It has now been one year since the Archdiocese of New York announced that it had received a credible accusation that the retired Archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, had, as a priest, sexually abused a high school seminarian in the basement of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. This stunning revelation led to a series of further revelations about McCarrick, and about bishops who knew about McCarrick’s immoral behavior, which have shaken the trust and confidence of Catholics in the Church, and specifically confidence in her hierarchy. McCarrick was found guilty of multiple grave crimes and was expelled from the priesthood by Pope Francis. Was this sufficient punishment?
McCarrick has never publicly admitted his guilt in the face of the overwhelming evidence of his crimes. He has not asked forgiveness of his victims, not made monetary reparations to them for the grave harm he inflicted upon them. He remains in a Kansas Capuchin friary adjacent to a parochial school as a non-paying guest; his expulsion from the priesthood has not resulted in any change in his Church provided living arrangements.
This is remarkable. How many other forcibly laicized priests found guilty of sexually molesting young men would be given this consideration? Why has he not been shown the door and told to come clean by the Holy See or the Bishop of Salina or the Capuchin superior?
Is it not clear that this passivity in allowing this man to remain in the friary is correctly seen to be a further insult to those he victimized over the years? McCarrick used his authority as a priest and bishop to commit horrendous crimes, financing his criminal lifestyle with the money donated by the faithful to promote the works of the Church. He has lied to the Church and to the entire world about his evil acts. He coerced innocent youths into acts of depravity and pretends to this day that nothing happened.
The Catholic Church should never tolerate a situation in which a once powerful man who committed grave crimes is treated as if he were still a powerful man who can be allowed to escape the consequences of his punishment. Does anyone think that any American diocese would offer free room and board in a rectory or convent to a laicized priest who almost certainly has sufficient money in the bank to live on his own?
McCarrick’s current situation is emblematic of the paralysis that has descended on the Church following the revelations of what McCarrick did. He is allowed to live an untroubled life in a Church facility. The decree of laicization has not resulted in his living as an ordinary layperson, responsible for himself. His conviction has been met by his silence, which is a spiritual danger for his soul. Only public repentance and public penance, including monetary reparations, will benefit his victims and his own soul.
The Holy See has dragged its feet on issuing a declaration on the internal review of documents in its archives related to the McCarrick matter. The review that began last September is still ongoing. How many files and documents can there be? Ten months is a long time to go through a finite number of documents. The American dioceses where McCarrick worked have likewise not issued any declarations about their own internal investigations. When will the Catholic people be told the whole story about McCarrick’s sexual depredations that were known for many years in both the United States and the Vatican?
The recent revelations of the sexual abuse and financial irregularities committed by a McCarrick protégé, the former Bishop of Wheeling, WV, Michael Bransfield, were truly shocking. Shocking also was the failed attempt by the man assigned to investigate Bransfield, Archbishop William Lori, to hide in his report to Rome the names of bishops, including his own, who received large cash gifts from Bransfield.
The Washington Post obtained both the original unexpurgated report with the names of gift recipients and the sanitized final version. The recipients of these gifts were not accused of being aware that Bransfield was embezzling money from his diocesan coffers by instructing his financial people to reimburse him for the amounts of these large personal gifts, which were plainly meant to buy favoritism from influential bishops and cardinals. Lori apologized for editing out his name and the names of other bishops who received these large cash gifts.
This attempt by the investigator to hide the personally embarrassing results of his own investigation was foiled by a leaker who cooperated with The Washington Post. This self-serving editing happened in the time of promised transparency and accountability. In fact, the transparency of telling the whole truth would not have occurred unless someone with access to the original report had not gone to the press.
I suspect that in many institutions in our society, a revelation in the press that the person in charge of a high-profile investigation excised his own name from the final report would result in either a resignation or a firing.
Lori tried to hide something that he feared would make him and some of his fellow bishops look bad. So much for pro-active transparency. There is obviously a culture of concealment in the hierarchy – we see it in the long history of McCarrick’s crimes, and we see it in the Bransfield-Lori investigation.
It is high time for the hierarchy of the Church to reveal to the faithful the whole story of McCarrick and of other bishops who were wolves in shepherds’ clothing, inflicting harm on the sheep, either as sexual molesters or as their enablers and protectors.
*Image: Driving of the Merchants from the Temple by Scarsellino (Ippolito Scarsella), c. 1585 [Capitoline Museums, Rome]