The aftershocks of the Theodore McCarrick scandal are continuing to rock the Church. The latest one came last Thursday. The defrocked cardinal “has been charged with sexually assaulting a teenage boy during a wedding reception in Massachusetts in 1974,” the Associated Press reported. McCarrick faces three counts of indecent assault and battery on a person over 14.
That individual says the abuse took place at his “brother’s wedding reception at Wellesley College in June 1974 — when he was 16,” according to AP. “The man said that the two of them went for a walk around campus and McCarrick groped him before they went back to the party.” The man says McCarrick also assaulted him in a coat closet and then told him as he departed the room to “say three Our Fathers and a Hail Mary or it was one Our Father and three Hail Marys, so God can redeem you of your sins,” reports AP.
This trial is sure to serve as yet another reminder of the Catholic hierarchy’s complicity in McCarrick’s misdeeds. After all, those who knew of his misconduct remain in positions of power. “[W]e all knew,” Bishop Steven Lopez has acknowledged.
Some close associates of McCarrick have even received promotions since the scandal. Cardinal Kevin Farrell, his former roommate, holds a high position at the Vatican. Two of McCarrick’s cronies, Cardinal Blase Cupich in Chicago and Cardinal Joseph Tobin in Newark, sit on a powerful Vatican congregation that selects bishops for the United States. (According to Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the former papal nuncio to the United States, McCarrick “orchestrated” the elevations of Tobin and Cupich in the Church.)
Cardinal Donald Wuerl was made aware of an allegation of misconduct against McCarrick at least 13 years before the scandal broke. The formal complaint reportedly concerned McCarrick’s behavior at his New Jersey beach house, where McCarrick has admitted he shared beds with seminarians. Wuerl is now enjoying a comfortable retirement.
Meanwhile, Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill, a top official at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), resigned due to a report by The Pillar establishing Burrill’s extensive use of Grindr, a gay hookup app. The Pillar reported that Burrill used “Grindr on a near-daily basis during parts of 2018, 2019, and 2020 — at both his USCCB office and his USCCB-owned residence, as well as during USCCB meetings and events in other cities.” In subsequent reports, The Pillar traced similar Grindr use to rectories in Tobin’s Newark archdiocese and to buildings within the Vatican’s walls.
These stories illuminate the homosexual ecclesiastical culture which had protected McCarrick for decades. But, of course, the Catholic establishment refuses to make that admission. It is outraged not by that culture, but by its exposure.
Jesuit Father James Martin, who openly contradicts the Church’s teaching on the sinfulness of homosexual acts, blasted The Pillar for daring to obtain Grindr data. All the usual defenders of the gay culture in the Church chimed in with similar condemnations, including the Washington Post. Suddenly the Post, which published the Pentagon Papers and countless other works of audacious investigative journalism, is fretting over “surveillance-ethics.”
Voices within the Church defending Burrill and tut-tutting The Pillar’s exposes used similar rationalizations to avert their gazes from McCarrick’s misconduct. That is, the post-McCarrick Church looks pretty much the same as the pre-McCarrick Church. The laxity and lack of vigilance that McCarrick exploited is exactly what permitted Burrill to rise to the top of the USCCB. Instead of apologizing to the faithful for yet another demoralizing scandal, the bishops use proxies at heterodox publications such as the National Catholic Reporter to whine about violations of “privacy” and so forth.
John Allen, a leading Vatican correspondent, penned an inadvertently revealing piece about The Pillar’s supposed transgression against journalistic ethics. He recalled the good old days of “professional” reporting on the Church:
When I first arrived in Rome more than twenty years ago, a new Italian friend suggested we drive to his small village, about an hour outside the city, over the weekend because there was going to be a party. On the way I asked what we were celebrating, and my new friend’s answer was matter-of-fact.
“Oh,” he said, “the priest’s girlfriend had a baby.” He was totally serious.
Back then, such chapters of a priest’s private life weren’t considered fair game for reporters, especially in rural Italy with its culture of deference to clergy. No news outlet announced that this priest had fathered a child, and most people I knew saw it as a matter between him, his girlfriend and his parishioners.
That Allen doesn’t consider this a self-discrediting story tells you all you need to know about the hopeless state of most of the ecclesiastical media. With stenographers in tow like Allen, misbehaving cardinals have nothing to fear.
Had The Pillar not exposed Monsignor Burrill, he would undoubtedly have risen higher in the Church. The USCCB has yet to condemn his conduct. He hasn’t even been suspended as a priest by his local bishop, Bishop William Callahan. Just as the bishops played dumb about McCarrick’s misconduct — some bishops insisted his sleeping with seminarians wasn’t sexual, as even the Vatican report on the scandal noted — so Callahan is pretending that Burrill’s extensive Grindr usage doesn’t establish impropriety.
The Church establishment maintains the big lie that a gay priestly culture played no significant role in the abuse scandal, even though most of its victims have been teenage boys. The protégés of McCarrick, such as Cupich and Tobin, refuse to address that issue. Instead, they give their blessing to Fr. James Martin to push LGBTQ causes in the Church.
The bishops act as if the McCarrick scandal is behind them. But it isn’t. Its fundamental causes remain largely unaddressed, as the Burrill scandal proves. The bishops deflect attention from their own derelictions of duty by complaining about intrusive media. But that is simply a function of their own passivity.
Because the bishops won’t reform the Church, members of the laity have taken up that task. To the extent that the Church is changing, that is due more to pressure from outside sources — lawyers, prosecutors, journalists — than any internal accountability.
Churchmen have washed their hands of McCarrick. But his stain is not so easily erased. As his upcoming criminal trial unfolds, the faithful will have every right to ask: If the Church is past McCarrick, why are his “nephews” still running it?
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