In another blow to the U.S. Church, Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick was suspended June 20 from active…
McCarrick surrenders title of cardinal
Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, D.C., from the College of Cardinals, the Vatican announced on July 28. The rare step came over a month after the revelation that Pope Francis had removed now-Archbishop McCarrick from public ministry over a credible and substantiated allegation that he had sexually abused a minor almost 50 years ago while serving as a priest of the Archdiocese of New York. The Vatican’s announcement also noted that Archbishop McCarrick is to seclude himself in a life of prayer and penance until the conclusion of the canonical trial.
‘Breach of trust’
“I thank the Holy Father for his leadership in taking this important step. It reflects the priority the Holy Father places on the need for protection and care for all our people and the way failures in this area affect the life of the Church in the United States,” Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a public statement the morning the news dropped.
“We are seeing some brave survivors step forward to speak to the media, and share their stories,” Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, who succeeded McCarrick in 2006, said in an interview published July 31. “The claims that have been made are profoundly troubling; individuals should not have to bear them alone.”
Those coming forward have included priests, as Father Desmond Rossi of the Diocese of Albany, New York, told America Magazine that the “culture of harassment” he experienced as a seminarian of the Newark archdiocese, including unwanted attention and touching by McCarrick himself, led him to transfer dioceses before ordination. Albany Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger, who encouraged Father Rossi to speak out, sent a letter to all clergy of his diocese on July 29.
“I do not see how we can avoid what is really at the root of this crisis: sin and a retreat from holiness, specifically the holiness of an integral, truly human sexuality,” Bishop Scharfenberger wrote. He noted it is gravely sinful to be “sexually active” outside of marriage and that this applies to all clergy, even cardinals, and extends even to behavior of “grooming and seduction.”
Bishop Scharfenberger added, “The psychological and spiritual destructiveness of such predatory behavior, really incestuous by a man who is held up as a spiritual father to a son in his care — even if not a minor — cannot be minimized or rationalized in any way.”
Need for new protections
Bishop Scharfenberger continued, “Abuse of authority — in this case, with strong sexual overtones — with vulnerable persons is hardly less reprehensible than the sexual abuse of minors, which the USCCB attempted to address in 2002. Unfortunately, at that time — something I never understood — the Charter did not go far enough so as to hold cardinals, archbishops and bishops equally, if not more, accountable than priests and deacons.”
“The Charter does not provide clear means for reporting and responding to allegations of abuse committed by bishops. This gap has contributed to the erosion of trust and confidence,” Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City said in a July 30 letter to his archdiocese. “Repairing this gap by creating consistent standards and procedures for all, including bishops, will go a long way toward restoring that trust.”
Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, CSsR, of Newark, where McCarrick served as archbishop from 1986-2001, said July 28, “This latest news is a necessary step for the Church to hold itself accountable for sexual abuse and harassment perpetrated by its ministers, no matter their rank.”
In a statement reported by The New York Times on July 16, Cardinal Tobin said he intended to bring the matter up with the leadership of USCCB to create standards of behavior for all clerics that will apply to interactions with all people. Cardinal Tobin chairs the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations.
Boston Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley, who also heads the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, outlined the path forward as he saw it in a July 24 statement: “First, a fair and rapid adjudication of these accusations; second, an assessment of the adequacy of our standards and policies in the Church at every level, and especially in the case of bishops; and third, communicating more clearly to the Catholic faithful and to all victims the process for reporting allegations against bishops and cardinals.”
The stakes, as he saw them, were stark: “Failure to take these actions will threaten and endanger the already weakened moral authority of the Church and can destroy the trust required for the Church to minister to Catholics and have a meaningful role in the wider civil society. In this moment there is no greater imperative for the Church than to hold itself accountable to address these matters, which I will bring to my upcoming meetings with the Holy See with great urgency and concern.”
Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori said in a July 30 statement that he supported such proposals being adopted by the bishops.
“These proposals include measures that can be implemented in each diocese to ensure that victims can easily report allegations of abuse by any member of the Church, including bishops, and can confidently expect that those allegations will get a full and fair hearing,” he said.
Sanctions, now and then
In a July 28 pastoral letter, Bishop Michael F. Olson of Fort Worth, Texas, noted that the canonical trial of Archbishop McCarrick could yield further penalties, writing that “his prompt reduction canonically to the laity should be strongly deliberated, as has been the case for many other priests.”
A cardinal has not resigned from the College of Cardinals since French Jesuit Father Louis Billot resigned in 1927 over a dispute with Pope Pius XI over his membership in Action française, a movement condemned by the Vatican. In 2015, the late Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien, accused of sexual misconduct toward priests and seminarians, forfeited the “rights and privileges” of a cardinal while retaining the title.
Bishops being forced out for their handling of abuse cases is also becoming less rare. In Australia, Archbishop Philip E. Wilson of the Archdiocese of Adelaide was removed on July 30 after being convicted in May for covering up abuse in the 1970s. By late June, Pope Francis had also accepted the resignations of five Chilean bishops; all of the country’s 34 bishops had submitted their resignations to him earlier that month over the country’s clergy sex-abuse crisis. On July 20, Pope Francis also accepted the resignation of Bishop Juan Jose Pineda Fasquelle, auxiliary bishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, over allegations related to sexual and financial misconduct.