Clericalism and the McCarrick report

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz - The Philippine Star

The McCarrick report is a 450-page report on the full investigation of all the relevant facts regarding the charges of sex abuse by Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick. The order to investigate was made by Pope Francis last Oct. 6, 2018. The report was released early this month.

My interest in this report is not motivated by any interest in another sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. There have been many stories and articles and even books written about this sad episode in the history of the Church. There are two interesting highlights in this report.

Despite reports that he had sexually abused minors and adult seminarians, McCarrick rose to the heights of the Church on a level next only to the pope. Here are highlights from the report itself.

The most scandalous, in my view, is that Pope John Paul II knew of the allegations but he still personally made the decision to elevate McCarrick even after Cardinal John O’Connor of New York wrote a six-page letter to the Vatican. The letter raised concerns that McCarrick had asked young adult men to sleep in his bed with him and that some priests had experienced psychological trauma from his behavior.

Cardinal O’Connor wrote: “I regret that I would have to recommend very strongly against such promotion, particularly if to a Cardinal See.” It is clear in the report that the assessment was shared with Pope John Paul II, who dismissed the allegations based on a letter from McCarrick denying the allegations. The pope then elevated him to the position as head of the Archdiocese of Washington, one of the most prominent positions in the United States.

The report suggests that Pope John Paul II had decided not to investigate further because of three bishops in New Jersey who provided “inaccurate and incomplete information” to the Holy See. The report, however, said there was a disturbing account from a New Jersey priest, Dominic Bottino, who said he had witnessed two of the three New Jersey bishops watch McCarrick touch a man’s crotch in 1990, and neither included that incident in their report to the Vatican.

Pope John Paul II has been canonized as a saint; and the question now is whether he deserved to be canonized. With all these revelations, should not the Church remove or reverse his sainthood? We should consider that saints are supposed to be role models for Catholics. How can he be considered as a role model?

Soon after Benedict XVI became pope he first extended the tenure of McCarrick as archbishop of Washington; but he removed him by Easter 2006. The decision was based on new details about allegations. There were urgent letters from some Vatican officials to conduct a church investigation. Instead, “Benedict the XVI authorized a Vatican official to appeal to McCarrick’s conscience and ask him to maintain a low profile and minimize travel. But the request was not a formal command and McCarrick continued to travel freely around the globe on behalf of Catholic causes and institutions.” This is from a NY Times article written by Elizabeth Dias. Again Archbishop Vigano, Vatican ambassador to the United States in 2011, was asked to conduct an investigation on whether the allegations against McCarrick were credible; but Vigano never did anything.

Pope Francis did not, at first, order an investigation because he believed everything had been reviewed by John Paul II and Benedict XVI. In June 2017 the Archdiocese of New York learned of an allegation of sexual abuse by McCarrick of a minor decades ago. Soon after, Pope Francis requested McCarrick to resign from the College of Cardinals.

According to Dias: “It is extremely unusual for the Vatican to investigate its highest leaders like this.” This report will have wide implications because of the involvement of John Paul II who is not just a former pope, but is also a saint. In fact, Pope Francis has praised him as “the pope of the family.”

What is the motivation for all these cover-ups and giving the clergy such a major role even outside the Holy Eucharist offering? Pope Francis in his address to the Synod Fathers at Synod 2018 gave the following definition of clericalism:

“Clericalism arises from an elitist and exclusivist vision  of vocation that interprets the ministry received as a power to be exercised rather than as a free and generous service to be given. This leads us to believe that we belong to a group that has all the answers and no longer needs to listen or learn anything. Clericalism is a perversion and is the root of many evils in the Church: we must humbly ask forgiveness for this and above all create the conditions so it is not repeated.”

In an article in Catholic Sensibility, one author wrote an article, “What is clericalism?” He or she said that there can be various possible meanings.

First, clericalism might refer to a clerical contempt for lay people whose lives seem to be spiritually undemanding or, in the case of nominal Catholics, possibly unintelligible or even parasitic.

Second, clericalism can refer to certain reforms of narcissism or immaturity that seem to flourish in the clerical state. An example is a priest who constantly reminds parishioners of how much priests have given up for his parishioners.

Third, clericalism refers to a culture of secrecy in which priests risks destruction if they become a critic or a whistleblower.

Pope Francis, in his efforts to reform the Church, has made the abolition of clericalism as his cornerstone.

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An invitation to online writing classes: Adult series on writing human interest stories, Nov. 28, 2-3:30 p.m. with Paulynn Sicam.

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