Assumption Day, 2021

El Greco Virgin Mary

Today, some 1,978 years ago, our Lady finished her earthly pilgrimage, and the Lord took her to Himself. Mary went to heaven, body and soul.

Thirteen years ago today, this little weblog began. And right around three years ago, it became… controversial. Controversial, at least, in the eyes of the Catholic bishop of Richmond, Virginia.

In a couple weeks I will make a pilgrimage to visit some holy sites in Italy.

Good Lord willing, I will pray at the birthplace of St. Thomas Aquinas, his childhood school (which houses the tombs of Sts. Benedict and Scholastica), and also at the abbey where the Angelic Doctor died. Near there, they keep his skull in a reliquary, in the ancient cathedral of Priverno.

Also, good Lord willing, I will visit the duomo in Florence, where they keep relics of St. John the Baptist, the Apostles Andrew and Philip, and St. John Chrysostom. Near there is the Shrine of St. Mary Magdalen de’Pazzi. Also I will visit the tomb of St. Gemma Galgani and the grave of St. Elizabeth Anne Seton’s husband. (After he died, she embraced the Catholic faith.) I will return just in time for Becky Ianni’s talk in our speakers’ series.

I am trying to get the manuscript of my book Ordained by a Predator ready to send to a potential publisher before I leave.

McCarrick Bootkoski Checchio
Two former bishops of Metuchen NJ, Paul Bootkoski and Theodore McCarrick, with the current bishop, James Checchio

As I edited my chapter on McCarrick’s career, I realized that I had two unanswered questions pertaining to the first diocese that he governed as a bishop, namely Metuchen NJ.

Question 1:

On December 5, 2005, McCarrick’s third successor in office in Metuchen, Bishop Paul Bootkoski, called the papal nuncio to tell him about two of McCarrick’s seminarian victims.

One of these victims had formally complained about McCarrick over a year earlier, in August of 2004. The other victim had first complained well over a decade before that. (The Vatican had actually received a report about this seminarian’s abuse in 1997.)

Why, then, did Bootkoski choose to communicate with the nuncio about this on December 5, 2005? Why that particular day?

It just so happens that, earlier that same day, the Vatican official in charge of bishops had told McCarrick that he would have to resign as Archbishop of Washington.

Did McCarrick call his old friend Bootkoski and tell him that there was no use trying to keep the matter secret from the Vatican anymore? That seems like the most reasonable explanation for Bootkoski calling the nuncio on that particular day.

A second Metuchen question:

When the Vatican released its McCarrick Report last fall, the Diocese of Metuchen issued a statement which claimed: “The first allegation against McCarrick was received by the diocese in 2004.”

In point of fact, McCarrick’s successor as bishop of Metuchen received his first complaint about McCarrick’s abuses no later than 1989. And before then, the Vocations Director of the diocese of Metuchen received complaints about McCarrick from seminarians while McCarrick was still in office as the bishop there (1981-1986).

How, then, can the diocese claim that the first allegation against McCarrick came in 2004?

A few days ago, I submitted these questions to the Office of the Bishop in Metuchen. I have not received any response yet, but I hope to get honest answers soon. After all, Bishop Checchio wrote in his letter about the McCarrick scandal: “We must forge forward, penning the future chapters of our Church’s history with integrity and transparency.” Seems like that means you answer the questions of a researcher trying to put together a fair historical record.

Vatican II stalls…All this moves me to reflect on two little passages from the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, which the Fathers of the Vatican II gave us. The first passage comes from Gaudium et Spes para. 37:

Sacred Scripture teaches the human family what the experience of the ages confirms: that while human progress is a great advantage to man, it brings with it a strong temptation. For when the order of values is jumbled and bad is mixed with the good, individuals and groups pay heed solely to their own interests, and not to those of others.

Certainly this insight helps us understand corruption in government, generally speaking. It also helps us to understand corruption in the government of our Church.

What I have seen, in my experience as a priest, is a cadre in the hierarchy that has paid attention solely to their own interests, and not to those of others. Theodore McCarrick created a huge spiritual problem for all of us whose lives he touched. Instead of confronting that problem honestly and bravely, those who knew about the problem sought to hide it, to protect themselves from having to deal with it. Now that we all know about the problem, those same leaders try to pretend the problem is solved.

To be clear: the compromised individuals here include the pope himself, the pope’s closest advisors and co-workers, the ecclesiastical governing apparatus of Washington DC and New Jersey–which includes our own bishop here in the diocese of Richmond VA (an alumnus of McCarrick and Donald Wuerl’s chancery in Washington), the Metropolitan Archbishop of Baltimore (who knew about McCarrick long, long ago), and quite a few other prelates as well.

I see us mid-Atlantic Catholics stuck in a near-total malaise. The true spiritual mission of the Church cannot advance with any vitality under our current compromised leadership.

I entertain no delusions that the malaise will lift anytime soon. That, however, does not mean it’s all over–our life as Catholic Christians. It doesn’t mean that at all.

Here’s part of Gaudium et Spes 38:

For God’s Word, through Whom all things were made, was Himself made flesh and dwelt on the earth of men. Thus He entered the world’s history as a perfect man, taking that history up into Himself and summarizing it. He Himself revealed to us that “God is love” and at the same time taught us that the new command of love was the basic law of human perfection and hence of the world’s transformation. To those, therefore, who believe in divine love, He gives assurance that the way of love lies open to men and that the effort to establish a universal brotherhood is not a hopeless one.

Our Church can and will be Herself again, someday. It’s not hopeless. I, for one, am not giving up.