Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

A Moral Crisis

One doesn't have to be a close follower of the news to have heard about the scandal of (now former) Cardinal McCarrick, the retired Archbishop of Washington DC and jet-setting fundraiser bishop who has been revealed as a man who used his position of power within the Church to force sexual attentions on priests and seminarians and who is also was recently, credibly accused of having abused at least two under-age boys.

It's bad enough knowing that a major churchman defiled his office in this way. What is however perhaps the larger scandal is that it seems clear that a lot of people in the Church (particularly people among the bishops and other administrators running the human institutions of the church) have known at least something of these activities for a very long time and have remained silent.

[W]hile the church responded quickly to the allegation that Cardinal McCarrick had abused a child, some church officials knew for decades that the cardinal had been accused of sexually harassing and inappropriately touching adults, according to interviews and documents obtained by The New York Times.

Between 1994 and 2008, multiple reports about the cardinal’s transgressions with adult seminary students were made to American bishops, the pope’s representative in Washington and, finally, Pope Benedict XVI. Two New Jersey dioceses secretly paid settlements, in 2005 and 2007, to two men, one of whom was Mr. Ciolek, for allegations against the archbishop. All the while, Cardinal McCarrick played a prominent role publicizing the church’s new zero-tolerance policy against abusing children. [source]

The Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey had received official reports of McCarrick's behavior by 1994 at the latest, and by 2004 the Dioceses of Trenton, Metuchen and Newark had jointly paid a settlement to a man who had been sexually harassed by McCarrick.  Some people did try to take steps to halt the aggressive climber's rise within the Church, including a group of priests and lay people who tried to send word to the Vatican via the papal nuncio to the US back in 2000 that he should not be made a cardinal.  However, many more people must have heard the rumors (or even known the facts) about him and yet done nothing.  Accusations of his sexual escapades were also circulating among hard right Catholic blogs and news venues, but they always came without named sources and could be written off as ideological attacks on McCarrick, who was generally seen as mildly left of center in politics and theology.

One immediate move at such times is to speak of practical solutions to make sure that this cannot happen again: policies, procedures, reviews, oversight boards. 

These things are necessary and that work must be done.  But it seems to me that if we allow the institutional church in the US off the hook with adding another layer of bureaucratic procedures like the ones put in place after the last explosion of media attention to clerical abuse in 2002 (in a procedural effort shaped by the very abuser at the center of this scandal, I might add) we will have failed and failed deeply. 

It's good to have better administrative structures and policies in place.  Yet let's remember, it was the very administrative structures and policies of the church which McCarrick used to cover up his crimes.  We should do procedural reforms.  It's the very least that any large organization should do after someone abused power in this way.  But the Church is also an organization whose reason for being is to communicate Christ's grace and Christ's law. What we see in McCarrick is someone using the machinery of the church to protect and perpetuate vice in the most cynical fashion possible. I cannot imagine how someone who believed that there is a God or that there is a hell could act as McCarrick has done.

So while, yes, we need organizational controls, it seems to me that much more we need leaders in the Church to be willing to name this for what it is: cynical and systematic evil. We need bishops to be willing to label evil as evil and fight it as evil. We've had enough of administrators and their organizational caution.

Any leader in the church, lay or clerical, who thinks that it is in any way advantageous to the church to keep quiet and allow a bishop to cover up a life of grave sin is a leader that we do not need.

We are all sinners, some may say. Who are we to judge? How can we say that we won't tolerate a sinner as a bishop?

All bishops are sinners. All of us are sinners. But if someone is to be a leader in the church, he should be prepared to admit his sins, repent of them, and resolve not to commit them again.

It is important to understand that McCarrick's sin is not some kind of "oops, I went too far" slip. What we have heard of in the cases revealed already (which may well prove to be only a few of those which occurred) is not of some sort of heat-of-the-moment lapse. These are cold, cynical, planned, and frequent violations of his vows of celibacy and his obligations towards priests, seminarians, and youth whom it was his duty to help and protect, not assault. We hear, for instance, that McCarrick would invite seminarians out to his beach house for the weekend, but cancel the outing if he did not get enough RSVPs to assure that he would "run out of room" and have to put one of the men in his bed with him.

We cannot allow the Church to be the kind of institution in which it is acceptable to keep around and hush up the evils of such a man because he's a good fundraiser or a good speaker or a good organization man. We must be the kind or organization which recognizes that his actions are directly contrary to the very purpose for which the Church is on earth. Our purpose is teach virtue, his is to practice vice. Our purpose is to lead people to heaven, his path is towards hell.

There is no one single wrong instinct that leads to this wrong approach of covering up such evils rather than purging them. There's the sense of pride which doesn't want to admit that we had one among us who did something so wrong, and prefers to cover up instead. There's the false sense of mission which doesn't want to give up the talents of a successful fundraiser and schmoozer. There's the moral indifference which doesn't want to seem puritan for attacking someone's sexual behavior. All of these lead to the same place: to a church which does not in fact have any purpose because it exists not to preserve truth but to preserve itself.

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