Thinking about 'Uncle Ted' McCarrick and whether Pope Francis will back #BishopsToo


Surely GetReligion readers are not surprised that the think piece(s) for this weekend are linked to the saga of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick and the horrifying three-level scandal of clergy sexual abuse of children, teens and seminarians.

Archbishop McCarrick? Bishop McCarrick? Father McCarrick? Mr. McCarrick? I'm not sure that's the proper Associated Press style at the moment.

But "Uncle Ted" is no longer a member of the College of Cardinals. That's the latest news -- with this announcement from Rome, care of the team at Crux:

ROME / NEW YORK -- After a month of mounting allegations of sexual abuse against American Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Pope Francis has accepted his resignation from the College of Cardinals.
The 88-year-old retired archbishop of Washington -- who was one of the most prominent faces in the American Catholic hierarchy -- has been ordered to remain in a house “to be indicated” until the accusations against him are examined.
“Yesterday evening the Holy Father received the letter in which Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington (U.S.A.), presented his resignation as a member of the College of Cardinals,” said a statement released on Saturday by the Vatican’s press office.
The statement continued to say that Francis accepted McCarrick’s resignation from the cardinalate and “has ordered his suspension from the exercise of any public ministry, together with the obligation to remain in a house yet to be indicated to him, for a life of prayer and penance until the accusations made against him are examined in a regular canonical trial.”

Ah, there is the crucial phrase -- "accusations made against him are examined in a regular canonical trial."

In other words, this scandal is about McCarrick and McCarrick alone?

Or is there a larger issue hovering in the background, which is the haunting question of how McCarrick continued to climb the rungs of the Catholic ecclesiastical ladder -- bringing several other prominent shepherds with him -- during the same decades that, behind the scenes, complaints were being made about his behavior with children, teens and seminarians.

As the old journalism question goes: What did the bishops know and when did they know it? What did Rome know and when did Vatican officials know it?

There are many, many pieces that can be read to grasp this theme. If you're looking for the essential timeline and/or framework, then look at this column by pro-Catechism Catholic scribe Ross Douthat of The New York Times. The double-decker headline: 

The Truth About Cardinal McCarrick
The Catholic Church needs an inquest into what the pederast cardinal's colleagues knew, and when

Here is a crucial chunk of this think piece, which starts with praise for the work of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice during an earlier stage of the scandal, which focused on pedophilia and ephebophilia. Then Douthat adds, in a passage that is long, but essential:

... What needs to be commissioned this time, by Pope Francis himself if the American bishops can’t or won’t, isn’t a synthetic overview of a systemic problem. Rather, the church needs an inquest, a special prosecutor -- you can even call it an inquisition if you want -- into the very specific question of who knew what and when about the crimes of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, and why exactly they were silent.
Here are the allegations against McCarrick as we have them right now. In 1971, as a young priest, the future cardinal sexually assaulted a 16-year-old altar boy -- the crime that almost 50 years later finally led to his public exposure as a pederast. Around the same time, he groomed and molested a teenage boy who had been the first child he ever baptized, whose family considered him a close friend -- groping and masturbating him, taking him to a San Francisco restaurant and plying him with booze before he fondled him, taking him to a fishing camp with other boys and sleeping with him naked.
What happened to that young man happened to numerous seminarians and young priests as Father McCarrick became Bishop and then Archbishop McCarrick. The first written accusation (that we know of) was filed by one of his priests in 1994, addressed to McCarrick’s successor as the Bishop of Metuchen; the priest who complained was transferred to another diocese while his abuser’s rise continued.
By the end of that decade, McCarrick’s sexual misbehavior (if perhaps not its full scope) was known by enough people that a group of American laypeople went to Rome to petition against his appointment as archbishop of Washington, D.C., and at least one New York priest, Father Boniface Ramsey, sent a letter to the Vatican offering a similar warning.
These petitions were in vain; McCarrick became Washington’s archbishop and then a cardinal.

Here's another old journalism saying: It's not the crime, it's the cover-up.

In this case, the issue is whether the shepherds doing the cover-up were themselves guilty of similar crimes and sins and whether they profited by their close ties to the charismatic and very powerful McCarrick, who had great pull in Rome and even greater clout with a circle of mainstream journalists who became known as "Team Ted."

As you would imagine, there are plenty of Catholic players in this story who are quite anxious to keep the focus on McCarrick and McCarrick alone. Journalists, especially, will want to see this update from the always essential scribe Rocco Palmo of Whispers in the Loggia:



Obviously, I could go on and on with the links and think pieces related to this drama.

But let me end with a bit of a twist, focusing on how some Catholic priests and laypeople are -- on their kneelers -- trying to make sense of this.

Have you heard of the phenomenon of weeping icons and statues? Well, there is content in that symbol and sacrament that is worth exploring, and not just by studying the evidence for which cases are real and which cases are frauds.

First, there is this from Elizabeth "The Anchoress" Scalia: "McCarrick, Mary, and Mystery: Seeking Truth in the Moment." Here's a crucial sample: 

... What does it mean when a statue of the Virgin seems to be weeping a chrism oil -- oil that is consecrated every Holy Thursday by the hands of bishops and cardinal archbishops in every diocese?
No one can know, but I have a few ideas, not least that if Our Lady is weeping an oil so powerfully associated with the priesthood and the sacraments, it touches on the whole ecclesiology of the Church. Thus, it should be considered in light of the beyond-troubling headlines concerning powerful “princes” of the Church” -- the men who use that oil, in persona Christi, to claim us for Christ, and seal us in faith, to heal our broken bodies and our frightened, sorrowful souls, and to ordain others into the priesthood which facilitates our Eucharistic Church.
If the tears of chrism remain a mystery, perhaps we may take it as a sign from the Mother of the Church that the Men of the Chrism need, yes, our prayers, but also something more: our help and our vigilance in facing a very difficult time of examination and needful, very likely painful correction.
What shall we do with that sign? Well, for one thing, we must be willing to investigate the long pattern of abuse, influence, and cover-up that involves Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick (and his enablers) as carefully and thoroughly as we investigate miracles at Lourdes and tears of the Madonna. We must be as unrelenting in discovering proofs, seeking evidences, and distrusting “easy” answers about the men who run the Church as we are over each miraculous claim we study. 

Father Dwight Longenecker took the same equation and followed it to even wider conclusions:

Why does a mother weep? She weeps for her wayward children. She weeps over the souls headed for hell. She weeps for a world on the brink of disaster. She weeps for the wayward priests. The chrism oil is used for baptism, confirmation and ordination. She weeps therefore for sacraments defiled by sin. She is Our Lady of Guadalupe so she weeps for the immigrant children. She weeps for Mexico and Central American plunged into murder, drug abuse and crime. She is the patron too of North America and of the unborn, so she weeps for the children aborted, cut up and their body parts sold. She weeps for the needless suffering of children abused by lustful prelates. She weeps for America and is like a second statue of liberty -- but Catholic. ...  Her tears are her pain as her heart is broken by the seven swords of the seven sorrows.

Is this story just beginning? Will #BishopsToo become something that leaders in the mainstream press take seriously.

That's the question that I keep asking, as I did in this week's "Crossroads" podcast.

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