When the news broke about Archbishop Theodore McCarrick’s abuse of both minors and adults decades ago, I found it very difficult to believe — as did many of my brother bishops.
Those horrendous revelations were accompanied by the equally appalling accusations of cover-ups on the part of some bishops who knew of the archbishop’s crimes. I cannot begin to describe my own revulsion, shame and profound sadness.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has issued a statement in the name of the bishops. In that statement he spoke clearly and forcefully regarding what must be done now by our conference of bishops to prevent any further abuse of power and violation of others — especially children — by the bishops of this country. Two points made by the cardinal are particularly important:
First, when the American bishops gather in Baltimore in November for their regular meeting, the issue of abuse and cover-up by bishops will be the first order of business. The discussions that have already been undertaken by the Administrative Committee of the conference and our work in November will be oriented toward discerning the right course of action for dealing effectively with the wrongdoing of our fellow bishops. Be assured that I will help in this process in any way that I can. I realize that the credibility of the bishops is at an all-time low, but please believe me when I assure you that the handling of these kinds of accusations and any possible cover-ups will be taken very, very seriously.
Second, Cardinal DiNardo rightly cited “a grievous moral failure within the Church.” We are all well aware of the fact that the sexual abuse is rampant in our society as a whole; but when that abuse is perpetrated by those in the highest offices of the Church, and when they are shielded by other bishops or priests, it is absolutely intolerable.
How can the very holiness of God that has been poured out on us in so many ways be so easily repudiated? How can the sacred power given by God to his priests and bishops be used by some to harm rather than protect God’ children? These are the questions that must be answered so that we can emerge from this darkness and begin to heal.
My own prayers during these weeks have been for the victims of Archbishop McCarrick and of any priest or bishop who has abused. I can only imagine the harm that has been done to their victims. It has understandably been the cause of some of them renouncing their Catholic faith. And not a few others, when they learned of the sins of some bishops, have taken the same path.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington and Archbishop McCarrick’s successor in that office, issued his own reflection on this dark moment for the Church. In that reflection he recalled the words of Pope St. John Paul II to the cardinals of the United States in 2002: “It must be absolutely clear to the Catholic faithful and to the wider community that bishops and superiors are concerned, above all else, with the spiritual good of souls. People need to know that there is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young . . . We must be confident that this time of trial will bring a purification of the entire Catholic community, a purification urgently needed if the Church is to preach more effectively the Gospel of Christ in all it liberating force.”
That was 16 years ago. Much has been done to strengthen the formation of our future priests, as well as to protect our young people from sexual abuse by any priest, deacon, religious or Church employee or volunteer, and yet we may now find ourselves asking, “Has anything really changed?” I believe that it has. I know it has in this diocese, thanks to the work of our Office of Child and Youth Protection, our priests, and the many parish Safe Environment Training coordinators. We are committed to protecting our young people from abuse, as well as to complete accountability and transparency in those efforts.
We know that there are many, many good and holy priests and bishops who serve God and the Church in exemplary ways every day. They need our prayers as they suffer through the evil that has shown itself. Our seminarians need your prayers and your assurance that you trust them in their intentions to be good and holy priests. And we must not allow our faith to be destroyed by the sins of others.
A friend of mine recently shared with me these words of St. Theresa of Avila. I offer them to you:
Behind each priest there is a demon fighting for his fall . . . if we have the language to criticize them, we must have twice as much to pray for them.