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Commentary: Red flags, abuse, and the final judgment

Abusers such as Archbishop McCarrick profit from our disregard of Christ’s warning that “he who is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much” (Luke 16:10).

Then-Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick attends a Mass in Rome April 13, 2018. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

By Leah Libresco

New York City, N.Y., Sep 10, 2018 / 03:49 pm (CNA).- Christ tells us to recognize the false prophets, the ones who are secretly ravenous wolves longing to eat His people up, by the fruit they bear. The laity (and some clergy) have demanded answers about the predations of Archbishop McCarrick and the bishops who enabled his abuse. We’re still waiting for many of them, including the disclosure of Vatican documents that could directly confirm or debunk Archbishop Viganò’s testimony.

But we’re starting to get an answer to one of our questions: How could you? And the bleak answer is coming from Catholic writers who mean to speak up in defense of Pope Francis and others.

Austen Ivereigh, a Catholic journalist and biographer of Pope Francis, characterized McCarrick’s abuse of seminarians as “sex with adults decades earlier.” In a news analysis for Crux, John L. Allen Jr. argued it would be misleading to talk about McCarrick’s behavior as sexual abuse or to say his enablers participated in a cover-up of abuse. Allen says that the open secret about McCarrick only concerned “sexual misconduct with young adult seminarians,” and that, “while indefensible, such behavior does not constitute a crime under either civil or Church law.”

What McCarrick is credibly accused of is not simply a failure of chastity, in which he betrayed his promise to the church by seeking out sexual partners. He is accused of preying on seminarians, deliberately using his power over them to pressure them into silence as he sexually harassed and assaulted them. Such behavior would be sinful for any boss targeting his underlings, but for McCarrick to target seminarians adds the tang of blasphemy. The men he preyed on had entered seminary to make an offering of themselves to the Church. When he attacked them, it was as if he had attacked the gifts being brought to the altar for consecration.

The abuses he has been accused of should have prompted intervention long before evidence of child abuse surfaced. But abusers profit from our disregard of Christ’s warning that “he who is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much” (Luke 16:10). The Church isn’t the only institution to neglect this duty. There’s no reason to wait for criminal liability—for the sake of both victims and abusers, intervention should come before a crisis reaches that point.

A New York Times article on allegations against gymnastics coach Qi Han was careful to note that “Han is not accused of sexual abuse.” He was accused, instead, of slapping a student, of pushing a child off the high bar, of throwing phones and shoes at students. When parents rallied to report him to U.S.A. Gymnastics, Han told the parents of one student that she would be banned from the gym and blacklisted from the sport unless they took his side. They did.

At NYU, Professor Avital Ronell has been accused of sexual harassment of a graduate student. Two essays in the Chronicle of Higher Education, one by Corey Robin, one by Andrea Long Chu pointed out that Ronell could be identified as an abuser even before corroboration of the claims of sexual abuse. The professor asserted ownership of her graduate students, forcing them to run errands for her, to host her in their homes, and threatened to destroy their careers if they said “no” to any of her demands.

McCarrick, Han, and Ronnell all carried out parts of their abuse in the open. Their campaigns of control and cruelty may not have always created the trail of evidence needed to convict them of a crime, but there was enough for those around them to see that they were failing their respective callings of stewardship. The more they were left to act abusively, the more everyone around them signaled that abuse was acceptable. Why would someone come forward with an allegation of further, private predation when there had been no consequences for public wickedness?

For U.S.A. Gymnastics and NYU, the impulse to curb these abuses is meant to come from a fear of liability. They ought to have curbed these dishonest mentors, and fired them if necessary in order to avoid culpability. But the Church should be swifter to act than any other institution, because it fears more than civil penalties.

Bad employees can be fired, and the supervising organization can wash their hands of them. A bad priest or cardinal must be contained for the sake of his potential victims, but when it seems like his vices are constrained by his age or enfeeblement, the Church cannot say that there is no harm left in him. Unrepentant, he is still a danger to himself and his own soul.

Admonishing sinners is a spiritual work of mercy. Passing over grave sin in silence, in order to avoid scandal, is not merciful, is not lenient. It is endangerment.

In a 1972 homily, Pope Paul VI said, referencing division and doubt in the church, “It is as if from some mysterious crack, no, it is not mysterious, from some crack the smoke of Satan has entered the temple of God.” Some princes of the Church seem trying still to wait, hoping that this miasma will disperse on its own. But for the sake of the souls of the brothers they’re protecting, starting with McCarrick, they need to remember that where there’s smoke, there may, in the final reckoning, be fire.

Leah Libresco is the author of Building the Benedict Option: A Guide to Gathering Two or Three Together in His Name. Her writing has appeared at First Things, FiveThirtyEight, and The Washington Post.  Her opinions do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of Catholic News Agency.

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  1. The best theological conclusions regarding all of this? That of Dominican Fr. Dominic Legge, O.P. who clearly relates the sexual scandal of even “consensual adults” to that of the sin of sacrilege and the denial of Grace. Yes, there is no denying the sin in all this and the denial of Grace. Fr. Legge’s summary draws me back to that book Reality by Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. . I start to consider: have we truly lost that part of the Thomistic synthesis of Augustine/original sin, and replaced it with backdoor exits/graftings of “personalism” and a too easy rejection of the massa damnata, a denial of “no one can come to me unless the Father draw him” replaced by non-Scripture, “the signs of the times” and a kind of willed bogus sense of grace?

    I also keep coming back to this: that component of justice in Plato and Aristotle wherein “money” becomes a measure.

    Do we owe this whole bunch a living and the funds to bankroll their lifestyle?

    Do we owe not only theological assent/affirmation but money to James Martin, Inc and the projects of the German Bishops? Do we owe even more than mercy to Bergoglio’s Rehabbed Appointees, more than mercy, whether it be The Unsanctioned McCarrick or The Beach House McCarrick or The First-Baby-He Baptized McCarrick, but also our dollars, as many as possible, as much as “our means allow,” our money (consider tithing?) earned in difficult, honest jobs which do not tolerate even “mistakes” very well let alone sins, crimes/non-crimes? or actions labeled as “misconduct,” frequently long/stressful hours , sometimes skipping breaks? amid our own financial concerns and worries to provide nice dinners, travel money and the maintenance of residences as well as monies for “gifts” they might want to give to other people?

    For Ivereigh and Allen, Jr. is there nothing of bankrolled fraud in the life McCarrick and others like him? Is there nothing like bankrolled fraud in much of the entire Church right now starting at the top?

    Should we make sacrifices for those who may not have sacrificed really that much at all?

  2. In the late 70’s or early 80’s the Vatican did an investigation of American seminaries due to the complaints that Rome had received. Obviously it failed. It would be interesting to know how many of those involved in the investigation went on to be bishops or high ecclesiastics. Proper action then could have prevented what happened afterwards.

  3. Ivereigh and Allen and Faggioli et al are arguing to defend the post-Catholic culture not merely represented but indeed designed and established by McCarrick:

    A – in 1967 McCarrick as president of the University of Puerto Rico co-authored the Land of Lakes Statement, joining “leaders” of Notre Dame, Fordham, Georgetown, BC, Holy Cross etc etc and declaring they were no longer subject to teach in accord with the Church.

    B – 50 years later, we see that McCarrick (and his friends like Cardinals Wuerl and Cupich and McElroy and Joseph Tobin and it seems most Bishops and most “Catholic” college leaders and faculty) are co-disbelievers: they believe that practicing sodomy and fornication is not a mortal sin; they believe that it is no big deal that McCarrick attacked the priesthood at its source by preying on seminarians; they are merely frustrated that McCarrick got caught preying on altar boys; they believe that they are within their special rights “as leaders” to lie and deceive fellow bishops and law enforcement; they “order” their own priests to be silent to prevent the truth from surfacing.

    They are a post-Catholic cult. They neither believe nor practice following the commands of Jesus the crucified and risen.

    The Pope of SILENCE is their protector.

  4. After Virtue Alasdair MacIntyre cites normalization of moral taboo in shifting from precepts to sentiment. Homosexuality is that previous taboo now normalized worldwide based not on reasoned precept but sentiment. Of all the common transgressions that behavior is inherently evil due to its digression from human nature as ordained by God. And as understood rationally as natural predilection for the opposite sex. That trend of cultural digression and progressive thought is the underlying bane now afflicting all moral doctrine of the Catholic Church. As it did Protestantism. That greatest danger posed to the faith is noted by Ms Libresco quoting Austen Ivereigh as McCarrick’s sin simply a transgression between consenting adults not criminal not deserving of sanction. Therefore as alleged the Cardinal following relations with young men felt assured of God’s forgiveness hearing their confessions before offering Mass with them all receiving the Sacred Host. That is precisely the error held by the Vatican by all indication inclusive of the Pontiff exacerbated by his silence. Archbishop Viganò and other prelates called this confession and Eucharist event sacrilege. They include sexual relations between clergy of itself sacrilege. The distance in perspective apparently of the Pontiff and more succinctly that of Fr James Martin SJ Cardinal Kevin Farrell et al is eons away from the practice of Virtue.

  5. I wish to add this excerpt from an article by Benjamin Wiker better stating than I reason why he believes the present crisis is the worst ever. “The current systematic embrace of sexual disorder among the bishops and cardinals—even those in the Vatican itself—creates theological disorder. Sexual scandal leading up to the Reformation was sordid enough, but it did not then result in attendant theological malformation. But things are different now because all too many in the hierarchy desire a fundamental change in the Church’s doctrines on sexuality. Grace builds on nature, the supernatural on the natural. If those in charge of guarding doctrine embrace sexual disorder, theological disorder must be bent to fit. Sexual libertinism needs theological liberalism as its theological complement” (Benjamin Wiker in Nat Cath Reg).

  6. There are many prophecies from Our Lady of La Salette, France in 1846 that have warned of and predicted this sexual abuse crisis that we are now in. An example: “Priests, my Son’s ministers, priests, by their evil life, by their irreverence’s and their impiety in celebrating the holy mysteries, love of money, love of honor and pleasures, priests have become sewers of impurity. Yes, priests call forth vengeance, and vengeance is suspended over their heads. Woe to priests, and to persons consecrated to God, who by their infidelities and their evil life are crucifying my son anew! The sins of persons consecrated to God cry to heaven and call for vengeance, and now here is vengeance at their very doors, for no longer is anyone found to beg mercy and pardon for the people; there are no more generous souls, there is now no one worthy of offering the spotless Victim to the Eternal on the world’s behalf.”
    “The chiefs, the leaders of the people of God have neglected prayer and penance, and the devil has bedimmed their intelligence. They have become wandering stars which the old devil will drag along with his tail to make them perish. God will allow the old serpent to cause divisions among those who reign, in every society and in every family. Physical and moral agonies will be suffered. God will abandon mankind to itself and will send punishments which will follow one after the other for more than thirty-five years. “
    Also, Our Lady of Good Success in the early 1600s, at Quito, Ecuador predicted many crises for the latter part of the 20th century and to the present. Pope John Paul II experienced visions of the future while he was convalescing in 1981. He saw, “Precisely at the end of the second millennium, there accumulates on the horizon of all mankind enormously threatening clouds, and darkness falls upon mankind.” The book and web site, “After The Warning To 2038” contains many more Catholic prophecies of future events that are going to unfold soon.

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