A claim that the former Archbishop of Washington, DC sexually assaulted a New York 16-year-old in 1971 is weighed against a broader spectrum of homosexual behaviors.
Now that President Donald Trump has nominated Brett Kavanaugh, a respected Constitutional scholar and devout Catholic to the U.S. Supreme Court, we can expect some anti-Catholic rhetoric in months to come. In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed about one of the other finalists (“Inside Amy Coney Barrett’s Cult,” WSJ, July 7, 2018), I wrote this comment for the WSJ Online edition:
“The greatest tragedy to befall the Catholic Church in America was to accommodate itself too much to the culture in which it lives. Its leaders became comfortable in America, then amassed power, and then tried to hide the corruption that always accompanies the need to retain power. But the humbling of Catholic leaders has run its course, and now, from the bottom of pop culture popularity, it is time to come back swinging.
Imagine the outcries if Islamic or Jewish nominees to the Supreme Court were publicly discredited by Senator Dianne Feinstein for actually living and believing the faith they profess. It is time for Catholic leaders to reconnect with their spines. This disdain for authentic Catholicism in America was brought to the fore when “Wikileaks Found Catholics in the Basket of Deplorables.”
It was premature of me to write, “But the humbling of Catholic leaders has run its course….” Immediately after I wrote it, news surfaced that Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, former Archbishop of Washington, DC, was accused in what is described as a “credible and substantiated” claim of sexual abuse of a 16-year-old male.
My first thought was, “How can I possibly write about this?” How can I not write about it? This story has been the elephant in the sacristy for weeks. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, age 88,
has been accused of groping a 16-year-old boy in the sacristy of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City when he was a priest in that archdiocese in 1971, long before he became a bishop.
But before anyone recoils in horror, the story needs a dose of perspective. I tried to bring some of that perspective in a comment on “McCarrick Accused,” a news story by Joan Frawley Desmond, a Senior Editor for the National Catholic Register.
The Register article raised many questions about who knew what and when in ‘the Cardinal McCarrick story, including whether his alleged homosexual predation was known to Pope John Paul II before McCarrick was appointed Archbishop of Washington and elevated to Cardinal. Here is my comment on that article:
“There can be no transparency on this topic as long as its cast of characters continues to wield the sex abuse story as a weapon in support of varying agendas. I have several issues with this story:
1) It is nearly a half-century old. Does anyone wonder why it surfaces only now just as a new conservative nominee to the Supreme Court is about to be named? What better way to stifle a Catholic voice than a renewed sex abuse scandal?
2) I was a first-year seminarian forty years ago and heard many stories about the homosexual exploits of then Bishop McCarrick. The stories were not passed around by seminarians who saw themselves as victims, but by young gay men who boasted of currying narcissistic favor with a bishop. I knew decades ago that Cardinal McCarrick had been strongly advised by the Apostolic Nuncio to sell his scandalous beach house.
3) There is no reason at all to believe that Pope John Paul II knew about any of this before elevating McCarrick to Cardinal Archbishop of Washington. The U.S. bishops treated this story with a wink and a nod for years and had each others’ backs.
4) What makes this newest claim of a minor “credible and substantiated?” He is not 16. He is 63, and McCarrick denies it. By what magic is this 47-year-old claim of groping “substantiated?”
5) And lastly, the BIG question: Why would American Catholic leaders go to such extreme lengths for so long to shield homosexual priests from being implicated in The Scandal? It is a monument to the power of reaction formation [a classic Freudian defense mechanism] when an entire institution prefers the term “pedophile scandal” to “homosexual scandal” even when the facts say otherwise. (Fr Gordon J. MacRae, NC Register)
THE MIRROR OF JUSTICE CRACKED
One of the many stinging rebukes of both Cardinal McCarrick and the American church coming out of this story was by Anthony Esolan in “Vesting in Lavender,” a blog post for The Catholic Thing. Professor Esolan wrote:
“And now this, about Cardinal McCarrick. The cardinal, choosing his words precisely, says he has no memory of ever having engaged in the sexual abuse of the erstwhile young man [who happens to be 63] who is now accusing him…
The cardinal has cautiously denied one sin, while not bothering to address the thousand others. For all these years, according to witnesses at last speaking out, he has been vesting in lavender, compromising young men in his charge… He has pointedly not said, ‘I have never had sexual relations with a seminarian or a priest.’”
Apologies to Anthony Esolan whom I much respect, but all I could think of when reading this was President Bill Clinton’s famous obfuscation, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman!” (referring to Monica Lewinski), and his later, more measured response, “It depends on what you mean by sex.”
We, too, must choose our words carefully. A man accused of a crime – like the sexual abuse of a 16-year-old – must be judged on the evidence of the crime and not on his reputation. This is why our legal system has so-called “rape shield laws.” A woman who is a victim of assault is protected from having her sexual history placed on trial. The same must be true of a defendant.
Cardinal McCarrick will not be a defendant in this story. There will be no trial of facts because American criminal law does not allow for one 47 years after such an offense was alleged to have happened. But there will be a canonical procedure because “prescription,” canon law’s version of a statute of limitations, was dispensed with after the U.S. Bishops’ “Dallas Charter.”
It’s ironic that Cardinal McCarrick was one of the Dallas Charter’s main proponents pushing it through. “Zero tolerance” and the due process rights that the Charter has so severely eroded for a multitude of accused priests will now also apply to Cardinal McCarrick. We learned a lot about the flaws in that process in Father Stuart MacDonald’s recent very popular post, “Last Rights: Canon Law in a Mirror of Justice Cracked.”
Nonetheless, Cardinal McCarrick should still be due the rights that have been denied to others. One canon lawyer who read my comment in the Register sent me a message thanking me for it adding, “Your point number four should be shouted from the rooftops again and again.” Let me reiterate point number four:
“What makes this newest claim of a minor ‘credible and substantiated?’ He is not 16. He is 63, and McCarrick denies it. By what magic is this 47-year-old claim of groping ‘substantiated?’”
I do not think that we should be so quick to accept that this is “credible and substantiated” as claimed. The 197l claim surfaced for the first time only after the Archdiocese of New York announced the existence of a fund to compensate victims of sexual abuse related to the ministry of the Archdiocese. There was a time when possible financial motives for bringing such claims were examined in a critical light.
The person who brought this claim – after waiting 47 years – is not 16 years old. He is 63. Additionally, the claim is unlike every other claim of homosexual misconduct now alleged against Cardinal McCarrick. This claim alleges force and a story that the unnamed victim had to “fight off” an alleged second assault in the sacristy of one of the busiest cathedrals on the planet.
It is also important to understand what the bishops and their Dallas Charter now mean by “credible.” It is not nearly the same “reasonable doubt” standard that should (but isn’t always) be present in a criminal trial. “Credible” simply means that it cannot immediately be disproven. If the young man lived in NYC at age 16 and did attend a specific Catholic school, then the claims could have happened. “Credible” means no more than that.
“Substantiated” is a very different standard. It requires (or at least should require) an admission of the accused. Cardinal McCarrick vehemently denies this claim. Or it should require the statement of a corroborating witness. If there is one, why would it take 47 years for that person to come forward? And why would the integrity of this snippet of memory be accepted at face value? This is why statutes of limitations exist in legal systems. They exist to promote justice, not defy it.
None of the above means that Cardinal McCarrick is not culpable for the much broader history now being claimed of him in light of this incident from nearly a half-century ago. My issue with this is that the claims are presented as though they have only now surfaced. These claims are not newly discovered.. There is nothing new here. For decades, McCarrick had been rumored to be involved in grooming seminarians and others, casting suspicion on his own sexuality. I will return to this in a moment.
THE HOMOSEXUAL MATRIX
In a coming post, I plan to write about some recent statements of Pope Francis and his supposedly “progressive” views. For now, I want to point out something that he recently said that was about as counter-progressive as a pope could get. The news media played this down to the point of ignoring it, but Pope Francis has said something revolutionary about homosexuality and the priesthood.
He told the Italian bishops in May that they should not accept seminary candidates who exhibit same-sex attraction because “it could end in scandal.” It amazes me that the news media would hype Amoris laetitia and its suggestion of a dialog on reception of the Eucharist for those in an invalid marriage while keeping a media blackout about his statements on same-sex marriage and barring homosexual candidates from priesthood.
Prior to my current state in life, I served as Director of Admissions for a residential center that provided spiritual rehabilitation and psychological care for priests, brothers, and seminarians. The facility and its sponsoring religious order, the Servants of the Paraclete, were a profound source of good in the lives of many wounded priests.
I hope it no longer comes as a shock that there are indeed Catholic priests who have experienced same-sex attraction. Along with other conditions with the potential to compromise ministry and fidelity to priesthood, many of them had come to face this openly, and for the first time in their lives, under the care of the Servants of the Paraclete.
No one in that setting promoted homosexuality. No one condoned it. There was no “wink and nod” or looking the other way. Fidelity to the Church’s teaching was upheld and embraced while also embracing the human realities and limits we all face and cope with. Our shared inability to live an ideal is never an excuse for disposing the ideal.
I think most Catholics are beyond feeling scandalized by the mere existence of same-sex attraction in the life of a priest. I remember being told by one priest that he could not bear the shock of others in his life learning of this. I told him that the real shock may be his revelation to them that he thought they did not already know.
For many of these men, this aspect of themselves existed only in the internal forum, wrestled with by their consciences but not involving what anyone could call a “lifestyle.” Many of these
priests sought out spiritual and psychological support to address this because of their fidelity, not in spite of it.
What we tried to convey, and helped them to apply, was their responsibility for discerning and maintaining the boundaries – physical, psychological, and spiritual – between having such an attraction and acting upon it. It was my position, and a well-received one, that heterosexual priests had to discern and maintain those very same boundaries. Celibacy and other requirements of priesthood are not dispensable options.
Some priests and seminarians struggle with same-sex attraction, and those who are spiritually strengthened by their own struggle can be fine priests who live celibate lives with accountability and transparency. But I have also encountered another condition among many – but certainly not all – homosexual seminarians and priests. I found the prevalence of narcissistic personality disorder among them to be inordinately high. Perhaps it is inordinately high in the wider “gay community” as well.
I believe it is this disorder, and not simply same-sex attraction, that is the real impediment to Holy Orders. It is this that must be detected and treated as an impediment for seminary candidates. Narcissistic personality disorder is one of the most difficult personality disorders to treat and modify. One of its symptoms is the objectification of others for one’s own gratification.
Narcissistic personality disorder is manifested in a tendency to be grandiose and exhibit inflated self-importance. It is manifested in a lack of genuine empathy, seeks to be exploitive, tends toward a sense of entitlement, and takes advantage of others who are objectified and groomed with no account of what might be in their best interest.
When coupled with same-sex attraction, narcissistic personality disorder creates what I call a “homosexual matrix.” In science, a matrix is “a situation or surrounding substance within which something else originates, develops, or is contained.” There are priests with same-sex attraction who struggle for and attain fidelity and equilibrium in their lives as men and as priests.
There are others, however, for whom an identity as “gay” is the core of their being. It is their matrix, and all other aspects of their lives – including priesthood – must accommodate it and become subjugated in service to it. It becomes the centerpiece of one’s identity and renders a man incapable of living the charisms of priesthood.
A REVOLTING REVOLUTION
I do not pretend to psychoanalyze Cardinal McCarrick – and it would be a grave injustice to do so – but I remember being a seminarian in the late 1970s when he was an auxiliary bishop of New York, and in 1981 when he became Bishop of Metuchin, New Jersey. I remember the stories about him told by young men who did not present themselves as victims, but as predators in their own right. They did not present as McCarrick’s conquests, but often rather the other way around.
Some of Bishop McCarrick’s seminarians and their friends openly boasted of what they concluded was his attraction to them. They spoke of how they fostered it, were invited to his beach house, even slept in the same bed at times, but there were no stories of overt sexual predation or force until the lure of money was at the other end of the story.
I did not travel within the seminary circles that reveled in the trading of such accounts. As a seminarian, I was in a smaller circle of men who were repulsed by them. But my instinct was clear. These young men objectified themselves, measuring their own self-worth by the quality and quantity of attention from someone like Bishop McCarrick. Some went on to ordination in a state of narcissism and objectification of others.
In his “Scandal Time” series of essays in First Things in 2002, the late Father Richard John Neuhaus described the seminary climate of the time. None of this is newly discovered news:
“Today’s newspaper brings another report, this one about a seminary in the Southwest where the influence of the ‘lavender mafia’ and the consequent and predictable scandals are coming to light. ‘I have no control over the seminary,’ the bishop is reported as saying. That is simply false…”
Now there is Michael Rose’s forthcoming book, Goodbye, Good Men (2002) which I have had a chance to read… A large part of the book is based on interviews with men who were repelled by seminaries dominated by the ‘lavender mafia.’ Rose names names…”
Cardinal McCarrick was surrounded by priests and bishops who knew the path he was on, treated it with “a wink and a nod” typical of the 1970s, and did little to foster accountability. For reasons of their own, they promote an image today that these matters are coming to light for the first time. They are not.
But this is another time, and now Theodore McCarrick is stripped of his Red Hat. Hindsight is not always the best sight. Fifty years after the brave Pope Paul VI signed Humanae vitae, we should bravely face the legacy of the sexual revolution and how it has stripped many of honor, fidelity, and dignity. Hindsight does expose one glaring truth: It was, in fact, revolting.
There is more to be said of all this, but I must repeat point number five in my National Catholic Register comment above:
“And lastly, the BIG question:Why would American Catholic leaders go to such extreme lengths for so long to shield homosexual priests from being implicated in The Scandal? It is a monument to the power of reaction formation when an entire institution prefers the term “pedohile, scandal” to homosexual scandal” even when the facts say otherwise.”
Editor’s Note: Please share this important post. You may also like these related posts from Fr. Gordon MacRae at These Stone Walls:
- Catholic Scandal & the Third Reich: Rise & Fall of a Moral Panic
- Cardinal George Pell Is on Trial and So Is Australia
- Cardinal Bernard Law on the Frontier of Civil Rights
- Justice and Priests Are Both Easy Prey Without Truth