Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

If ‘everybody knew’ about Cardinal McCarrick, the corruption runs deep

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Jun 22, 2018

Now at last the truth about Cardinal McCarrick’s misconduct has become public knowledge. If my email traffic is any indication, many more stories will soon emerge. But Rod Dreher drives right to the central point in his follow-up column, entitled “Cardinal McCarrick: Everybody Knew.

There’s a bit of exaggeration in that headline, because not “everybody” knew about the cardinal’s homosexual approaches to seminarians. The ordinary people in the pews didn’t know. But those seminarians knew, and the word spread across the clerical grapevine.

Now at last we know, too, that complaints had been lodged against the cardinal. These complaints, we are told, did not involve minors—and that’s all we are told about the complaints, apart from the fact that they were settled. But in light of those complaints, and in light of the many stories involving seminarians, it would be naïve to suggest that the cardinal has now been brought to disgrace because of a single, isolated incident. The seminarians may have been of legal age, but they were not a bishop’s equals. His position gave McCarrick the opportunity to recruit young men and to silence those who rejected his advances, and he abused a sacred trust.

Earlier this week I asked rhetorically why reporters did not follow up on this story years ago, since many journalists were numbered among the “everybody” who knew about Cardinal McCarrick’s homosexual activities. Julia Duin, the longtime religion writer for the Washington Times, has answered my question in a column of her own, recalling that she could not find sources willing to speak on the record, or editors willing to give her the latitude to probe further into the reports. Moreover, she writes, she ran into a wall of silence among Catholics: an unwillingness to discuss a prelate’s misdeeds. “There were priests and laity alike for whom McCarrick’s predilections were an open secret,” she writes, “but no one wanted to go after him.”

For journalists, the reluctance to “go after” a prominent Catholic leader is understandable. No reporter wants to be accused of slandering a revered public figure, and no reporter wants to be hit with a libel suit. Still there have been plenty of hostile reports about Catholic bishops in the American media over the past 15 years; it is remarkable that writers and editors—who usually know how to imply misconduct without running afoul of libel law—had so little interest in this sensational story. Could it be because they, for their own reasons, also wanted to maintain the standing of a liberal cardinal?

Still the silence of the seminarians, and the lack of curiosity among journalists, are not nearly as appalling as the complicity of other Church leaders. If “everybody” knew, surely some American bishops knew. Why did they not confront Cardinal McCarrick, denounce his behavior, demand his resignation? Why did they tolerate a predator?

During the “Long Lent” of 2002, the American Catholic laity learned that our bishops had betrayed us, protecting guilty clerics rather than innocent young people. Now we see that, sadly, the betrayal did not end with the approval of the Dallas Charter.

If the American Catholic hierarchy is serious about reform, the response to Cardinal McCarrick’s disgrace will not end with a few ritual statements of regret. Our bishops should—if they have the stomach for the task—ask themselves how what “everybody knew” was allowed to continue. Who was responsible for this flawed priest’s rise through the clerical ranks? Who were his allies, his protectors and enablers? And when he reached the zenith of his influence, who were the prelates who flourished under his tutelage?

Any bishop who asks those questions will, I realize, become very unpopular among his colleagues. So it may seem that I am making an unrealistic request. But today we celebrate the feast of St. John Fisher, who took a bold stand for the integrity of the faith at a time when every other English bishop—every single one—backed down. Oremus.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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