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

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