As further revelations emerge in the case of former Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick’s alleged sexual abuse, not only of a minor but allegedly of numerous young seminarians and even priests subordinate to him, the Church in the United States once again has been shaken to the core.
Not since the early dark days of the revelations of widespread clergy sexual abuse in the Church have the people of God wrestled with such deep betrayal. And the revelations regarding Archbishop McCarrick will shed an uncomfortable but necessary light on an enabling culture.
Even the most loyal, ardent defenders of the Church find themselves without words — speechless at how, 18 years after the crisis first reared its ugly head, the Church has made such little progress in full disclosure and transparency. The sexual abuse of seminarians and priests by a member of the Catholic hierarchy is immoral and despicable.
Such recent revelations resonate with some of the claims of the Church’s harshest critics in 2002 — those who insisted that the urgent reforms to keep young people safe didn’t reach far enough to penetrate entrenched and toxic cultures of power, privilege, corruption, immorality and concealment. And we find ourselves once again wrestling with feelings of shame, helplessness and perhaps even a loss of faith.
But there is more. There is great frustration. There is anger. And there is the certain knowledge that the Church’s dark night still has not yet given way to the dawn. Even now, a grand jury report detailing abuse in six Pennsylvania dioceses is pending, as is the criminal trial of Cardinal George Pell in Australia. And there is doubtless more reckoning to come regarding sexual abuse and impropriety in the Church, from the distant past to the present day. So where do we go from here?
First, we need to express our gratitude for all of the faithful Catholics who, despite these stormy waters, have not given up on the Church and who remain dedicated to its mission and message. You are the best of the Church, and your witness to the Gospel is imperative if we are to advance the Church’s mission of evangelization.
Second, we need to acknowledge that those who are struggling with anger or frustration have good reason for those feelings. There are no excuses to be made on the part of the Church when it comes to clergy sexual abuse — whether by priests, bishops, or cardinals — and you should not feel compelled to offer any. The only way forward for the Church is to acknowledge failure, and to call all of us, from the people in the pew through the upper ranks of the hierarchy, to repentance and conversion. We must continue to pray, and we must work for structural reforms to protect vulnerable adults in the Church from those who would leverage their power for sexual gratification.
Finally, we must recognize that the damage that has been done to the Church is real and it will have long-lasting consequences. No sin is unforgivable, and, thankfully, God is merciful to those who repent. But the people of God must come together and insist that the remainder of the rot exposed during the clergy sexual abuse crisis be rooted out of the Church once and for all. Only then will we finally be able to leave the pain and suffering of the clergy abuse crisis in the past, while taking its lessons into the future. And only then will we be able to focus our efforts where they should have been all the time: on bringing the Gospel of Jesus Christ into the world.
This editorial originally appeared in the July 18 issue of Our Sunday Visitor. The St. Louis Review occasionally publishes editorials from other publications to highlight the universality of the Church and share opinions from around the world.