Last week’s revelation that 87-year-old retired Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has been removed from public ministry on charges that he twice molested a teenage boy in New York in 1970 and 1971 marks a new low for the Catholic Church in the United States.

All these years, McCarrick apparently knew he was a ticking time bomb, a man with an alleged history of sexual predation who had heretofore avoided the hammer. At 87 years old, he’d almost made it too; he’d almost successfully run the gauntlet and avoided the reach of earthly justice. That is, until the Review Board of the Archdiocese of New York deemed an almost 50-year-old accusation of assault against a minor not just credible but substantiated. Compounding the news was the revelation from the archbishop of Newark, Cardinal Joseph Tobin, that there have been at least three accusations leveled in the past against McCarrick by adults, two of which were settled out of court (and perhaps contained clauses requiring the victims’ silence). Cardinal McCarrick has appealed the decision, but over the last week an increasing number of sordid stories about his sexual harassment of seminarians and other inappropriate actions have emerged.

Once again, the public’s trust is shattered, the reputation of the Church is harmed, another respected name is reduced to ashes of shame.

Cardinal McCarrick joins the ever-growing litany of prominent and powerful men who have fallen from grace in recent years upon allegations that they committed or covered up sexual predation: Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Roger Ailes, Al Franken, Joe Paterno, Jimmy Savile, Marcel Maciel, Bernard Law.

Some of these men, like Cardinal McCarrick, first faced charges in the waning years of their lives. Others were at the peak of their careers when they were outed. The extent of the crimes of some, such as British television personality Jimmy Savile, were not exposed until after their deaths. And, as with so many of these men, the public may never know the full extent of their crimes.

One question that troubles me greatly is how many predators might there be who have not yet been exposed? How many prominent priests, bishops, and cardinals are hiding sex crimes from their pasts and hoping to avoid the public shame of having them revealed?

There’s a reason why Catholics have traditionally named buildings and institutions after saints. In due time, the Archdiocese of Washington will rename the McCarrick Center (home to Catholic Charities and a Spanish-language mission) in Silver Spring. At least no one has to worry about renaming McCarrick high school in New Jersey; it was already shut down in 2015.

McCarrick’s alleged actions and the failure of the Church to expose them has cast every other member of the clergy under a cloud of suspicion. Those close to Cardinal McCarrick especially bear the weight of this cloud. Deservedly so, for those who covered it up.

It’s not true that “everybody knew” the truth about Cardinal McCarrick. Some, like myself, had heard the rumors and come across them on the internet, but chose to trust the Church in this supposed era of improved vigilance and “no tolerance.”

The out-of-court settlements should have come to light 16 years ago, when we were promised that this would not happen again, if not before.

The Church can no longer depend on a culture of secrecy and concealment to hide the sins of its most powerful members.

There is a temptation to retreat into the comfort of the good things McCarrick did for the Church; but it’s impossible to ignore that he was a ticking time bomb throughout, and in a perfectly just system he would have been removed from ministry long before any of his celebrated accomplishments.

All of the accolades and achievements of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick are tarnished. Going forward, the public will view everything he’s done in his episcopal career, even the good things (and certainly there were many), as morally compromised.

This is somewhat personal for me. I have met Cardinal McCarrick several times, and each encounter was extremely positive. I encountered him in Rome after my brother’s diaconate ordination a few years ago, and he charmed the socks off my Methodist aunt — I thought she was going to convert on the spot. I last saw him maybe two years ago at the USCCB, when he was in the building for meetings and celebrated noon Mass for us. He was decidedly stooped, and slow in his movements, but I was deeply moved by his reverence and his apparent warmth.

From the time when he was announced as the new archbishop of Washington in 2000 until last Wednesday, I have always thought the best of him, to give him the respect he was due as a human being and as my cardinal. Last Wednesday was a “gut punch,” to say the least.

As a Church and society, we’ve had enough of the “ticking time bombs.” The later the truth comes to light, the more damage will have been done. It is a moral responsibility to expose a priest or bishop who has committed a sexual crime. Those in leadership positions in the Church have a moral obligation to listen to survivors and take their claims seriously. The Church must be more vigilant in investigating claims and rumors, especially when they are as well-known and widespread the rumors involving Cardinal McCarrick. Whistleblowers must be protected. Finally, the Church should offer real transparency and openness about these matters to the faithful.

I will conclude with a plea to all priests and bishops who have committed such crimes to resign your post, admit your guilt, and ask for forgiveness. There is nothing you can do that will help heal the Church more than to do so. Whatever else you have achieved as a member of the clergy will pale in comparison to this. Whatever damage this may do to your livelihood and reputation, God’s mercy is greater. And remember, even if you evade earthly justice, you will have to answer to your Father in Heaven.

Mike Lewis is a writer and graphic designer from Maryland, having worked for many years in Catholic publishing. He’s a husband, father of four, and a lifelong Catholic. He’s active in his parish and community. He is a founding editor for Where Peter Is.

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9 Responses

  1. Jong ricafort says:

    I do not agree that a priest should resign because they fall into temptation.As lay persons we also have our own numerous falls but God graces and mercies will not push us away from Him. We cannot judge the priest heart to serve God even after commiting serious sins. God sees their heart and if this is their struggle God’s compassion as a Loving & Merciful Father will come into their rescue not to mention the Maternal role of Mama Mary. Conversion will be the key to all of us and there’s no assurance that all of us esp. the priests will be always strong enough not to fall.. The only assurance is the infinite mercy of God. Let us not place the priests fate into our finite view and understanding.
    There’s an infinite wisdom why God command us not to judge in Matthew7:1-5,,,it speaks to us directly, we too are all fallen in some other ways.
    We belong to a family of believers, we are hurt by the members with their wrong actions but our response must be always accompanied by grace of God, devoid of grace it will be all judgement and condemnation.
    We must all cling to God standard and it is given to the Pope in Luke22:32 and Church Magisterium. The wisdom in handling the priest scandal is in God’s Hands and always give it to the Church. As Pope Benedict XVI said ” Do not lose the vision, God always guide His Church”.
    The priests are the prime subject of satan attacks as he knows “No Priest No Sacraments”..
    The story of Magdalene and Prodigal Son had shown us we have a Loving & Merciful God…lets all pray for the priests and Gods Wisdom may be poured generously to the Pope and Church Authority that they follow God’s inspirations in healing the wounds of the Clergy and its members.
    As GK Chesterton states we are born anew after the Sacraments of Confession, God gave it to all of us generously, the healing graces is always upon us…Let us not put the fate of fallen priest into our own hands but rather lift them up to God praying for mercy and priest conversion.
    St. Maria Gorettti, pray for us and our fallen priests
    Amen.
    S&IHMMP4us.

  2. Mike Lewis says:

    Jong, This is not a matter of falling to temptation – we are all sinners. This is a matter of resigning when someone has committed a crime for which the punishment is dismissal from the clerical state. If a priest or a bishop is hiding a sin that, if discovered, would result in his arrest and imprisonment, he should not hide it.

    • Jong ricafort says:

      Thanks for your reply, if we view judgement in worldy standard I agree all must face punishment as no one is above the law.
      But we are a People of God and we must view it according to God’s lenses that is mercy and compassion.
      I remember two stories.
      First, in an Apparition where the Bishop ask the seer to ask God what is his most grievious sin.. The seer said to Bishop “God said, ” I dont remember”
      Second, St. Francis of Assisi kissing the hands of a Priest passingby determined to leave the Priesthood because he committed a scandalous sin, but St. Francis highly valued his consecrated hands much more to our Loving and Merciful God, the value of Priest is so precious in God’s eyes.
      As refected in Psalm 105:15 ” Do not touch my anointed ones”
      And coincide with Mutten Vogel divine revelations in Pieta Prayer
      “When a Priest falls we should extend him a helping hand Through prayer and not thru attacks” I myself will be his judge. NO ONE BUT I! ”
      Whoever voices judgement over a priest has voiced it over me:.child never let a Priest be attacked, take up his defense(Feast of Christ the King 1937)
      “Child, never judge your confessor, rather pray much for him and offer every Thursday, thru the Hands of my Blessed Mother, Holy Communion for him. “Never again accept an out-of-the-way word about a Priest, and speak no unkind word about them. Even if it were True. Every Priest is My Vicar and My Heart will be sickened and insulted because of it. If you hear a judgement against a Priest pray a Hail Mary.
      If you see a Priest who celebrates the Holy Mass unworthily then say nothing about him, rather tell it to Me alone. I stand beside him in the altar.
      OH pray much for my priests, that they’ll love purity above all, that they celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with pure hands and heart. Certainly, the Holy Sacrifice is one and the same even when celebrated by unworthy priest, but the graces called down upon the people is not the same. ”
      Mary Queen of clergy we lift up our prayers to our fallen Priest and all Clergy for much graces and strength needed in these darkened times.

      For my personal reflections, AL and Clergy scandal is God’s instruments to our beloved Pope Francis to send an important message to all Clergy and Faithfuls to seek CONVERSION in these Age of Darkness. We are now in the Final Confrontation, all of us must be battle ready and Conversion is our preparation,defense and shield to be docile to the Voice of the Holy Spirit. .
      We are experiencing signs of times already since the time of St. JP2,Pope BXVI on Divine Mercy.
      As Pope Francis states “The Divine Mercy of God is Infinite but the Time of Mercy is Not”.

      The wordly call to punish the fallen priests who hides their past crimes is justified by worldly standard.
      But we are a People of God, we must sit beside God in prayerful silence like Pope Francis…asking God humbly, Lord help me to see the situation according to your Loving & Merciful Heart.
      God’s Permissive Will allows it, so His Divine Providence will not fail us.

      Lastly, Mama Mary will always pour in the graces generously to all who follow the Holy Spirit inspiration to Pope Francis, and that is,.. All of us must seek CONVERSION..
      As Sis. Ann Shields said beautifully the meaning of Conversion, ” is turning away from sin that is blocking us in seeing the Face of Christ At The Foot of the Cross which is MERCY and FORGIVENESS”

      God bless. S&IHMMP4us.Amen

      • Christopher Lake says:

        Jong, I hear what you are saying in your call for mercy and compassion for priests who give in to sexual sin. With that said though, where is the mercy and compassion for innocent victims, when it comes to priests molesting children, and/or seducing seminarians (who are under their priestly authority) within the Church?

        What about mercy and compassion for the innocent people who are sexually abused and traumatized by priests who often abuse and continue to abuse when they are *not* brought to worldly justice? How can it possibly be merciful and compassionate towards the innocent victims for those priests to be allowed to continue to abuse more innocent victims, with the cycle possibly never ending until the deaths of these priests?

        I wholeheartedly believe in mercy and compassion. However, as a lay Catholic, I cannot and will not remain silent if I know for certain, or I have very good, solid evidence to believe, that a priest is misusing his authority sexually to abuse people. I will not remain silent and protect a criminal priest. I will speak out to protect the innocent, even as I pray for that priest to repent– *and* to face worldly justice, for his crimes, because God is merciful, *and* He commands us to abide by worldly laws that are *just*. Worldly laws against sexual abuse are right and just laws to protect the innocent. If priests violate those laws, they should face worldly justice. They will still receive God’s mercy if they repent, but they cannot be allowed to continue to sexually abuse innocent, vulnerable people in this life. The continued allowance of such abuse, especially within the Church, is a stench in the nostrils of God.

  3. Marthe Lépine says:

    Something is not clear to me: When a sinner goes to confession, is repentant and receives absolution, should it not be the end of the story? What good does it do to bring it back to light decades later?
    It seems to me that a recent piece of legislation in Australia is requesting that the secret of confession be broken by revealing such sexual sins to the authorities. Is not this a problem?
    And – my personal situation. Someone who was supposed to “babysit” me when I was 10 years old did do things – more than once – that were considered as sexual abuse. But when I complained then, I simply was not believed, and was berated for “inventing dirty stories”. Nothing else was ever done, and it was not until my 60’s that I received help. My life has been pretty much ruined… But I do not know anyone who has money and that I can sue about it. So, when boys are the victims, it is a horrible thing, but for girls, it is supposed to be a normal part of growing up? Some statistics suggest that 1 out of 4 women in my country have or will be victims of sexual abuse…

    • Mike Lewis says:

      I am not advocating breaking the seal of the confessional – that is sacred. What I am advocating is for those who have knowledge of a crime or committed a crime has an obligation to report it. This is not just just about immorality. If someone commits murder, they still must go to prison, even if they confess to a priest.

      It doesn’t matter if the victim is a boy or a girl. The predators should be brought to justice. Unfortunately this is impossible in some cases, but the principle is the same.

      I am very sorry for what happened in your past, and that you were not believed. I am happy you were able to get help. What I am calling for is reforms of the system so that children like you will be listened to, and that molesters are stopped before they act again.

      • Marthe Lépine says:

        Another question, more relevant: Supposing Cardinal McCarrick had revealed his being guilty of such a crime, at the time it happened. Would he have been barred from the priesthood for the rest of his life, or is there some kind of reparation someone in such a position can do? Some waiting period, however long? I am sure that some of the good that he still must have done during the long life he had afterwards is still useful to some extent, remains good…

        • Mike Lewis says:

          I suppose he would have been permanently barred. And perhaps afterwards, he might have made something of his life in the lay state. Keep in mind, however, that this one accusation is just the tip of the iceberg. There have been 3 other formal accusations since the 1970s incidents, all of which took place since he was made a bishop. Who knows what else he has done?

          • Marthe Lépine says:

            And I suppose that he could be said to have been living some kind of a lie, since he must have been aware of the extent of the scandal within the Church and might have tried to hide his guilt instead of recognizing it. But we cannot judge, most important is to pray.

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