U.S. Church leaders point to clericalism as reason for rise of McCarrick

U.S. Church leaders point to clericalism as reason for rise of McCarrick

In this April 24, 2002 file photo, Cardinal James Francis Stafford, left, Pontifical Council for the Laity at the Vatican, Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick of Washington, D.C., center, and United States Catholic Bishops' Conference President Wilton Gregory of Belleville, Ill., attend a news conference at the Vatican concluding a two-day meeting between Pope John Paul II and US cardinals at the Vatican. After an extraordinary meeting sparked by a sex abuse scandal, (Credit: Pier Paolo Cito/AP.)

Prominent leaders of the Catholic Church in America point to a “culture of clericalism” that led to laicized ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick rising through the ranks of the church despite decades-long accusations of sexual misconduct and abuse.  

NEW YORK — Prominent leaders of the Catholic Church in America point to a “culture of clericalism” that led to laicized ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick rising through the ranks of the church despite decades-long accusations of sexual misconduct and abuse.

The comments come after the Vatican released its long-awaited report on the rise of McCarrick on Tuesday. It spans from 1930-2017, detailing who knew what and when regarding McCarrick’s sexual harassment and abuse of minors and seminarians going back to the early 1970’s.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, said on his radio show on the Catholic Channel, Sirius XM 129, that McCarrick himself is the only person that deserves more blame than the totality of the culture that existed.

“The real villain here, there’s only one. That’s Ted McCarrick,” Dolan said to Father Dave Dwyer on Conversation with Cardinal Dolan Tuesday afternoon. “The second villain here is, I’m afraid we have to say, a climate that held priests above the law, that gave priests special privileges, that said you need to be accountable to no one and we call that the sin of clericalism.”

Dolan went on to call it a “tragic atmosphere.” One where he said young seminarians didn’t have a place to come forward and feared getting thrown out of the seminary if they did.

Cardinal Blase Cupich, archbishop of Chicago, hadn’t gotten through the entire 449-page report as of Tuesday afternoon, but also said what he’s seen in the executive summary points to a problematic culture.

“We need to take anonymous accusations seriously into account: put the victims first of all, and care for them and be motivated by that first of all,” Cupich said. “We also need to make sure we are going to check natural beliefs about things.”

Cupich wouldn’t place direct blame on anyone for allowing McCarrick to rise through the ranks of the church, saying there’s plenty to go around. He did, however, comment on the four bishops from New Jersey, three of whom, the report said, provided Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo “inaccurate and incomplete” information for his investigation into McCarrick’s alleged abuse.

They should’ve given accurate information because bishops have a responsibility to do so, Cupich said. Although, he looks at that specific wrongdoing as only one part of the larger problem that again goes back to the culture that existed.

“There was a lack of care for victims,” Cupich said. “I’ve always said that with regards to this whole issue: put the child in the middle of a room and make them the focus and pay attention and the facts will fall into place.”

“I hope this would be a watershed moment where we look at what our responsibilities are and hold each other accountable and also be transparent.”

Bishop William A. Wack of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Fla. said he felt “profound sadness” as he read that the three New Jersey bishops weren’t truthful with their information. He called it “maddening” that the truth wasn’t revealed, and said this is the perfect example of how things can snowball when the truth is hidden. Wack didn’t absolve Saint John Paul II, either. His role in McCarrick’s rise through the church ranks serves as a reminder that we’re all sinners, but it doesn’t take away his importance to the church, he said.

“That shows all of us, including the pope, we’re sinners. There’s that saying that every saint has a past, every sinner has a future. As we look at Saint John Paul II no one on earth said he was perfect. As we’ve now seen he made a mistake,” Wack said.

Going forward he wants the church to continue putting systems in place that hold clerics accountable. He acknowledged that as a new bishop he’s amazed at the autonomy they all enjoy. And that’s why it’s important for bishops especially to have people in place at the local level that hold them accountable, he said.

Several other leaders of the Catholic Church in America came out with statements Tuesday thanking the Vatican for its report, calling it a “necessary” step for the church to move forward with transparency. None of the statements addressed anything specific from the report, many citing that they haven’t had a chance to read through it as of Tuesday morning.

Bishop James Checchio of Metuchen, New Jersey, said he was “disgusted and appalled” by what had taken place. McCarrick was the founding bishop of the Diocese of Metuchen and that’s where some of his alleged abuse occurred.

“This report will undoubtedly cause sadness, anxiety, frustration, anger, disgust and pain,” Checchio said in a statement.

The bishop added it’s not enough for the church to simply recognize the mistakes and seek forgiveness. It needs to remember these “awful chapters” to not get complacent and move forward with “integrity and transparency.”

Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the Church is committed to helping all those that have suffered sexual abuse by a priest, bishop, or anyone else in the Church.

“Please know that my brother bishops and I are committed to doing whatever is in our power to help you move forward and to ensure that no one suffers what you have been forced to suffer,” Gomez’s said in a statement.

Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg

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