A few unorganized thoughts written over a week’s time on The Cardinal, certainly not touching on a thousand complexities that demand response.
I have worked closely in and with the institutional Church for nearly 30 years. My overwhelmingly consistent experience has been of faithful clergy, men who have brought to me and my loved ones great good.
Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick. Yes, we all know. Allegations, horrific and devastating. The cover-up of an egregious abuse of power and trust, certainly extending far beyond the Cardinal himself.
For people of faith this is the most terrifying abuse of trust in power imaginable — the abuse of sacra potestas, “sacred power.” Employing consecration to desecrate, using grace to disgrace, harnessing the trust of faith to exploit the faithful, stealing divine Fatherhood to abuse God’s children, victimizing in the name of the Priest-Victim, exercising the authority of the Shepherd to feed on His sheep. Ezekiel 34:2-4,10,
Thus says the Lord God: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them …
Thus says the Lord God, I am against the shepherds; and I will demand my sheep at their hand, and put a stop to their feeding the sheep; no longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, so that they may not be food for them.
And so on.
…the word “ordination” is reserved for the sacramental act which integrates a man into the order of bishops, presbyters, or deacons, and goes beyond a simple election, designation, delegation, or institution by the community, for it confers a gift of the Holy Spirit that permits the exercise of a “sacred power” (sacra potestas) which can come only from Christ himself through his Church.
The Holy Spirit permits the exercise of sacred power. What a risky permission.
Jesus saved His most biting invective for the religious leadership of His day, excoriating them for their abuse of sacred power (e.g. Matt. 23). In fact, He spoke very specifically of the grave consequences for the predicted abuse of that power among His own apostolic disciples in Luke 17:1-3,
Occasions for stumbling [skandala] are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble. Be on your guard!
Terrifying. Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany captures well the dark-heart of this abuse in McCarrick’s alleged crime,
The psychological and spiritual destructiveness of such predatory behavior, really incestuous by a man who is held up as a spiritual father to a son in his care – even if not a minor – cannot be minimized or rationalized in any way.
All that boldly said, we also must remember the comment Jesus makes immediately after the dire warning of causing “stumbling,”
If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.”
If, then. The rebuke has sounded loudly, and we ‘people of good will’ hope it enters into every silent corner of the Church to shatter all pernicious secrets.
After hearing His ground-shaking words, the “apostles” say to Jesus, “Lord, increase our faith!” Indeed, a plea we all should heed and plead for our Shepherds every day.
Bishop Scharfenberger also made this point in a recent statement, “But, at its heart, this is much more than a challenge of law enforcement; it is a profoundly spiritual crisis.” It is spiritual, and it is institutional, cultural. And more.
I have no profound prescription, save that as in any age of human history when men fail both God and man, the response is never to flee from the garden of agony and betrayal (cf Mark 14:50-52), but to “Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41). Or succumb ourselves to the time of trial.
Swiss theologian Fr. Hans Urs von Balthasar once said, “The reason why I remain in the Church is certainly not that I have succeeded in seeing that the Church corresponds a) to my expectations, or b) to God’s expectations … despite the high degree of idiocy we have displayed, the Church has miraculousy managed to survive.” Then he says,
I remain in the Church because she is the Church of the saints … [who] do battle with the mediocrity of Christ’s Church not by protesting but by enkindling and encouraging the better. The Church causes them pain, but they do not become embittered and stand aside to sulk. They form no dissident groups but cast their fire into the midst.
Yes, the response must continue to be a searching, honest, radical institutional reform. That never ends in the Field Hospital. But in the first and last instance our response, born of faith, must be to surrender in absolute trust to the paschal mystery of the God who was betrayed in Christ. By us, with us, for us. The God who saved a wretch like me by rising with Wounds crying not for revenge, but for the severe justice of mercy.
How much I must criticize you, my church, and yet how much I love you! You have made me suffer more than anyone, and yet I owe more to you than to anyone. I should like to see you destroyed, and yet I need your presence. You have given me much scandal, and yet you alone have made me understand holiness.
Never in this world have I seen anything more compromised, more false, yet never have I touched anything more pure, more generous or more beautiful. Countless times, I have felt like slamming the door of my soul in your face–and yet, every night, I have prayed that I might die in your sure arms! No, I cannot be free of you, for I am one with you, even if not completely you.
Then too–where would I go? To build another church? But I could not build one without the same defects, for they are my defects. And again, if I were to build another church, it would be my church, not Christ’s church. No, I am old enough. I know better. – the late Carlo Carretto, Italian theologian