Outraged Catholic laity forced action on McCarrick. But that’s just a first step.

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Feb 16, 2019

The Natonal Catholic Register report on the laicization of Theodore McCarrick, by Edward Pentin, is excellent: thorough, balanced, and accurate. I strongly suggest that you read the entire piece. (Be sure to scroll down past the fundraising appeal.)

Have you done that? Good. Now let me call your particular attention to a few important passages that you might have overlooked:

In an open letter released last month, Archbishop Viganò called on McCarrick to repent publicly in order to “bring a significant measure of healing to a gravely wounded and suffering Church.”

Of course McCarrick should repent; he has been guilty of multiple grave sins. Sinners should repent; there is no teaching more fundamental to Christianity. But what other prominent Church leader, aside from Archbishop Vigano has issued a public call for McCarrick’s repentance? Why do we hear so much from our prelates about standards and policies, about a “commitment to safeguarding” and a “healing process,” and so little about sin and repentance?

Some stalwart Catholics complain that the secular media have paid inordinate attention to the sex-abuse problems within the Catholic clergy, glossing over similar stories of abuse by public-school teachers, athletic coaches, and now Southern Baptists. It’s true that the coverage of clerical abuse has been disproportionate. But devout Catholics should understand the reason for the focus on our Church. Catholic priests are not just like other men; their ordination sets them apart. We Catholics know—and I think secular reporters intuitively sense—that the abuse scandal within the Church involves the defilement of the sacred. To which the proper response is not a new set of bureaucratic procedures, but a call for repentance and reform.

The meeting is being held due to public anger over the McCarrick case, …

Here Pentin refers to the “summit meeting” in Rome this coming week, at which the presidents of episcopal conferences from around the world will discuss the proper response to the sex-abuse crisis. I have argued that there is very little reason to hope that the summit will produce significant reform. But if Pentin is right—and I think he is—this meeting would not even have happened, but for the outcry from the Catholic laity.

As a matter of fact, the disciplinary action against McCarrick wouldn’t have happened, either, unless the Vatican had felt the outrage of faithful Catholics. How do I know that? Because the Vatican was aware of McCarrick’s perverse behavior as early as 2000, and the canonical disciplinary process was opened only after the reports hit the headlines.

Even before his call for McCarrick’s repentance, Archbishop Vigano charged that Pope Francis protected and even advanced the now-disgraced prelate. Pentin reminds us:

The Holy Father has not responded to the accusations, and the Vatican has yet to release the findings of a promised investigation into its own archives on McCarrick.

In all likelihood the Vatican never will release a full report on the McCarrick scandal, unless forced to do so by a continued public outcry. Sadly, there is already ample evidence that Pope Francis will continue to protect his friends and allies in the hierarchy, while denouncing their critics as Pharisees. The prestigious new appointment given to Cardinal Kevin Farrell, a protégé of McCarrick—announced on the day after McCarrick’s canonical appeal was denied—speaks volumes.

If angry protests from the laity forced the Vatican finally to act in the McCarrick case, maybe—just maybe—a continued swelling chorus of outrage will force further action to eliminate the broader corruption that has been exposed by this scandal. Let’s bear that in mind, if this week’s “summit” produces no substantial results. We, the loyal laity, have a role to play in the reform of our Church. If our bishops have defaulted on their obligations to lead and to govern, we have our own duty to reproach them. Yes, I’m talking about a call to repentance.

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 CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: [email protected] - Feb. 19, 2019 11:08 PM ET USA

    Mccarrick is a diversion from the real corruption in the hierarchy- homosexuality. Too many of our bishops and Cardinals want to hide it. There is no doubt that those associated with or mentored by Mccarrick are badly tainted and should resign or be removed. Good examples are Cupich,Tobin, and Farrell. Anyone supporting same sex relationship in any form or challenging the doctrines of the Church or morally misleading us and desire to placat politicians should be removed. Enough is enough.

  • Posted by: nix898049 - Feb. 18, 2019 12:41 PM ET USA

    Again, you sum up my thoughts exactly. All I can add is, AMEN!

  • Posted by: fenton1015153 - Feb. 18, 2019 9:37 AM ET USA

    The observed fact that we need angry protests from the laity to force corrective action from the church speaks volumes about the lack of real leadership in the church. It seems the church has forgotten the three admonitions Christ gave Peter. A good question is what is the most effective protest? It seems that anger took a long time to bear fruit. What can we use that would shorten the time to a bearable length? What does the church really listen to? God or mammon?

  • Posted by: feedback - Feb. 16, 2019 6:31 PM ET USA

    Pentin's report has an update, a statement by Card DiNardo: "McCarrick [laicization] is a clear signal that abuse will not be tolerated. No bishop, no matter how influential, is above the law of the Church." To me it's a clear signal that the entrenched network of corruption had sacrificed McCarrick in the hope of diverting attention away from itself and any deeper investigation. It seems that McCarrick is punished for getting caught rather than for his actual crimes. The pressure must continue.