The news that Archbishop McCarrick is to live a life of prayer and penitence with the Capuchin friars of Victoria Kansas, as this magazine reports, is worthy of comment from several angles.
First of all, the length to which the local bishop has gone to explain the decision is a sign that the American hierarchy now realise (rather late in the day) that they have a McCarrick problem. McCarrick has to live somewhere. Kansas is remote, and very far from the American North-East where the former cardinal grew up and ministered as a bishop. For someone from New York, Kansas, to put it mildly, must seem like Siberia. And yet, Bishop Gerald L. Vincke of Salina, the local ordinary, has taken great lengths to explain the decision, and to stress that McCarrick will not be appearing in public or be a financial charge on the local diocese. McCarrick seems to be as toxic as another fallen figure who was once feted by many, the later Shah of Persia, who travelled from country to country looking for refuge and finding none.
At no point has anyone mentioned that McCarrick’s punishment, like all punishments, is not simply a matter of justice, or even satisfying the anger of the public, but also contains another element – the medicinal. In other words, McCarrick is being sent to Kansas for his own good, and for the good of his soul. Moreover, one hopes that while in Kansas, the Archbishop will come to some sort of realisation of the harm he has done, and repent from his sins.
As we all know, repentance is a long process. There will be few distractions in Kansas, and that will help concentrate the mind. For a man who has spent so much of his life travelling and mixing with people, the solitude and reclusion of the friary will be a severe penance.
Nor has anyone mentioned that we should be praying for the Archbishop. That is a surprising omission. Perhaps it is felt that we should be praying for all those he has hurt; but we can do both.
Even more startling is the omission of any statement from the Archbishop himself. He has not asked for prayers, announced his farewell to the world, or, apart from resigning his red hat, made any statement of contrition. He may have wanted to do so, and it is always possible that the American hierarchy, whom he must now surely obey if he is to have a roof over his head, have asked him not to. Perhaps the judgement is that any statement from the Archbishop may simply make things worse.
If that is the case, I think it is mistaken. At present what the Church needs is transparency at all levels. If McCarrick is being silenced this is not a good idea. If McCarrick has elected to stay silent, then he needs to tell us why he has chosen to do so, and we need to hear why. After all, at the root of the present crisis is the problem of too much silence in the Church.
The present climate is the bitter fruits of a culture of silence. Bishop Vincke in writing to his people to explain the current situation has shown the right attitude. The people of God do not like being kept in the dark.
What happens next? There is talk of a canonical trial for McCarrick, but given that he is 88 years old and that these things seem to take ages to organise, we must not hold our breaths. It is always possible that the Archbishop will be reduced to the lay state as a punishment, just like Fernando Karadima.
Or it may just be that we are all expected to forget about this sad old man in Kansas. While Kansas is pretty far away, it is surely wishful thinking to imagine that anyone is ever going to forget this scandal. It is not going to go away. Archbishop McCarrick may have done so, and we will see and hear from him no more; but his ghost will continue to haunt the American Church, particularly if the circumstances that made the scandal possible remain with us unchanged.
For in the end, though exiling a disgraced man to Kansas is a necessary step, it is simply one step on what will be a long journey to reform in the American Church – and not just the Church in America.