“Mom liked to invite them [priests] to dinner and to pose questions to them. The virginity of priests gave birth in her to a feeling of confidence and respect.” So wrote French Benedictine Abbot Dom Gerard Calvet, founder of the monastery of Sainte-Madeleine du Barroux, about his childhood. His mother’s closeness to priests was rooted in her deep Catholic Faith, and it expressed a generalized attitude once widely shared by Catholics, but also by people of little or no faith. The celibacy of Catholic priests was admired as a worthy sacrifice for God. And this way of life made the priest available to serve people in a unique way.
Priests bound themselves to imitate Christ their Lord in his total dedication to God the Father. Their celibacy was assumed to include an actual purity of life. This meant they would gladly be invited to visit parishioners’ homes without any worries about horrific ulterior motives that he might have in accepting the invitation to spend time with someone else’s wife and children.
The revelations of the criminal predatory behavior of former cardinal Theodore McCarrick towards male minors, and the simultaneous public admission by the Archbishop of Newark and the Bishop of Metuchen that their predecessors protected then-Cardinal Archbishop of Washington (McCarrick) by paying off and silencing two adult male victims of sexual molestation in 2004 and 2006, mean that such innocent confidence in the moral integrity of the clergy has become an impossibility for many.
That is a terrible state of affairs for the Church.
It is significant that public revelation of the two payouts was only made after he had been accused by a former minor seminarian of the Archdiocese of New York of having sexually molested him in the sacristy and the men’s room at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. These accusations were found credible by both the Archdiocese of New York and the Holy See, and McCarrick was restricted by Pope Francis from any public ministry. The Archdiocese informed the three dioceses where McCarrick had served as ordinary, and none of them had any record of having received an accusation of sexual molestation of a minor.
But Newark and Metuchen did reveal the payment of the two settlements to the two adult victims. Why did these two bishops reveal this now? McCarrick’s predatory behavior in these cases was not against minors. If McCarrick were simply a priest, he would not have been charged with violating the Dallas Charter. As a bishop, that charter did not apply to him in any event. The Code of Canon Law does include sanctions for these offenses, but they were apparently a dead letter in this case.
McCarrick’s sexual depredations against the two adult males, who were subject to his authority as seminarians or priests, was a grave abuse of authority in addition to moral turpitude. Yet before he was credibly accused of molesting a minor he was protected from canonical prosecution and a civil trial by the bishops who succeeded him in New Jersey. And he was allowed to function as Archbishop of Washington without anyone, especially seminarians and priests, being warned of his previous egregiously immoral behavior and abuse of episcopal authority.
In other words, there was a culture of cover-up and protection of a morally corrupt bishop by fellow bishops, who showed not the slightest concern for what further sexual depredations might be committed by a man who, they knew, had acted in a deeply evil manner.
Christ gave authority to him through the transmission of apostolic succession when he was consecrated bishop. He used it to commit and hide evil acts as the diocesan bishop in three different places. And his successors in Newark and Metuchen allowed him to continue exercising that authority in Washington after they were informed by his adult victims that McCarrick was, in fact, a wolf in shepherd’s clothing.
They bought the victims’ silence, and then remained silent themselves, knowing full well that they would never have acted in the same way if McCarrick were simply Fr. McCarrick, the pastor of a parish in their diocese. Or would they have?
The long and the short of it is this: homosexual unchastity and abuse of authority involving two adults were not career enders for McCarrick – until it was known he had done the same thing with a minor. The prevailing management culture of the American hierarchy has been revealed to be fundamentally corrupt in dealing with unchaste bishops and priests who are known only to have engaged in willing and even unwilling sexual activity with adult males. That indulgent protection of a priest or bishop who has lived a life of moral turpitude is a fact in the McCarrick case, and this most certainly is not the only instance of this scandalous toleration of clerical vice.
Church funds were used – not to promote the mission of the Church, but to buy time and protection for a man who violated his solemn duty to dedicate himself to caring for the flock, not ravaging it. It’s not unreasonable to ask: how many other cases are waiting to be revealed?
The present moment calls for the Church to seek the full answer to that question. The American bishops must agree to petition the Holy See to investigate every diocese in this country to uncover sexual abuse, and to uncover financial malfeasance and the misuse of authority to protect clerical criminals from the consequences of their depredations. The Holy See should prosecute anyone found to have participated in these canonical crimes. A Roman appointed investigator should hire as many competent lay people with relevant expertise as is needed to carry out this huge task.
The confidence of Dom Gerard’s mother in her parish priests should not become an historical memory. Such confidence can be restored if vigorous action to purge the Church of bad shepherds at all levels is carried out swiftly – and relentlessly.
The Rev. Gerald E. Murray, J.C.D. is a canon lawyer and the pastor of Holy Family Church in New York City.
Article first appeared on The Catholic Thing: https://www.thecatholicthing.org. Reprinted with permission.