Going Backwards

memento mori valentine
sicut transit gloria mundi

The scandal is, as it was: Pope and bishops run scared from the perennial reality of sexual abuse. Granted, dealing with such things sucks. But a doctor or nurse cannot say, “I don’t like the look and smell of this pus-filled wound or burn. So instead of trying to clean it and treat it, I will just let it fester.”

We have to face this scandalous fact: It is happening again, like it has so many times before. No one in authority in the Church has any zeal to see justice done in the McCarrick case.

James put his testimony on the table, so to speak. Mike did likewise: the New York Times spoke with his lawyer and published details–details of the original accusation, that got McCarrick suspended on June 20.

No one in the Church has openly acknowledged the clear accusations that now stand as a matter of public record. Instead, McCarrick offered his resignation from the College of Cardinals, and Pope Francis accepted it. The statement the Vatican made on that occasion (this past Saturday) actually serves to short-circuit the cause of justice in two decisive ways.

1. The Pope “sentenced” McCarrick to a confined life of prayer and penance. (That is, a monk’s life.) Pope Francis laid down this sentence without a trial. Is McCarrick guilty of the crimes that Mike and James have brought to light? Pope says nothing about that, nor does any bishop.


If McCarrick is “found guilty” by a Church trial (please don’t hold your breath), what further punishment can Holy Mother Church mete out upon him? She could degrade him to the lay state. But that would not affect his daily life as a monk in any significant way. In other words, the Pope has already imposed the real penalty. Seems to me that this reduces the urgency of actually holding a trial to zero.

2. Where is McCarrick? We don’t know. It seems we never will.

Now, no one seems to doubt the basic truthfulness of Mike and James’ accusations. But these accusers have both a duty and a right to confront McCarrick directly, preferably face-to-face. And McCarrick has both a duty and a right to answer those accusations with a public statement.

Is he willing to admit that he grievously wronged these gentlemen? While they were too young to know how to defend themselves from exploitation at his hands? Is he willing to get down on his knees in front of them, and beg their pardon, and ask how he can make it up to them?


With my own eyes, I saw McCarrick solemnly created a Cardinal-Priest of the Apostolic See. That makes him fall directly under the Pope’s jurisdiction.

Pope Francis is “media savvy?” Then, why would he hurriedly accept McCarrick’s resignation? Instead, the pope could have:

Insisted that this exact scene take place, at the tomb of St. Peter, with the Vatican-media cameras rolling: McCarrick on his knees in front of James and Mike (and any others who have grievances of this kind against him).

Why did the Pope not insist on this or something like it? Something that would have brought some peace to us all? Because Pope Franics, like our own bishops here in the US: afraid to deal with this. Afraid to deal with cases of sexual abuse. Again: Our prelates’ womanish fear of this perennial problem is the scandal.

The Pope’s precipitous, imprudent act on Saturday effectively shelters McCarrick in a secret location forever. His accusers have to go on with their lives, with no opportunity to confront the villain who profoundly wounded them. The next time any of us will ever know Cardinal (whoops, I mean Archbishop) McCarrick’s whereabouts? His funeral.

Meanwhile, our American bishops prattle on, like the bureaucrats they are, about “procedures” to “prevent this.” And justifiably angry lay people insist on a total restructuring of authority in the Church in the US, to “make bishops accountable.”

Two things:

1. None of this involves actually dealing with the specific accusations, which are sitting on the table. Mike and James worked with reporters to put them in the public record. And these accusations stand as yet unaddressed by anyone in the Church.

2. Human beings cannot change the fundamental authority structure of the Church. Our Church is not a civil society that can have a “separation of powers” in order to protect Joe Citizen from government coercion.

Our Church is a purely voluntary society; Her governors have no coercive power, other than the grip of conscience. Within Her, authority follows the shape of the Holy Mass. The man who presides over the Mass governs the Church.

Please God we clergymen govern with prudence, justice, and love. But addressing our failures in that area is not a matter of “policies.” It requires prayer and mortification of the flesh. If we think our bishops suck, we can only accuse ourselves. We get the shepherds we deserve. If we want better ones, we have to pray and mortify ourselves to get them.

One irony of McCarrick’s “fall:” The Washington elite, many of the Washington priests, and the majority of the lay people, all thought he was one of “the good guys.” Good in that he wanted to interact with his people, wanted to know them, be close to them.

I can say (and my old friends will back me up) I never trusted McCarrick. I will write more about that when time allows. (I wrote about my struggles as a seminarian in November 2001 before.)

But I want to hope and pray that McCarrick himself will find a way to make this thing right. That he will seek pardon and achieve reconciliation.

Call me naive to hope and pray for such a thing. But it’s a lot less naive than imagining that Pope Francis or our American Cardinals and bishops will see justice done here.

…This morning I pulled out the Archidiocese of Washington directory and prayed by name for all my fellow McCarrick ordinands. As I made my way through the list, a clear memory surfaced.

When McCarrick came to Washington, then-deacon, now Father Martin Flum predicted that all of this would happen.

Father Flum’s holiness has always amazed me, so maybe it was a pure supernatural insight. Or maybe he had the common sense to believe the rumors about McCarrick’s sexual abuse of seminarians–which the rest of us didn’t want to believe.

Whatever the explanation for his prescience, Martin Flum absolutely predicted the McCarrick Scandal of 2018, seventeen or so years before it happened, in a conversation among brother seminarians sometime in the early 2000’s.


8 thoughts on “Going Backwards

  1. I’m amazed at your forthrightness, Father. You impress me with your honesty. May God bless you.
    We don’t always agree but I respect your honesty and transparency. You remain on my favorite priests prayer list.

  2. Fr Mark, I guess what disturbs me is: there are so many unanswered questions and I feel lack of transparency. Why didnt previous popes have a zero tolerance? And we dont know where he is, is the Church subsidizing his housing etc? If I had broken the law, my company wouldnt provide housing, etc.
    I’m saddened that this has gone on so long; seems that the abuses by various television networks, celebrities were dealt with a lot faster.
    I’m most saddened by the people who have been abused and waited all these years………….

  3. Thank you Father for your comments concerning this present crisis in Holy Mother Church. If I may express the opinion of a concerned member of the flock, I would like to see all homosexual clergy laicized, especially the Homosexual Mafia in the Vatican, sexual abusers, and all anti-Catholic infiltrators in the clergy sent to destroy Catholicism. After this “house cleaning,” I would like the remaining traditional, orthodox clergy to support Pope Benedict XVI in his return as fully functioning Vicar of Christ with no split papacy. It is my personal belief, I claim no authority in church matters, that the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI was invalid.

  4. Many years ago, a priest at my parish gave a great homily about contraception. Some people were “offended” and even wrote angry letters of complaint to (then) Cardinal McCarrick. Very soon after, the priest was transferred. I have no idea if this was a factor but many believed so. A few years later, I saw his “canonization” of Ted Kennedy at his funeral.

    I heard a story years ago about how, when the sex abuse scandal broke up in the early 2000’s, McCarrick seemed deeply affected. He seemed dismayed and was frequently found collapsed on a chair and sometimes prostrated in front of the Blessed Sacrament at his residence’s chapel in the middle of the night. At the time I thought that it was due to the damage being done to the Church. Now I wonder if he was just frightened to death that his name was going to come up.

  5. You are the Best.I always tell my friends,or folks in general.That You tell it like is.

  6. Fr Mark,
    Your comments were constructive for the most part.

    But I won’t be silent about your word choice. Why use the term, ‘womanish’ to describe prelates? Your outmoded word choice is defined as effeminate or weak. Women are feminine but not weak.

    Some prelates’ behavior is weak, timid, sinful, feeble, fearful and cliquish.
    To elude that the ineffective members of the ‘good old boys club’ are remotely similar to God-fearing women is wrong.

    Having McCarrick brought to St Peter’s to apologize would be a media frenzy. I doubt the abused would want their wounds being torn open again in a public display.
    Would his public shaming and apology heal the parties involved,
    prevent future abuse,
    halt ongoing abuse,
    or satisfy those persons intent on bringing down the Church?

    Please explain how the abuse will ever end.
    I believe in the vow of Poverty for Priests, Bishops and Cardinals. Why no such vow?

    Why is there such disparity in Priests? We are blessed by the Good Priest who is kind hearted,
    who calls his parishioners Friends,
    who takes his calling seriously and joyfully,
    Who is devout,
    Who offers daily Confession times
    Who truly loves God.
    Sadly I see some
    unwilling to visit the sick, have brief two-hour office times,
    Saturday Confession for one hour
    catering to Bishops,
    rushing through the Mass,
    limiting songs at Mass,
    not joining at adult education talks and parties,
    not visiting children’s Religion classes
    gossiping about parishioners.

    With the Holy Spirit’s guidance the Pope is named by Cardinals, who are appointed by the Pope.
    Cardinals appoint Bishops, who sanctify men as Priests.
    But evil enters this, with free will human beings allow lust, power and greed to rule their lives, and suffering results.

    And this group is the shepherd of Brothers, Sister, Nuns, Monks and the Lay People.

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