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

Friday, November 13, 2020

McCarrick Dump

Ten days without a post, and for no significant reason. Darwin is enmeshed in a tedious work project that needs to be done by Monday. I have been more or less staying off social media, for the timeless reason that everyone annoys me. We have followed the election returns, of course, but for all the hysteria, the results make no actual difference to anyone right now*, unless you let your elation or horror spill over into how you treat the humans you interact with at this moment.

*Unless you are a lawyer dealing with recount lawsuits or someone on Biden transition team.

Something I did do this week: read the McCarrick report, all 448 pages of it. I wrote up a number of thoughts in comments on Facebook, and though I didn't think they were developed enough to make a blog post, I'll share them below. Another reason, however, that I didn't sit down and write up a clear, coherent response was an existential and spiritual weariness brought on by the sheer tedious mediocre corruption of the Catholic bureaucracy. A friend commented that the McCarrick report read more like a J.F. Powers novel (minus the humor) than any kind of account of monumental Medieval or Renaissance intrigue. There's nothing edifying about corruption in any age, and nothing entertaining about lives destroyed by sin, but the pettiness of the layers of incompetence and ineffectuality on display in McCarrick's unwholesome rise to power leave one drained. Lord, to whom shall we go?

Larry Chapp has a succinct analysis which cuts more deeply than my initial musings on the procedural nature of the report:

And so as I read the summaries of the McCarrick report and skim through its many pages my overall reaction is a mixture of anger (as I said at the beginning, everyone knew.  EVERYONE), sadness (for McCarrick’s victims, some of whom were my friends, and for the Church) and disappointment that the deeper issue that what really afflicts the Church is a deep, deep loss of faith was never addressed.  I get that the report was not meant to delve into such deeper issues, and yet … damn it, it should have since without it the entire report just becomes a cataloging of failures without a point.  This is, after all, a document of the Church and not the cold analysis of a corporation inquiring after why its market share has gone down.

And don’t tell me that the reason why it ignores deeper spiritual causes is that it is just trying to ascertain facts in order to better develop policies to avoid such things in the future.  Because that is the whole dadgum point I am making:  we will most definitely not avoid such things in the future if our focus is purely forensic, mechanical, and clinical.  There is no “policy” change that will make the sins caused by unbelief go away.  Personnel is policy and in this case we are talking about sins committed by faithless men, who were aided and protected by other faithless men, in a Church (in this case the American Catholic Church) grown cold in the faith owing to its flaccid bargain with bourgeois modernity.

Furthermore, even on the level of a purely forensic analysis of the facts, the report is open to the charge that it is trying to paint the problem as something that was done in the past, with Pope Francis exonerated of any wrong doing, and so we should just all move along now since “there is nothing to see here.”  It is like an automobile accident that has been cleared from the street, with the cops telling us we can stop our rubbernecking now as we slow down to stare at the bits of glass remaining on the road.  I just find it interesting that the main culprits identified in this report are either dead or very old. The report contains a wealth of detail and does shed light on how this all came about. Nevertheless, it really does read like an attempt to just move us along and to put the matter behind us. There just doesn’t seem to be any seriousness in the report on the level of a real theological and spiritual analysis of how the powers that be in the Church came to enable child rapists. And the very lack of such an analysis screams out that the Church still doesn’t get it and is further evidence of my thesis.  Because only a Church that doesn’t really believe anything anymore would treat the spiritual causes of the crisis as a triviality not worth discussing and as something that would be “distracting” from our “real, empirical analysis of causes.”

Crisis also has a sharp summary and analysis which spares no one.

Here are my own disjointed thoughts:

tl;dr: people kept passing unsubstantiated reports to other people and figured they'd done their job; people trying to investigate couldn't get anyone to go on record with hard evidence; people with hard evidence had impaired credibility for other reasons; law enforcement dismissed one allegation pretty firmly, and a lot of people took that to mean that the rumors were baseless and let it drop.

1. Archbishop Hughes, who received direct, first-person, contemporary reports of McCarrick's behavior, was simply ineffective, and bears much responsibility for not outing McCarrick years ago.

2. In the pre-internet days, gathering evidence scattered across dioceses, courts, and from the rumor mill required a lot of work, and there was no centralized authority to play detective -- except, perhaps, Vigano, who dropped the ball.

3. As John Allen indicated, rumors are one thing, and getting witnesses on record, with details, is another. The anonymous letters sent in were either light on details, or so tin-foil-hat (all caps, no specifics, wild threats of exposure with no names or evidence) that they could be credibly dismissed.

4. McCarrick's self-aggrandizing personality comes more and more to the fore through the course of the report. The extent of his travel boggles the mind. No allegations of financial impropriety have ever been made against him, and he has always been reported as a master fundraiser, so people were dropping all kinds of money to send him all over the world. And he put himself forward time and again. His worming out of the strong suggestion that he live a life of retirement, and his need to be relevant, is very unsavory.

5. John Paul II's dismissal of unsubstantiated rumors is unsurprising given his personal experience of Communist smear campaigns. This is an unhappy historic conjunction of events, but JPII does not come off as someone who blindly overlooked clear and compelling evidence of McCarrick's wrongdoing. (EDITED TO ADD: the more I think about this, the more I believe I'm wrong here. He did overlook evidence. His history with Communists is an explanation, but not an excuse.)

6. Vigano had a chance to bring many things to light when Ouellet tasked him with investigating rumors about McCarrick, and... he didn't. He just didn't. Vigano's 2018 tell-all looks more and more like CYA before other reports came out. He could have busted the story wide open years ago -- and had a direct charge from Ouellet to investigate rumors and find some hard evidence -- and he let it sit, for years, until he was no longer in a position to do anything useful or credible.

7. Something that does complicate the narratives, though, is the number of people -- officials! -- who started looking into allegations, and could not get any concrete evidence to build a case on. One can't and won't blame victims who were worn out/trying to rebuild lives/disillusioned, but it's not that these rumors were outright ignored for years. It's that people trying to bring them to clear and legal light couldn't get any traction, and people with some kind of evidence chose to post it on the internet rather that work with the authorities (and I don't mean church authorities, but the law).

8. Also: the anonymous reports were turned over to law enforcement, by McCarrick! And they weren't taken seriously because they read more like harassment of McCarrick than credible allegations of wrongdoing. The Wanderer was reporting allegations of sexual misconduct in the hierarchy back in the 90s, but their witness, like that of the anonymous reports, was damaged by their unreliability and general crankitude in other areas.

If one is truly committed to bringing hidden sins to light, it's necessary to have a balance of virtues, lest your witness be damaged through your own imprudence.

9. A changing culture of firm boundaries and oversight is a very positive change in the Church (and in secular culture too, lest we forget the #metoo moment a year or so back). McCarrick sent up red flags for years, and people AT EVERY LEVEL brushed them aside. It's not touched on in the report, but he came up under Cardinal Spellman, who was notorious for his behavior with men, but he was powerful and effective and made the Church look powerful and effective.

10. if I sound distanced or too analytical, it's because I'm sad and tired. I find this horrific, and I grieve for the victims. But I believe that honesty and nuance are more truthful, and will, in the end, drive more real reform, than Twitter-style outrage.


mandamum said...

"If one is truly committed to bringing hidden sins to light, it's necessary to have a balance of virtues, lest your witness be damaged through your own imprudence."

This. Yes. I see this in our political arena, and especially in our Church. If you choose to go all "Our Lady of Akita told us we'd have an antichrist pope" on our current situation, how many people will listen to any other, more substantiated, concerns you might have?

Thank you for your measured response - I know I usually just delete, rather than respond, because any sensible stringing of words takes brainpower I may not have to dedicate to the cause at that moment. I too am tired and sad, but trying at least to pray even when I can't talk or write with sense. Thank goodness I can do that without always needing words.

Agnes said...

I'm very sad and disappointed too, hearing about this. Especially about the fact that popes we so much revere and trust, even a canonized saint could probably be complicit in this scandal. I'm thinking about Ps 146 "Don't put your trust in princes" - including, apparently, leaders of the Church. Yes, we can trust the divine promises regarding their office but we ought not to put them on a pedestal. People are prone to do that with their own preferred political side too, trying to whitewash any accusation that they don't live up to one's ideal.

"disappointment that the deeper issue that what really afflicts the Church is a deep, deep loss of faith was never addressed"
I don't know. Is this really what is behind the problem? I'm all for going deep, finding the crux of the problem, but this seems to me too general a statement to find the mark. I think Darwin had another post on the McCarrick scandal some time back and focused on the fact that people in position thought it was more important to save face for the church as an institution than to make guilty persons face consequences. That's where I would start searching for the deeper problem, I think. It may be a consequence of loss of faith in some people, but I can't really suspect JPII or Benedict of loss of faith.