McCarrick report damning, too close for comfort for the Episcopal church

By | November 23, 2020

The long-awaited Roman Catholic report on former cardinal Ted McCarrick has been released, and to no one’s surprise it’s ugly. Titled the “Report on the Holy See’s Institutional Knowledge and Decision-Making Related to Former Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick,” the document is the result of a two-year long investigation of McCarrick’s rise to the highest echelons of the church.

But what is the connect between the report’s finding and the the Episcopal Church? Primarily the dysfunctional manner in which allegations and rumors of misconduct are handled in the church.

Other findings include:

  • McCarrick’s conduct was well-known, and prior to his elevation to cardinal it was previously considered to be “imprudent” to do so when the matter previously came up.
  • Allegations of abuse of minors allegedly was something that came to light relatively late in his career.
  • In multiple instances, the decision was made to not investigate allegations of abuse based on the assumption that these were just rumors.
  • Cardinal Viganò, who has lambasted Pope Francis over the handling of McCarrick’s abuse, may not have been the good cop he portrays himself to be. Specifically, he did not investigate McCarrick as the Vatican had requested. And whiffs of political maneuvering waft throughout his actions, as well as the decision-making processes discussed in the document.
  • Abuse of seminarians and other adults all too often was dismissed on the basis that the victims were adults, while ignoring the profound disparity in real and perceived power between McCarrick and seminarians over whom he had authority.
  • Although not mentioned with enough specificity, the report fairly reeks of clericalism and unwarranted deference.
  • Pope John Paul II knew of McCarrick’s misconduct, but made him a cardinal any way.
  • Most importantly, the report found ongoing gaps in church culture that resulted in an ongoing blind eye to McCarrick’s behavior.

To this author, one of the most troubling aspects of the report is the notion that misconduct was not a bar to promotion. Sleeping with seminarians? Groping others? Open sexual harassment?

When did these behaviors become acceptable in any form?

And they are doubly disturbing in a church, which should by definition be among the safest of environments. Even worse, McCarrick’s behavior forced seminarians, who must be assumed to have a deep faith, to choose between their faith, and their fulfillment of McCarrick’s personal needs. Truly an ugly and painful paradigm that undoubtedly resulted in profound suffering and lasting damage to the faith of others.

Equally bad is the binary decision-making described in the report each time a complaint or allegation was received. Rather than treating any allegation of abuse as worthy of independent investigation, we see bishops repeatedly make the decision to brush off or cover up the issue. Thus, time after time, behavior that should have been a deal-breaker was simply ignored.

In this regard, the matter is much like the Episcopal Church, where canons permit bishops to make a go/no-go decision regarding allegations of abuse by virtue of Title IV’s “of weighty and material importance to the ministry of the church,” provision. Because there is no clear guidance on what this means, I know of bishops in California, Virginia, and elsewhere who brush of sexual abuse and criminal conduct by clergy. And forget spiritual and emotional abuse—very few dioceses will touch these issues.

Nor does the either denomination yet fully understand that all adults are vulnerable in some relationships, and this includes ones that involve their clergy. There is an inherent imbalance of power between clergy and laity, and clergy are always responsible for maintaining appropriate  boundaries.

Nor does sexual abuse exist in a vacuum. Abusers by definition operate along a continuum, ranging from small boundary violations and micro aggressions to truly egregious violations, including sex, physical assault, and worse. In that regard, both the Episcopal Church and the Catholic Church tend to be obsessed with sexual issues, while indifferent to other violations.

But worst of all is the dearth of reliable reporting systems. In both denominations, such systems are siloed, lacking in accountability, and lacking in protection for complainants. The McCarrick report makes clear that this is a serious problem, but offers no meaningful solutions.

It is this last matter — meaningful solutions — where the wheels really come off the wagon. Much like the Episcopal church at its last General Convention, the McCarrick report apologizes for the hurt and pain the church has caused. But the report offers no solutions, and while the pope has promised to end abuse in the church, we’ve been hearing this sort of thing for far too long.

And while victims say they appreciate the report’s unflinching candor, few have a sense that anything is going to change any time soon.

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