Editorial: As a Church, we must encourage the pursuit of truth
Nearly a year ago, revelations surrounding the behavior of former cardinal Theodore McCarrick struck a heavy blow to the Catholic Church in the United States, opening divisions that have yet to be healed. A few months later, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the former apostolic nuncio to the United States, exposed the depths of those divisions when he offered testimony that the public ministry and other activities of McCarrick had been restricted by Pope Benedict XVI (albeit privately, for fear of scandal) — restrictions that McCarrick largely had ignored under Benedict and completely flouted under Pope Francis.
A few weeks ago, in late May, Crux and CBS News jointly revealed that a former secretary to McCarrick confirmed the existence of the restrictions, and he had the documents to prove it. At a time when the Catholic Church in the United States seems split into two camps that are usually described by the political labels of “liberal” and “conservative,” this latest revelation threatens to increase divisions even further. And all of this is happening while the freedom of the Catholic Church in the United States increasingly is under attack, with state and local law enforcement using investigations into clerical sexual abuse as occasions for raiding chancery offices while television cameras broadcast the spectacle, and states such as California considering laws designed to rip the seal of the confessional asunder.
If ever the Church in the United States needed to present a united front, now is the time.
That is why we should look at the latest revelation about McCarrick as an opportunity to move forward, rather than treat it as grounds for continuing our fraternal infighting. The doubt has been removed; we now know the truth of the restrictions placed on McCarrick. Downplaying those restrictions in a misguided attempt to defend Pope Francis against claims that he removed the restrictions or, conversely, loudly proclaiming “I told you so!” does the Church no good.
As this editorial board has said many times over the past year, we need not fear the truth, no matter how painful its revelation may be. The Catholic historian John Lukacs, who passed away recently at the age of 95, wrote in his magnum opus “Historical Consciousness” that “the pursuit of truth is life-giving.” We too often forget that, even though it should be obvious, because all truth, the Church teaches, belongs to God.
In order to overcome the sins of various churchmen and the failures of the hierarchy in the past, we must first acknowledge them. We should not compound those sins and failures by using them as an excuse to attack one another, weakening the Church at the very moment when the Church most needs faithful Catholics to shore it up.
A couple of weeks before Crux and CBS News published their reports, Pope Francis, in an address to the Foreign Press Association of Italy, declared that “Freedom of the press and of expression is an important indicator of the state of a country’s health.” The job of all journalists, and especially of the Catholic press, is “to work according to truth and justice, so that communication is truly an instrument for building, not for destroying; for meeting, not for clashing; for dialoguing, not for monologuing; for orienting, not for disorienting; for understanding, not for misunderstanding; for walking in peace, not for sowing hatred; for giving a voice to those who have no voice, not for being a megaphone to those who shout louder.”
Here in the United States, the framers of the Bill of Rights guaranteed the freedom of the press and the freedom of religion. That they paired these two rights is natural: Both concern the pursuit of the truth. That they placed them both in the First Amendment to the Constitution is natural, too, because the truth should always be paramount.
OSV Editorial Board: Gretchen R. Crowe, Scott P. Richert, York Young