A wonderful woman posted this on Facebook. It reminded me that some personal context should be given for what I have said concerning the current crisis and what I will say. Not just context for my words, but for my vehemence and persistence to not shut up. Before writing anything more about McCarrick, Vigano, et. al. I wish to share my story, the story of a Catholic during two abuse scandals, the way he has reacted to each, and why.
My senior year of university was Fall 2001/Spring 2002. The sex abuse scandal broke in Boston my final semester. Almost exactly two years prior I had my conversion of heart. I had been a “practicing” Catholic, but I did not know the faith nor live it. Midway through my sophomore year of university I began to learn what the Church actually believes, what our faith is. I was dumbfounded by its audacity and beauty, and was immediately hooked. In my zeal for new found faith, I became rather militant (in the negative sense of the word) and was still characterized by this way of being Catholic when the abuse scandal came out.
At the time, what I perceived was people attacking the Church, trying to denigrate Her as a whole because of some men who had acted contrary to Her life and thought. I saw innocent priests being ridiculed simply because of the collar they wore. All of this made me want to defend the Church and to defend those innocent priests. I saw a bumper sticker that said, “I’m thankful for the thousands of good priests.” That was a bumper sticker I could get behind. I heard a priest give a homily in which he spoke of his own personal experiences of being verbally attacked in a grocery store and how these pervert priests were not the Church and were not representative of the priesthood. It was very impassioned and I very passionately applauded with everyone else in the church.
I reacted this way for a few reasons. I believed the problem was a few pederast priests, preying in isolation, coupled with a policy among bishops that was based on shoddy psychology, a psychology widely accepted in society with policies widely employed throughout society. I don’t know if that was true, but it is what I thought. I believed the bishops would wise up, see the errors of their bunk psychology ways and start cleaning house. I was young and stupid.
Sixteen years later, things are different. The revelations of Uncle Ted McCarrick’s diddling with priests, seminarians, and adolescent boys, and of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report have shown a problem greater than most were willing to believe, and still unwilling to believe. Larger numbers of abusers and victims than thought, not only preying in isolation but also cases of priest abusers preying in packs, and a network of homosexually abusive bishops and priests. Sixteen years later, we have learned not just that the problem was bigger, but that the reasons behind it weren’t what we thought (or at least what I thought) in 2002.
In 2002 the reaction was one of shock and sadness, followed by defensiveness – that’s not really my Church! In 2018 the reaction was one of anger and betrayal (I wasn’t surprised at all by the McCarrick revelations), and shock and horror at the extensiveness revealed by the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report. But there was another emotion I have felt for many months now. It coupled with anger has been the fuel for my persistence and no nonsense attitude concerning everything that is connected with the current crisis in the United States and beyond. That emotion is guilt. I felt guilty because of the years I have been silent.
Notice I said above that I was not at all surprised by the revelations of McCarrick. I was not at all surprised that he was sexually harassing, manipulating, and coercing seminarians and young priests. I was not at all surprised that their were threesomes, foursomes, whatever. I was not surprised that there was a network. None of it surprised me in the least because I already knew that there was a lot going on behind closed doors (even if I didn’t know exactly what). I never said anything about that though. For years I’d hear rumors. The rationalist in me says, “I need proof before I can say anything,” not just hearsay. For years I’ve seen bishops and priests support sexual aberrations contrary to the Church’s teaching, and priests and bishops who support true sexuality ridiculed. Still, I say nothing. I here about a seminary. Nothing. I hear about particular priests. Nothing. I hear about religious orders. Nothing. But I wasn’t just silent about that. I was silent about faith and its exercise. I have held Card. Wuerl in suspicion for years, not suspicion of anything in particular, just a general suspicion. I have done so for one reason and one reason only: he said that he would never deny Holy Communion to a politician who supported and advocated abortion because doing so would politicize the Eucharist. Bullshit. Something was wrong. I didn’t know what, but something was wrong. Card. Wuerl, however, is somewhat popular among catechists because he is a bit more of a catechetical bishop than others. It wasn’t unusual for me to hear someone speak positively about Wuerl and his catechetical work. I never said anything though because I didn’t want to be a wet towel. I have held Card. Tobin in suspicion, but didn’t say anything when people would speak well of him because there just didn’t seem to be a reason. I have held Archbishop Cordileone in suspicion for years for the same reason I held Wuerl in suspicion. Unlike Wuerl, he has said that politicians who support abortion should be denied Holy Communion, and yet he has not seen fit to do so with Nancy “the theologian” Pelosi.
There are a fair number of bishops and priests I hold in suspicion because, even though they “say the right things,” I’m not seeing the money. Isn’t this what we should be looking for. Isn’t this what really counts. Putting your money where your mouth is; putting your action where your faith is. Last but certainly not least, I hold Pope Francis in suspicion. The silence I maintained concerning him through my verbal gymnastics and sanctimonious parsing of words he gave much less thought too speaking off the cuff was utterly exhausting.
The reason for my silence is despicable. I didn’t want to be a nag. I didn’t want to be the guy that was always making something of nothing, that was always reading into words and actions what wasn’t there. I didn’t want to be the guy that turned people off and would simply be tuned out. My reasons for saying nothing were selfish.
In all this silence, I felt lifeless. No more.