Last Sunday we attended a mass said by The Most Reverend Liam Cary, Bishop of the Baker Catholic Diocese, held at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Bend. Prior to the mass, Bishop Cary addressed a letter to the members of the Baker Diocese entitled Navigating the Storm in the Church. He followed that with a meeting after the mass to address questions from parishioners regarding the sexual abuse scandal engulfing the Catholic Church globally.
I have taken the liberty of quoting from Bishop Cary’s letter because it represents not only the anguish felt by many Catholics – including Bishop Cary – regarding the scandal but also because it represents a broader message to institutions that are under attack for their internal corruption. (In contrast I have not included any of the bishop’s comments at the meeting because I did not take notes and do not want to attribute my own thoughts to him – frankly, he does a superior job of communicating his own thoughts.)
Bishop Cary centered his thoughts in his letter on former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Mr. McCarrick rose in the ranks of the Church to become Bishop of Metuchen, New Jersey and then Archbishop of Newark, New Jersey and finally Archbishop of Washington, D.C. where be hobnobbed with the political elites and was often seen as the voice of the Catholic Church in political matters. (He presided at the funerals of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Beau Biden (D-DE) son of former Vice-president Joe Biden (D).)
And all along the way, Mr. McCarrick was a voracious sexual abuser who preyed upon minors, seminarians and other young men beholden to the Church. These abusive activities were widely known and even more widely rumored within the Church and yet he continued to progress through the hierarchy of the Church where in addition to his role as a cardinal he became a member of many of the powerful papal committees and a confidant of current Pope Francis – that despite the fact that Pope Francis’ immediate predecessor Pope Benedict XVI imposed severe limitations on Mr. McCarrick’s interaction with the public following allegations of sexual abuse against minors.
Finally, in February of this year, Mr. McCarrick, following a secret trial conducted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, was liacized – an ancient Latin word meaning removed from the priesthood – after being convicted of “solicitation in the Sacrament of Penance” and “sins against the Sixth Commandment involving minors and adults.” At last word, Mr. McCarrick is residing at a seminary in Victoria, Kansas where he enjoys a quiet life at the expense of the Church. (One would think that given Mr. McCarrick’s history that the last place he should be housed is at a seminary.) Mr. McCarrick has apparently escaped criminal prosecution due to the statute of limitations.
That is the backdrop against which Bishop Cary commented:
“. . . How could a man rise so fast and so high in the leadership of the universal Church when he had long been known to be a sex abuser? How did he extend his influence into high-level Catholic policy-making on China, South America, and the Middle East? How did he come to play a king-making role in the selection of American bishops?”
Bishop Cary continued:
“Last fall the Vatican undertook an investigation into its files on the former cardinal and promised an official report on its findings. Metuchen, Newark, and Washington were combing through their records as well.“What these inquiries may have turned up, we know not; for not a single report has been issued in the year they’ve been under way. Nor have we been told when we might expect to see one. In a world rife with well-founded suspicion of Church leadership, such unexplained, unapologetic delay does not bode well for the restoration of trust in bishops any time soon.”
Now you might ask why is it important to know the particulars of Mr. McCarrick’s rise and fall. More importantly the reasons for the cover up of his transgressions and those who aided in the cover up – either passively or actively.
We’ll return to those questions shortly but suffice it to say that Mr. McCarrick represents an existential challenge to the Roman Catholic Church. It is not that Mr. McCarrick is the only wayward priest in the Church rather it is his rise and fall and the secrecy that surrounds both that creates the existential crises. Absent a resolution of these issues the Roman Catholic Church is likely to descend into disarray comparable to that period which gave rise to the Protestant Reformation and challenged the legitimacy of the Church as the successor to Jesus Christ and the Apostles.
But the most fascinating part of this is the parallels with the current crisis attendant to the presidency of Donald J. Trump and the accusations of collusion leveled by the Democrat Party. Mr. Trump was and is the duly elected President of the United State. The Democrats – mostly at the behest of former President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary Clinton (who has twice lost her presidential bids) – have sought to overturn that election since that election. They first tried to use the electoral college to demand that the delegates ignore their constituencies and elect Ms. Clinton instead and then moved on to charge that Mr. Trump was a traitor – a person who colluded with the Russian government to become president and, thereafter, act as their surrogate. That allegation – mostly based upon a discredited dossier prepared by Ms. Clinton’s agents – has proven to be false despite a two and one-half year investigation costing tens of millions of dollars. The report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller concluded that there was no evidence of the alleged collusion by Mr. Trump.
A new and separate investigation into the origins of the dossier, its proliferation throughout the federal government, its role in initiating the investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and thereafter creating the role of special counsel to investigate the allegations of collusion is now underway on multiple fronts. It is this investigation – not the unfounded allegations of treason on the part of Mr. Trump – that creates the existential crises for America. It appears that persons – possibly including Ms. Clinton and the administration of former president Barack Obama – conspired to use the powers of the federal government to create, disseminate and use a ruse to overturn the election of a President of the United States and to thereafter to cover up their involvement in that ruse and conspiracy. Central to his conspiracy are the FBI, the Department of Justice, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Clinton campaign. This is a conspiracy that tears at the very fabric of democracy and left unattended will lead to one-party rule similar to that of other banana republics.
And so what is it that we should do about this existential threat? The answer is contained in part in the message from Bishop Cary:
Justice was done speedily, but not transparently. An administrative penal process in Rome convicted the former cardinal of solicitation in the confessional and of sexual abuse of minors and adults aggravated by the abuse of power. The Vatican did not see fit to divulge the reasons for its verdict, and neither the documentation nor the testimony that informed its decision has been made public. We have only the judgment, not how the officials reached it and why.To guard against a repeat of this scandal of scandals we need first to understand in depth what brought it about.* * *That can only be the path of Truth, and our Master Jesus is the Way. Rightly then do the Catholic faithful expect their shepherds to lead them to the truth in this tragedy? Any other destination would be unworthy of Him who came to set us free.
The Truth will set you free. For the Catholic Church and the federal government it is time to open the windows and let the sun shine in. It is time for a full accounting of what has transpired, the persons involved (including those who participated in the cover-ups), and the reasons for their actions. Absent a full, documented disclosure the trust placed in these two institutions will whither and die.