The defrocking of the former Cardinal, and now former priest, Theodore McCarrick, might seem to draw a line under the whole sorry saga. But McCarrick was never just about McCarrick, but rather about what could be called McCarrickism: the rise and predominance of a certain kind of prelate.
First of all, they handle money well; they raise funds with ease; they know all the right people, all the powerful politicians, all the millionaires and all the influencers; they do not rock the boat, they do not challenge the spirit of the age; rather they get on very well with the lords of this world.
These prelates do not often share “Uncle” Ted’s proclivities, nor is soft living the absolute norm. What McCarrickism always means is a spirit of accommodation with the world and the spirit of the age; a worldly wisdom; the ability to get on equally well with the Bushes and the Clintons. Above all, it means not taking sides, even when one of those sides would seem to be that of the Catholic Church; or if stands are to be taken, they are on the most fashionable of causes – McCarrickism is on the side of the poor, migrants and the environment.
McCarrick’s vileness was not just seen in the beach house in Seagirt, New Jersey. It was there, too, in the trips to China: the way he schmoozed the persecutors of the Church, Communist dictators who have oppressed millions. And it was there in the way he ironed out difficulties and differences, especially when those difficulties and differences might have been caused by adherence to Catholic truth.
The central rule of McCarrickism, analogous to the mafia’s insistence on omertà, is to look out for your friends, for it is to them you owe your position. McCarrickism depends on a web of favouritism, deceit and silence, and in the toils of this networking, Catholic truth is the first casualty. Archbishop, later Cardinal, McCarrick had many allies, and they all knew what he was like. (The alternative possibility was that they knew nothing, in which case they are deeply unobservant human beings and not worthy to exercise oversight in the Church.) They all knew, and they only took action when the secret was out and they had no choice. If the secret had held, McCarrick would never have been defrocked, but would eventually have died and been buried with honour.
Two observers with very different backgrounds have told us as much. According to Archbishop Viganò, McCarrick was protected despite the widespread knowledge of his offences. According to Frédéric Martel, the pope’s entourage defended McCarrick because his relations were thought to be “only” with adult men – young priests and seminarians. This completely ignores the fact that McCarrick’s was a bishop/archbishop/Cardinal, a man in authority over them; they turned him down at their cost. This was an abuse of power. Sexual harassment of seminarians is not the same as preying on children, but there are similarities. Both are profoundly immoral. But what is shocking here is the idea that a prelate can harass seminarians, and other prelates will turn a blind eye. That is to say, they will view sin as no serious matter. Quite simply, that is outrageous. But for some prelates, when it came to weighing in the balance the interests of their friend Ted, naturally it was Ted who prevailed.
McCarrickism is not the way of the saints. People like St Francis and Don Bosco followed the way of Jesus Christ and sought out the poor, the lame and those who were at the bottom of the pile. They did not cultivate the rich. Jesus himself only visited the White House of his day to be condemned to death.
Perhaps we will forget McCarrick, though he is in desperate need of our prayers. But we must remember McCarrickism: the careerism, the cronyism, the cultivation of those in high places, the love of money, the desire to seek accommodation with the world at the expense of Catholic truth – for, left unchecked, these will destroy the Church.
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