Sunday, November 15, 2020

My Take on the McCarrick Report

The infamous McCarrick Report has been issued. Sickening to say the least. It disgusts me as a priest as his perversion tarnished the image of the vocation I and my brother clergy love so much. I heard the rumors and stories during my seminary career. Twelve years of minor and major seminary, from high school to college to major theology exposed me to the best and the worst in priestly formation. I had saintly and orthodox mentors and some disturbed, heterodox, and nasty ones. Some priests edified, some scandalized. There were very good ones, some not so good. During the last third of my formation period, I heard the rumors and stories from fellow seminarians who knew about “Uncle Teddy” and “his nephews.”

While it is important to note that the former Cardinal McCarrick is exposed as the serial predator he was for his entire episcopacy, his perverse and aberrant immorality is only part of the equation. Yes, he preyed on young men (adolescent and adult). Not pedophilia (sex with pre-pubescent children) but ephebophilia (sex with post-pubescent teenagers and older). The worst crime was solicitation in the sacrament of confession and attempting to absolve accomplice of the sin against the Sixth Commandment of the Decalogue. Automatic excommunication for that alone.

The other component was his abuse of power.

Before he was a bishop, archbishop, then cardinal, Theodore McCarrick was a priest. Someone promoted him. Some prelates recommended him and got him on the terna (the list of three names the nuncio gives the pope for consideration for consecration to the episcopacy). What did these men know and when did they know it?

The report mentions McCarrick’s fundraising skills. He was a true wheeler-dealer. He hosted Leona Helmsley at his birthday party in Manhattan in 2000. His ability to get money from donors was legendary.

Many ask, however, was that reason enough to promote him to the office of Bishop? Archbishop? Cardinal? Managerial and administrative talents are helpful since a bishop must be a good steward of his diocese but they are not the primary abilities to be sought.

Canon 378.1 states the requirements for candidates to the episcopacy:

1. outstanding in solid faith, good morals, piety, zeal for souls, wisdom, prudence, and human virtues, and endowed with other qualities which make him suitable to fulfill the office in question;

2. of good reputation;

3. at least thirty-five years old;

4. ordained to the presbyterate for at least five years;

5. in possession of a doctorate or at least a licentiate in sacred scripture, theology, or canon law from an institute of higher studies approved by the Apostolic See, or at least truly expert in the same disciplines.

Fundraising forte is not listed as such. Good morals and a good reputation are stipulated, however.

No allegations of sexual abuse to women or girls have been made against McCarrick. Only to men and boys. Was McCarrick part of the notorious Lavender Mafia? Who knows? Perhaps he was advanced by those who had a similar inclination? It has happened before inside and outside the church.

It is a real possibility is that those of like mind theologically and politically could have lifted him up the proverbial ladder. Clericalism is not about what a priest wears nor his liturgical preference. Clericalism is about entitlement and abuse of power. It is the good-old-boys club. The cronyism and careerism enable ambitious clerics to rise through the ranks.

Sadly, the few prelates who are guilty of clericalism tarnish the image of all clerics (cardinals, bishops, priests, deacons, etc.) The overwhelming majority of those in Holy Orders are not in the sacred ministry for what they can get out of it. A very few are. Sycophants appease their superiors in the hopes of being ‘rewarded’ with good assignments, ecclesiastical honors, and promotions. Clericalism is not about cassocks and not about being made a monsignor. Clericalism is raw ambition. Seeking and abusing one’s position in the diocese. It’s helping your friends and classmates, not because of their abilities but because you owe them a favor or need one yourself.

Teddy got favors and he gave favors. That is as much part of his dark legacy as is the preying on seminarians and young priests. He may be the most prolific offender, but he is not the only one. I have known many good priests who were overlooked despite their natural and beneficial talents in order that less competent but more ambitious ones could be put on diocesan boards, councils, and committees. Likewise, there have been excellent priests serving their local bishops with solid and objective advice.

One of my former bishops of happy memory asked me when he was newly consecrated and installed as our Ordinary, what I liked about the Diocese of Harrisburg. I said that our presbyterate has one of the best esprit de corps and camaraderie anywhere. Sacerdotal fraternity is always a hallmark of any good diocese, and there are plenty.

I also suggested that the bishop consider rotating one or two priests in the chancery office, on presbyteral council, personnel board, et al., so that every priest learns first-hand what diocesan administration is about and the cloak of mystery is dismantled. That way, it is not always the same clique running the show. The bishop needs a diversity of opinions and a spectrum of counsel rather than a gang of yes-men and lackeys.

I went for broke and added another suggestion since we were in the car on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and could not go anywhere due to holiday traffic backup. I asked that he possibly solicit many proposals from among all the clergy and a few of the religious and laity on possible candidates for the episcopacy. Not a ballot or vote for his successor, since the Catholic Church is not nor should it be a democracy. (These names would not necessarily be for future consideration for our diocese alone, rather, names to be submitted for his perusal to submit to the Nuncio for any diocese). 

My thought was that rather than a few select ‘nominators’ who in essence become virtual ‘electors’, it would be more beneficial to solicit suggestions from a larger pool. He replied that it would be too many names. I said if you found the same name mentioned many times by many people (priests, deacons, etc.) and from different areas of the diocese, that might be an indication that this man has visible talents people recognize. Not a popularity contest but a survey of qualifications. And he can always ignore those names proposed and/or come up with his own list. The names would remain secret but if people knew the process, they would have more confidence in the system. 

If every bishop submitted three to five names each year to the nuncio with reasons for their nomination, and if those names were influenced by some of the suggestions of the local church, it might prevent a potential McCarrick from rising through the ranks and climbing the ecclesiastical ladder. When it is announced that the Holy Father has appointed a new bishop, perhaps there should be bans (announcements) before the consecration/installment to allow a short period of time for anyone with credible and grave concerns to voice them before the appointment takes effect. We do that for upcoming weddings and for upcoming ordinations to the diaconate and to the priesthood. Obviously, any claims need to be vetted and if not substantiated, ignored. However, a few bad eggs might be weeded out which would prevent future regret.

Sexual abuse of minors by clergy is obviously a heinous scandal. So, too, is the abuse of power where clergy of all ranks take advantage of their legitimate authority and use it to satisfy their own personal agendas, desires, and career. That is the disgrace of true clericalism, not what language is spoken at Mass nor what kind of alb a priest wears.

McCarrick and those like him are the souls of cronyism and careerism. Get ahead and help your buddies do likewise. Owing favors and cashing in favors, be they sexual or ecclesiastical. Like I’ve said before, the problem we have in the church is not of the church. The Church herself needs not to make apologies for it was not the Bride of Christ who sinner, however, it was members of the Church who did horrible things or who allowed these things to continue. Bad apples IN the church are culpable, not the divine institution itself. 

Church leaders must finally acknowledge the three-fold attack of the Evil One: bad theology, bad liturgy, and bad morality. Heterodox and dissident doctrine is supported by liturgical abuse and vice versa as expressed in the axiom lex orandi, lex credendi. (the law of prayer + the law of belief, in other words, worship & doctrine) They feed on one another. The third element is equally integrated and organically connected: bad morality. Bad behavior is nourished by false doctrine and by irreverent and illicit worship. Hence, one can say lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi. (the law of living, i.e., morality)

All three need to be addressed and remedied. Bad theology, bad liturgy, and bad morality are not confined to clergy, either. The faithful are also susceptible to these aberrations. They deserve no less than the best of what Holy Mother Church offers. The fullness of truth (doctrine), the fullness of grace (sacraments), and the fullness of good shepherdship (hierarchy) are the patrimony of our religion. Diluting, tampering, or abusing any or all of these cause considerable harm and damage.

McCarrick is not a singular anomaly. There have been others and there will be others yet to come. Even Our Divine Lord had His Judas, one bad apple among the Twelve. Nevertheless, prudent, fair, and charitable oversight can do a lot to promote the common good. Good priests and good bishops should not be unjustly tarnished by McCarrick and his cohorts, yet, neither should they lessen their diligence to prevent this from happening again. Let's root out real clericalism, not the absurd persecution of personal taste and preference (de gustibus non disputandum est) but the power manipulation by clerics who take advantage of both priests and laity alike.

We need to pray for McCarrick's abused victims especially the 'nephews' and pray for all clergy mistreated by those like Teddy so they could advance a puer or promote a crony. Pray for those good priests who need support to persevere. Yes, this scandal has brought enormous disappointment and disgust. It does not, however, have to end in discouragement or despair. Our Lady, Queen of the Clergy and Mother of Priests, pray for us.

Fr. John Trigilio, Jr.
Director of Pastoral Formation, Mount St. Mary's Seminary
President, Confraternity of Catholic Clergy

Friday, July 18, 2014

CCC 2014 Convocation Complete Success

Confraternity of Catholic Clergy ( met for its annual convocation July 8-11 in Hanceville, AL, at the priest retreat house of the Shrine of Most Blessed Sacrament

Keynote speaker was the Most Rev. Salvatore Cordileone, Archbishop of San Francisco. Dr. Scott Hahn, Fr. Charles Connor and Matt Fradd also spoke at the conference.


Matt Fradd

On July 9, twenty-nine priests from across the United States gathered in Hanceville, Alabama for the annual Confraternity of Catholic Clergy convention. For the first talk, they welcomed Matt Fradd, one of a new breed of evangelists and apologists who are conversant in popular culture and are developing creative approaches to reach youth and young adults. Matt brought to the members of the CCC key information and resources for dealing with a pastoral issue which is both pervasive and daunting - pornography.

Matt told the story of his own journey from porn addiction to renewal of faith and a lifestyle of freedom. He was eight years old the first time he stumbled across pornography in the home of a relative. The attraction led to a habit and eventually addiction. Having become an agnostic and cynical about religion, he nonetheless attended World Youth Day in Rome in 2000, which was for him a life-changing experience. His new found faith let him to seek chastity and freedom from pornography. He stressed that chastity does not mean reaching a place where temptation is gone, but a daily choice to love authentically.

The most valuable thing in Matt's talk was a practical pastoral strategy that any priest or deacon can immediately put to use. He described porn addiction as a seven step "activation sequence" which can be consciously countered by a "deactivation sequence." He further gave the CCC member priests four questions they can ask of a penitent: How often do you fall? How old were you when you started looking at porn? Have you talked to anyone about this outside confession? Do you want to stop? These questions help the priest assess if the penitent has a serious problem with porn and gives the priest a chance to invite him or her to meet outside of the sacrament for further help. Effective resources for someone struggling with porn include:,, Finally, Matt provided for each participant in the conference information on the accountability software CovenantEyes and a copy of the book Delivered: True Stories of Men and Women Who Turned From Porn To Purity.

The members of the CCC were grateful to have these new, effective tools for helping people gain freedom in the painful and difficult struggle against pornography.


Scott Hahn

The second talk of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy was by the renowned Biblical scholar-convert-apologist Scott Hahn. He spoke about the New Evangelization, with the intent of showing that this recent summons of the Church is not a catchphrase, a program, or a slogan, but an urgent priority, rooted deeply in the Church's mission and nature.

The concept of a New Evangelization goes back to Pius XII, who was searching for new ways to proclaim the Gospel to the modern world. To this end he appointed Angelo Roncalli, the future John XXIII, to lead a commission to see if the Church was ready for a new council to finish the work of Vatican I. Though Roncall concluded that the time for a new council had not arrived, the seed had been planted in his mind, and thus he called Vatican II when he was elected pope. He was followed by Paul VI, who consciously chose to be named after the great evangelizing apostle of the New Testament. In view of the many journeys of John Paul the Great, people tend to forget that Paul VI was the first "traveling pope," with trips to the United States, Portugal, Uganda, Columbia, and other countries. John Paul II first used the phrase "new evangelization" during his trip to Poland in 1979. It was an unscripted phrase, drawn from his heart, in reaction to the deprivation of faith he saw as the result of years of communist control. He wanted to re-evangelize the de-christianized. The next time he used the phrase was on his visit to the United States, when he saw the need for the gospel to be proclaimed to those whose faith had suffered from secularism and materialism.

The key insight offered by Dr. Hahn for accomplishing the New Evangelization is to see it in light of the sacraments, in particular, the Eucharist. Evangelization is not just a proclamation of the Gospel message, successful when a person responds in faith. It is the beginning of a journey, a preparation for entering the family of God, requiring conversion and catechesis, the final goal of which is the Eucharist. To take part in the New Evangelization means to bring those already "sacramentalized" to find in the Eucharist the abundant grace of salvation which they hear proclaimed in Sacred Scripture. In the New Evangelization, priests have a privileged mission of spiritual fatherhood, becoming spiritual life-givers through the sacraments.

Fr. Charles Connor

The morning talk for the second full day of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy Conference was by Fr. Charles Connor, prolific author and scholar, Professor of Theology and Church history at Mount Saint Mary Seminary Emmitsburg, Maryland, and host of numerous programs on EWTN. In is talk Fr. Connor set out to compare the insights and spirituality of the priesthood in the writings of the two newly canonized popes, John XXIII and John Paul II. People often try to contrast the two popes, as one being liberal and progressive and the other conservative, but a careful look shows that they present a consistent spirituality on the priesthood.

The spirituality of the priesthood of St. John XXIII is found most clearly in his encyclical on the anniversary of the death of St. John Vianny, Sacerdotii Nostri Primordia, published in August of 1959. He extolls John Vianny as a saint who "attracts and pushes us to the heights of priestly life." John Vianny was a model of sacrifice and penance, who gave himself tirelessly to God's people in priestly charity. His faithful chastity produced a generous openness of heart to others. He taught that man's greatest privilege was to pray, and encouraged a simple form of prayer, in which the Christian pours out his heart in all simplicity, becoming a beggar before God.

John Paul II became pope at a time when many theologians spoke of confusion about the nature and role of the priest. To respond to this trend, he explained and reflected on the theology of Vatican II on the priesthood. One finds his insights expressed in his yearly Holy Thursday letters to priests, his book Gift and Mystery, and his encyclical letter on priestly formation, Pastores Dabo Vobis. There, John Paul affirms that the priest is ontologically configured to Christ, the head of the mystical body and the spouse of the Church. Celibacy is a treasure. The priest is called to a life of prayer, offering himself to the one to whom he has been configured. He is a man who "sits at the school of the Eucharist." John Paul's theology and spirituality on the priesthood is completely at one with that of John XXIII. Thus, Fr. Connor concludes, we do not need a new theology of the priesthood, as if priesthood will otherwise become out of date. What we need is a "refreshment" in the eternal truths of the mystery of the priesthood, and for each priest to find his "today" in the "today" of Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Archbishop Cordileone

On the afternoon of July 10, His Excellency Salvatore Cordileone, Archbishop of San Francisco, delivered the keynote address at the annual conference of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy. With clear and substantive theological arguments, he exhorted the members of the Confraternity to explain and defend the Church's teaching on marriage.

Marriage is unique. No other human relationship is based on the three goods (or bonae) of marriage: fruitfulness, faithfulness, and permanence. Sadly, people fail to appreciate the nature of marriage, as is shown by widespread advocacy for same sex marriage. This advocacy, though, has been a long time in the making. By the use of contraception, people have stopped seeing fruitfulness as part of marriage. By the legalization of no-fault divorce, people no longer regard permanence as essential to marriage. (However, in spite of "swinging" and experiments of "open marriage" fidelity does continue to be valued.) Thus marriage in no longer viewed as a way of providing for the well-being of children, but for the satisfaction of adults. It has become re-interpreted according to what St. John Paul II called the utilitarian ethic.

The true nature and value of marriage has been guarded and proclaimed by the church, because it is a natural symbol for the mystical union of God the soul -- a union which, as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI points out in Deus Caritas Est, the two become one yet remain their distinct selves. The Song of Songs was, for this reason, the book of the Old Testament most frequently commented upon during the patristic period. There are also numerous references to marriage in the New Testament, such as the wedding at Cana, the parable of the ten bridesmaids, the teaching on the mystery of Christ and the Church in Ephesians Chapter 5, and the wedding feast of the Lamb in the Book of Revelation. Perhaps we are less aware of the nuptial imagery present in liturgy and church architecture. A canopy over an altar represents a canopy used at Jewish weddings. Veils used during liturgy, such as chalice veils, or more ancient practices of placing a veil in front of the altar or over the hands of communicants at the altar rail, is reminiscent of a marriage veil. The altar cloth has been understood to symbolize the bed clothes of the marriage bed.

Because marriage thus symbolizes the possibility and hope of intimacy with God, it is of the highest importance that priests explain and defend the institution of marriage. Just as it will be harder for a child to see God as a loving Father when he lacks the presence of a loving father in his life, so it will be harder for people to grasp Christ's offer of spiritual intimacy if they have no knowledge or experience of the truth of marriage. Archbishop Cordileone thus encouraged all the members of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy with the words of St. John Paul II, "Do not be afraid." We should proclaim the truth in charity and be willing to suffer for the truth. We have a rich tradition - the theology of the body, a true understanding of freedom, a correct view of the human person, a sense of the transcendent nature of the person. We should not let the pressure of the present culture make us reticent about speaking up on behalf of marriage. We are not in the situation of many lay people who might lose their jobs or be blocked in their careers if they stand up for marriage. If we defend the institution of marriage, the worst that can happen to us is that people will be angry at us and call us names. In fact, defending marriage may even be the key to the new evangelization. When people, especially young people, see the truth of the Church's teaching about marriage, they will be led to conclude that if the Church is right about this one important area of life, she might be right about everything else too. Archbishop Cordileone offered a final, practical way to participate in the new evangelization - to celebrate the mass with care, reverence and devotion, and thus "renew the Church from the heart."

The members of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy deeply appreciated Archbishop Cordileone's thought provoking and inspiring words, and have asked him to continue to work with them as their Episcopal Advisor, which he as graciously agreed to do.

Rev. Peter Pilsner, Deacon Thomas Boucek and Thomas McKenna contributed to this article


Archbishop Cordileone presented with the Pope St. John Paul the Great Award 
from Fr. Trigilio for his heroic defense of unborn human life and for traditional marriage

Archbishop Cordileone, episcopal advisor to the CCC, Main Celebrant and Homilist at Mass in Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament

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