I’ve been waiting for weeks to write this. It takes a while to pray about and process the right words. Let me start by saying these are my feelings. This is not a news article. It is not a legal treatise. It is not an apology for any institution or any person. It’s just thoughts that have been swirling for the past weeks as the sad and evil actions of my former boss and someone I liked and respected have come to light.
February 2001, I sat in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican and watched Pope St. John Paul II bestow the dignity of being created a Cardinal upon Theodore McCarrick, the Archbishop of Washington. In that same ceremony, Jorge Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, was also created a Cardinal. Four years later, on May 28, 2005, I was ordained a priest by McCarrick. I’ve been fishing with him and eaten pizza with him over beers. He was one of the only members of the leadership in the Archdiocese of Washington to call me when my mom was diagnosed with cancer, and he graciously came to celebrate the Christmas Eve Mass at my parish my first Christmas as Pastor. I have never heard him say anything inappropriate to anyone, nor have I ever witnessed any inappropriate or lascivious behavior.
In the past days, all those good memories have been washed away. After multiple credible allegations of sexual abuse with minors and with adults, McCarrick has resigned from the College of Cardinals, had his honorary degree from my alma mater, The Catholic University of America, stripped, and disappeared from public and ministerial life, likely not to be seen again. Sixty years of priestly service is gone. It is highly possible he will be dismissed from the clerical state: Cardinal McCarrick to Archbishop McCarrick to Mr. McCarrick.
While his official canonical trial has yet to take place, the evidence presented thus far is damning. His actions are shocking. They are sad. They are sickening. They are evil.
As a priest, I am saddened and embarrassed. While it’s true that sexual abuse occurs in every denomination, in schools, in families, in the workplace, and in every walk of life, if the Catholic Church wants to stand as a moral beacon to Her people and the world, the Church must do better. Obviously the fact that it occurs in other occupations and situations in no way excuses anything anyway.
It also strikes me as sad how many people have used this as some sort of political moment. McCarrick has often been considered a “moderate” or “liberal,” so many on the theological and liturgical “right” have used this as an opportunity to gloat. To use this situation as a cudgel to bludgeon ideological foes makes a sickening situation even more sickening.
I have been trying to pray about all of this and to process it. I have come to a few conclusions:
-I will not allow McCarrick’s evil to cause me to question my priesthood, my promise of celibacy, my commitment to God’s people, my love of the Sacraments, my love of working with children and young people, or my faith.
-I will not allow people’s unkind and crude statements about priests or the Catholic Church to hurt me or cause me to doubt.
-I will continue to pray for all victims of sexual abuse throughout our world.
-And I will continue to pray for Archbishop McCarrick.
I believe my faith demands all four.
I also believe to do anything less is to allow the Devil to triumph. The Devil loves doubt. He loves anger. He loves to see people divided from Jesus. Some of the reactions to this situation that I have seen on social media are simply shocking. They are definitely not the reactions of a Christian, especially one who truly takes to heart Jesus’ words to love our enemies and to love sinners.
I understand the anger toward the institutional Church, and I share that anger. I believe, however, that my faith runs deeper than that, and I also believe that Jesus died for all of us, even the worst of sinners. Only God can judge McCarrick. It is not my place to do that.
This blog post wasn’t as eloquent as I intended. I just had all these thoughts that needed to come out. Thank you to those of you who love and support your priests. None of us are perfect, but the overwhelming majority of us work hard, love God’s people, and would never deliberately harm anyone.
The sins and evil actions of our brothers and our leaders can cause a deep embarrassment and loneliness in the rank and file. That can be overcome by deepening our relationship with God, but the love of our people is a huge help as well.
Let us continue to pray for healing, for peace, for conversion, for change, for justice, and for one another. Let us pray for all victims of sexual abuse, and yes, because we are Christians, let us even pray for McCarrick.