The sexual abuse allegations surrounding now-former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick have prompted some church figures to call for a more thorough reckoning of the US Church’s clerical sexual abuse policies.
With his resignation on July 28 from the College of Cardinals, McCarrick retains the title of archbishop. However, “his prompt reduction canonically to the laity should be strongly deliberated,” said Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth, Texas.
“As each day passes, we learn that the former cardinal not only allegedly perpetrated abuse against minors but also against subordinates including priests, seminarians and members of the laity. The evil effects of these actions were multiplied by the fact that financial settlements were arranged with victims without transparency or restrictions on the former cardinal’s ministry,” Bishop Olson said.
“Justice also requires that all of those in Church leadership who knew of the former cardinal’s alleged crimes and sexual misconduct and did nothing be held accountable for their refusal to act thereby enabling others to be hurt.”
“We can – and I am confident that we will – strengthen the rules and regulations and sanctions against any trying to fly under the radar or to ‘get away with’ such evil and destructive behaviours,” said Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany, New York, in a letter to clergy in his diocese. “But, at its heart, this is much more than a challenge of law enforcement; it is a profoundly spiritual crisis.”
“In negative terms, and as clearly and directly as I can repeat our Church teaching, it is a grave sin to be ‘sexually active’ outside of a real marriage covenant. A cardinal is not excused from what a layperson or another member of the clergy is not,” Bishop Scharfenberger said.
“A member of the clergy who pledges to live a celibate life must remain as chaste in his relationship with all whom he serves as spouses within a marriage. This is what our faith teaches and what we are held to in practice. There is no ‘third way,'” he added.
Bishop Scharfenberger said, “Abuse of authority – in this case, with strong sexual overtones – with vulnerable persons is hardly less reprehensible than the sexual abuse of minors, which the USCCB [US Conference of Catholic Bishops] attempted to address in 2002. Unfortunately, at that time – something I never understood – the ‘Charter’ [‘for the Protection of Children and Young People’] did not go far enough so as to hold cardinals, archbishops and bishops equally, if not more, accountable than priests and deacons.”
He said he believes the “vast majority of clergy – priests, deacons and bishops alike – live or, at least, are striving to live holy and admirable lifestyles. I am ashamed of those of my brothers, such as the cardinal, who do not and have not.”
Trinity Washington University President Patricia McGuire, in a July 27 blog posting titled “Cardinal Sins,” reflected on the allegations against Archbishop McCarrick through the prism of her mother’s late-in-life dread that she may have exposed her young sons to abusive clergy.
“As the tawdry, tragic stories of priests committing appalling acts of abuse spread from Boston to Philadelphia and parishes and dioceses nationwide, the mothers of the altar boys, in particular, suffered silent grief and suspicion, leading to a sense of betrayal and then alienation from the Church to which they had devoted unquestioning loyalty throughout their lives,” McGuire said.
In the year before McGuire’s mother died, “the abuse scandal left her bitter about the hypocrisy of priests and bishops; she wondered aloud about her own father, my grandfather who, as a young man in Milan, had been in the seminary for a while. He left the seminary and came to America and, in my mother’s memory, he would not set foot inside a church. ‘All’s right between God and me,’ he would say to her,” she wrote.
“The emergence of the American abuse scandal made her wonder if something had happened to her father even so long ago in the Italian seminary; again, no evidence, but the scandal created more doubts, caused more anguish, like a rapidly spreading toxic algae bloom.”
McGuire added, “The Church’s response to the massive sex abuse crisis has always seemed to lack a certain level of deep, urgent understanding of the gravity of the sin against children and other victims. Certainly, words have cascaded, gestures made, money paid out. But, somehow, the words and gestures and checks have all seemed more self-protective of the organization than truly penitential at the most profound level.”
“As a father, I am appalled and angry. As a Catholic, I feel ashamed and betrayed,” said John Carr, Director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University, who had worked closely with Archbishop McCarrick on various policy initiatives when Carr worked at USCCB headquarters in Washington.
“As a friend of former Cardinal McCarrick, I am devastated, especially for the victims and their families,” Carr added. “I pray that these horrific developments can help end this evil of clerical sex abuse and dismantle the culture that permitted it within our family of faith.”
Mgr Owen Campion, former editor of the national newspaper Our Sunday Visitor and now chaplain of OSV Newsweekly, said he felt dismay, revulsion, heartsickness, anger and – for once – weariness upon learning of the accusations lodged against Archbishop McCarrick.
“I am weary of trying to make excuses, of trying to find something to say,” Mgr Campion wrote.
“I am tired of stepping away from restrooms in restaurants until a youth has emerged. I am tired of watching my every move and calculating my every word if a young person is present. I am tired of calling my diocese when I have been invited to preach in another location, asking for a letter stating that I have never been in trouble.”
He added that he is tired of making the point that “sexual abuse is a vast problem in our culture,” because he is “assailed for concocting excuses.” “But I make it again,” he said.
Sexual abuse “hardly only involves clergy. Our society’s insanity when it comes to satisfying erotic desires in the most selfish of circumstances, and our increasing disregard for morality in any setting, is sickening and frightening because of where it is taking us,” Mgr Campion said. “We must face this fact.”
Mgr Campion said, “One excuse that I have offered with increasing lack of enthusiasm is the Dallas ‘Charter,’ a policy created by US bishops to right the wrongs. The charter, whether it is followed or not, spoke of children, but attention must also be given to the wide sexual abuse of adults.”
He added, “A seminarian would have to be very brave to accuse an archbishop, let alone a cardinal. The seminarian, however persuasive his story, would not enjoy the benefit of the doubt. Quite likely, he could forget about being a priest.”
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