As you know, dear reader, over these past months, memories from my seminarian days have surfaced, making me wince with pain as I realize what they actually meant.
Our American bishops have their annual meeting in Baltimore this week. The big news is that the Vatican nixed any voting on “policy remedies” to the sex-abuse problem.
The whole thing has me remembering the annual meeting sixteen years ago, when then-Cardinal McCarrick pretty much called the shots. (And when the supposedly “monarchical” Pope John Paul II allowed the bishops conference a lot more leeway than the supposedly “synodal” Pope Francis allows them now.)
Anyway, at that meeting in 2002, McCarrick seemed quite preoccupied with something. He insisted that the scandal of that year meant that any priest who committed sex abuse from then onward would have to suffer “zero-tolerance,” exclusion from ministry for good. But he insisted it wouldn’t be fair to make zero-tolerance retroactive. We can’t give second chances anymore. But we can’t revoke the second chances that we already gave.
At the time, many of us who were paying attention allowed McCarrick to manipulate our minds into seeing this as a fair and equitable solution. Of course it was not: It meant that the victims of abuses that happened before 2002 had to continue to see their abusers stand at the altar, interact with young people, and possibly begin to manipulate and abuse others.
Since 2002, sitting bishops have only addressed pre-2002 abuses when victims have made them do so. It is precisely the outcry of those very pre-2002 victims, who never got justice—their outcry has produced the Scandal of 2018. May God reward them for fearlessly standing up. And forcing us all to face the truth and live in it.
Looking back, we see: Theodore McCarrick desperately wanted to keep the pre-2002 truth hidden. And now we know why: When he spoke with such apparent “equanimity” about old cases, he spoke with pure self-interest. He was himself guilty. He wanted to continue to give a second chance to himself. He couldn’t be bothered to consider his victims, and their having a chance for a decent life. He just wanted to let himself off the hook, in his own tortured mind. He wanted to tell himself: okay, you have to cut it out from now on. But the previous dalliances? They should not face strict scrutiny; they can remain hidden.
…Oh, that McCarrick had actually been honest with himself sixteen years ago! Openly acknowledged the full truth about all the destructive, evil things he had done! Stood before the assembled bishops and admitted the now-known fact. Namely, that he deserved to be defrocked. And deserved to spend some serious time in jail.
If he had just admitted it, and given us all a chance to start fresh back then, in 2002–where would we be now? We would all be part of an institution with a great deal more integrity than it currently has.
Could the our bishops bring themselves to discuss these cold, hard facts right now? Could they examine how Baltimore 2002 had this big lie at the heart of it? (Which made Baltimore 2018 necessary.)
Don’t they see? If they did that–if they reckoned honestly with facts, instead of blah blah blah-ing endlessly on the purely theoretical level–if they studied reality, in other words–the sad reality of how Theodore McCarrick the liar made fools of them all–then they could begin to heal the Church.
They could do this; there’s nothing stopping them. But they won’t. None of them, from the Nuncio on down, even have the courage to say McCarrick’s name.
The haplessness of Baltimore 2018 comes as no surprise. We know perfectly well that, for now, the holy Catholic Church has a hierarchy made up of flimflamming, dithering cowards.
Maybe someday that will change.
In the meantime, we have the Lord, the Christ, the eternal Bridegroom. We belong to the Catholic Church because of Him. I am a priest because of Him. He will see His Church through.