, which would be welcome. The splendid weather will surely help Britain’s tourism industry.
And yet, and yet, the abiding images of this summer may not be that of contented crowds watching the World Cup on large outdoor screens, but rather discontented commuters, particularly in the North of England, suffering the ill-effects of a new railway timetable, either waiting for trains that do not come, or sweltering in carriages that lack adequate air conditioning.
Perhaps we find it too hard to concentrate on the good, too easy to think about our shortcomings. Britain has a problem with self-confidence, even when the sun is shining.
Not for the first time, the country faces an uncertain future. But the darkest hour always comes before dawn. In the meantime, a little more national cheerfulness, and some gratitude to the Almighty for all the blessings we undoubtedly enjoy, would be welcome.