There is a permanent lump in my throat as I read the news about our Church, about who knew what, and who decided nothing should be done.
I read the news, and I don’t know what to do. I can’t see my way to withholding our paltry weekly contribution to the parishes we attend. Our money helps support the diocese, and also the soup kitchen, and the little parish school with paper flowers in the windows. Heating fuel in the winter, some modest vestments for Father. The AIDS outreach ministry. The salaries of kind, hardworking christians. And the diocese. I work for the diocese myself. Is our diocese rotten too? I have no idea. I’m told it’s naive to believe anyone and anything isn’t rotten in the Church anymore.
Last Sunday, I watched my son carry the heavy, brass cross up the center aisle. He loves being an altar boy, is downcast on the weeks when he’s not called to serve. I’d been allowing myself to daydream of the moment when he might tell me he wants to be a priest. And now I must also think of the moment I’ll tell him how to protect himself in seminary, how to ward off attack from the depraved, how to keep himself innocent as he learns how to bring Christ into the world.
I don’t know what to do. Write to the bishop, I suppose. Demand more oversight by laypeople. Demand that they stop lobbying against extensions of the statute of limitations. Demand more transparency. I will do some penance. I will pray. I will listen to people who rage against the Church, and I will offer no defense, because all of it is true.
The answer I keep coming to: Jesus already knew. He carried the sin of Cardinal McCarrick in his butchered heart. He groaned the groan of a tortured seminarian as His back was laid open. His scalp split with the pressure of the thorny mass of lies, evasions, excuses, and accommodations as the decades passed and everybody knew, everybody knew what went on, everybody knew about Uncle Ted. And Christ knew about Uncle Ted. And He wept, and bled, and died, knowing.
You think you want to run away from the Church. You think you will find a place where there is not so much hypocrisy, so much entrenched evil, a place that isn’t built from layer upon layer of guilt and shame and depravity. You may find such a place, I don’t know. But you will not find in it a God who weeps and bleeds and dies, who has taken sin into His bosom, swallowed it whole, let it burn in His belly until it finally burns out. You will only find this God in the Holy Roman Rotten Catholic Church, where the depraved teach young men how to confect God.
It is a rotten church. But it is not rotten to the heart, because Jesus is the heart. There is more bloodshed there than I expected to see. But Jesus is there. He knew about Uncle Ted, and He knew about everything else we’re about to find out. That is why He came. Remember this, whatever else we do.
Image: Jesus with Crown of Thorns by Follower of Aelbrecht Bouts [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
52 thoughts on “Jesus knew about Uncle Ted”
Actually, it doesn’t have to be like this.
What do you say about the grand jury finding in Philadelphia–McCarrick is nothing compared to this.
I find it interesting that you look forward to the day your son tells you he wants to be a priest. All vocations are equally holy, you do know that don’t you?
I was so deeply touched by your words, Simcha. You wrote what I feel.
I am horrified that anyone, representing the Church and knowing Jesus, can purposefully hurt anyone and worse, endanger their souls in the name of my Catholic Church.
I am nobody’s mother, sadly. But I volunteer in the rectory office of a neighboring parish. Two seminarians spent their summer at the parish, assisting the pastor and doing handyman work around the grounds. One is two years from ordination, and the other, 18 years old, will be entering the seminary in a couple of weeks. They are both nice-looking young men with attractive, joyful personalities. And now I am frightened for them, because they are handsome and friendly and full of Jesus.
Like you, my husband and I will not withhold what little we can give to the Church monetarily. We love Jesus, the Catholic Church, and our parish, which does the dirty work of the Church.
But this is *not* the fault of the laity. What we suffered 15-20 years ago should have made such an impression on the hierarchy that it *never* should have happened again. But it has, with their knowledge, and worse, they rewarded this evil, deviant behavior by giving the perpetrator more power and authority. And probably others, who are so deeply entrenched in the system that they feel safe from being found out.
You are right, and your words brought it home. These horrid, wicked actions – the devil’s own work – not only tortured the victims, but it tortured the Church, its faithful, and worst of all, Jesus Himself, who has already suffered so much for us.
No more excuses. No more delays. No more distractions. This must end. Now. Our Catholic brothers and sisters are in mortal spiritual and physical danger, and the time to act is now.
I don’t exempt the laity from responsibility here. Apparently, this was a well-known or hinted at reality. Why did no one openly confront him? Because we have few priests? Because he is well-known? Because he toes a line some Catholics like? Why in the world would the seminary keep sending people to travel with him when there weren’t separate rooms?
To the best of my knowledge, Andrea, this was unknown to the Catholic laity. I most certainly never heard of bit of this until the last month. However, it has been proven that certain members of the hierarchy were fully aware of Archbishop’s McCarrick’s track record around seminarians. Over the last couple of decades, they were regularly written complaints from clergymen on the subject of his deviant behavior with children, seminarians, and priests. In spite of all this, the hierarchy saw fit to look the other way, and in fact, to reward him with more prestige, power, and responsibility. This was *not* the fault of the laity at all, as I see it. But no matter whose fault it is, it must stop now. God bless you and all here.
It was known. Rod Dreher knew it. The families of those he attacked may have known it. I’m sure lay people wondered why he was traveling with seminarians and staying in one room. It’s not that lay people didn’t think something was up and the bad hierarchy covered it up. We are all at fault.
Perhaps Rod Dreher knew, and those who read his columns. But this is *not* the fault of the laity. It was not we who knowingly put Archbishop McCarrick in contact with vulnerable children, seminarians, and priests. And those who did make their fears known were not listened to by the hierarchy. No, this is not the fault of the laity. It lies squarely on the shoulders of those who condoned, sheltered, and rewarded Cardinal McCarrick with more authority and power. I am not aware that any of us in the laity had any means of stopping Cardinal McCarrick, outside of prayer, since those who knew were not heeded by those who could have stopped and punished his unspeakable crimes. Respectfully, exactly how could we in the laity have done anything about this, beyond those who did know informing the appropriate authorities?
What the laity could do:
1. Start talking.
2. Talk to the police.
3. Write a letter to McCarrick and the Vatican.
4. Talk to a reporter.
5. Question the odd stuff–why was he traveling with seminarians? Why not a retired priest or by himself? Why did he only have one room? Why are people acting deferentially to him when this thing seems really odd?
He had nicknames that insinuated things. This seemed to be an open secret.
I will push back on the idea that the hierarchy has all the power and the laity have none. We outnumber the hierarchy. We can wield the power of shaming, withdrawing money, openly questioning things. We often don’t and I have to ask our complicity in not doing these things more frequently. I think it has to do with the lack of priests and a deference to people “in power.”
Is McCarrick’s sin the abuse of power, or not living up to his vows of chastity? Do we speak up in our own parishes when priests wield power abusively in other ways like the way they treat the laity or how they use parish funds? I’ve seen plenty that is overlooked by the laity because there are so few priests. It’s a systemic issue and we can’t exempt the laity from that system or pretend that only one part of the Body of Christ is sick.
Your words are as beautiful as they are heartbreaking. Truly it is only the crucified God, so thoroughly one with our broken humanity, who can bear the weight of this cross. It is only in the shadow of the cross that we can find perceive, much less find redemption. It is for Theodore, and for us that he came. And it is the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church which bears this crucified and risen Christ to us in word and sacrament so that we may take hold of it and live.
But this Christ, this cross, and this church is not wholly synonymous with the Roman Catholic Church. It is not a choice between the gospel of the Crucified One and a structure that enables and conceals sexual abuse. It is not a choice between living a cruciform life and a system that suppresses healthy human sexuality. The God you describe so powerfully — the one who has taken our fragile human flesh and bled to take away the sin of the world and which you have experienced in the Roman Catholic Church — also exists in other communions where the gospel is preached and the sacraments are rightly administered. It need not be an either-or.
“How to keep himself innocent . . .”
How dare you suggest that a seminarian who is sexually assaulted is other than “innocent”? All victims are innocent. Your attitude is part of the problem.
Since my entire essay shows a deep horror and anger at predators, mightn’t you consider that you’re misunderstanding that phrase?
I am aware of your message, and I appreciate it.
But, as a writer and an ethicist, you need to do better.
I think it’s clear to honest readers that I do not say or imply that victims of predation are at fault in any way. You will only misunderstand if you willfully take my words out of context.
Let me be clear: I did not misunderstand. I reacted to the archaic subtext that victims of sexual assault are somehow complicit in that assault.
The entire civilized world shares your horror at sexual predation in the Church; your moral outrage is not exceptional enough to mask your suggestion that victims lose their virtue when they are raped.
Words are powerful. Use them carefully.
What is one to do. I come from LA and was a daily Mass Goer when the sex abuse scandal broke. To be perfectly clear the Cardinal totally mishandled his stewardship. At the time because of our understanding of forgiveness and respect for the clergy I kept my mouth shut. Now my words are not gentle or filled with compassion What the Hell didn’t we learn anything. #MeToo. There are implications with the Bishops that someone is lying even to Pope Francis Yikes I expect more from our Bishops.
So you think that is the worst sin of all time (the Cardinal’s)? Ask St Paul and he will tell you which one is it. You know nothing about original sin and its effects on every human person (including you and your son) pray for God’s grace that he will be spare from commiting a sin like that or even greater, if he is spared from that be sure it will not be because he is not capable of committing it, but because of God’s grace. Dont be so quick to comdenmed when you are in the side of the saint, because weeds can become wheat and wheat weeds. I pray that your son one day becomes a priest (if its God’s will) and he will not be a better priest just because he has no sin on him, but because he will be not only capable of forgiving sins like the Cardinal’s and still have a heart to show love and compassion to that poor soul.
The word “innocent” has two meanings in colloquial usage. One is “not guilty of doing wrong”. The other is “untouched”. When you refer to a child’s loss of innocence when he, for example, experiences his parents’ divorce, or learns that adults can do terrible things, you do not mean that he is guilty of anything, but that he has been drawn into the world of adult reality. Perhaps this somewhat equivocal usage ought to be abolished, and perhaps you ought to make a point of saying so, but that is different from the posturing outrage you model here, which I find distracting and overdone.
I’m bowing out of this exchange — I dare not call it a conversation — as I have belatedly realized that the other participants don’t share my nondualistic worldview. I apologize for my assumptions. Godspeed to you all.
I at any rate am not a dualist. Nor do I see signs of dualism in the other writers here. Perhaps, as with “innocence”, you are using the word in a very arcane, or very literal, sense?
Don’t we talk about abused kids as “losing their innocence”? It has nothing to do with blame or culpability. It’s a lack of acquaintance with evil.
“How to keep himself innocent . . .”
How dare you suggest that a seminarian who is sexually assaulted is other than “innocent”? All victims are innocent. Your attitude is part of the problem.
I did not read this the same way you have. Simcha is saddened that she must warn her boy, should he want to become a seminarian, *before* he becomes a victim, to keep his innocence in the sense of chastity. She is not at all implying that all victims are not innocent.
Lee, if your misreading of my words is due to some personal experience, please forgive my brusque tone with you. If, however, this is just another game of literalist gotcha with a word which has several shades of meaning, I’m not interested in playing. I do use my words carefully. I have a long, public history of defending victims of sexual assault against the accusation that they are complicit in or devalued by their assault.
Those of us who are mothers understand your meaning of the word innocent. There are statistics (and I don’t know if they are true or not) that half of kids have seen porn by the age of 9 in this age of the internet. The conversations I need to have with my children to keep them safe are not ones that children should have.
I went back and reread, because I thought perhaps I had missed the “archaic subtext.” No, the context is not that a young man would lose his “innocence” if he were targeted by an abuser; the phrases about protecting himself, and warding off attack, are about if he is a target. The phrase about losing his innocence, I think, is about the things he will see, and if he will be tempted to just keep his head down and look away, like so many, many, many priests and bishops saw fit to do.
Thanks for your essay. The first step is personal repentance – mine, yours, and all those involved. Sin in all its forms is ugly and destructive. We should not ignore it, cover it up, excuse it, or claim that those things that are evil are really good. The following article contains important details, good insights, and – as Simcha does in her essay – identifies the source of our hope even in the midst of sin and suffering.
I’ve been sitting with your post, trying to parse through my reaction— not wanting to comment for my own satisfaction, but only if it truly furthers conversation.
I don’t know that I’ll meet my own standard. But i am trying to. With that said: i am struggling with your commentary of the money and support you give, and all the good that comes from it. Isn’t that the justification always used? “Yes, this is terrible, but the greater good!”
Those children watched their community prioritize the greater good over their safety, their person. They will take that lesson into their lives, understanding exactly how little they as individuals are valued. Our children are watching us chose the same thing, now.
Fundamental change in institutions can only be achieved when those who truly love the institution drive it, damand it. It’s not a spectator sport, nothing can be achieved from those on the sidelines tsk tsking.
Jesus knew. How will you carry out His mission, now that you know, too?
Liz, I feel the same. I am frustrated that, other than writing to my archbishop, there is no real way to effect change in our Church. One of the most beautiful things about her, that she is global in scope and leadership, is helping to protect the rot. I cannot imagine being anything other than Roman Catholic, but I feel such despair at being a part of this right now. I feel responsible.
Two thoughts after reading this excellent piece:
1. The suffering and humiliation of Christ is so much baser than we like to think. It is not just the grief of mourning a beloved’s passing that we are invited into to share, but the filth of inspeakable sin–taken on and transformed by Jesus. It is profoundly ugly.
Every opportunity throughout our lives that we receive to ponder this mystery is an offer from heaven to enter a little lower into that deep, black pit that Jesus traveled all the way to the bottom. (“Has there ever been suffering like my suffering?”)
2. The Gospel is not about living neat and tidy lives that are the envy of outsiders (so as to make them long for God, or whatever). It is taking on this ugliness in our own bodies, and then waiting for the Resurrection that God alone can bring about and in whichever way He pleases.
Thanks for writing, Simcha.
We live here, we read his columns, we gave to the Cardinal’s appeal because of his appeal. I hate the line, “Everybody knew.” because everyone did not know. But everyone who did know, must now wrestle with the reality, they did nothing. It’s a hard thing and it’s also part of what caused Jesus to weep blood. I ache for the Church, and pray the former Cardinal uses this time to pray and become the true Prince of the Church God always wanted him to be. Good column as always.
One of the problems in the Catholic response is that Catholics don’t know enough of their own history. There have been many awful things done in the past, although it wasn’t broadcast as widely as we have the means to do so now. Our ancestors in faith weren’t naive; they knew there were bad priests, really bad priests and even popes. The parish priest might be living with his concubine and the parish supporting his illegitimate children. Homosexuality has always been a problem. Ever hear of the castrati? (Yes, I know it was for singing, but it seems like a perverse practice and probably caused some pretty serious psychological issues.) The Church as a human institution has always needed constant reform. Maybe, like Israel, Catholics had become too complacent. Maybe (like the 2016 election) we get the leaders who reflect our own apathy and complacency. We need to pray fervently that Christ raise up great reformers and inflame our hearts with zeal (and not just anger).
Beautifully said Simcha. Thanks for your beutally honest and poignant reflection of the tortured and suffering body of Christ.
I used to be an altar boy a long time ago.
I think we are seeing just the tip of a very big iceberg. It clearly infected the Church, but over the course of the last few weeks, while considering Mr. McCarrick and his predatory behavior, *so many* other stories that concern men that I have known,–straight men– stories that made me squeamish, –stories that I didn’t want to even consider, much less ponder–have risen to the surface. There is a pattern.
My belief is that there are so many men out there that have been abused, it would freak us out.
I don’t care if it involved a Frat house. I don’t care if it was “funny”, and it was supposedly straight guys fooling around in jest, I don’t care if it was an older, trusted friend that introduced an innocent to a world where sex is cheap. I don’t care if he says, “we were just kids”. I don’t care if in some countries they don’t identify as homosexual while they engage in perversity. The problem is a very old and entrenched one.
In this day and age of #metoo, the “manly men” out there that have been abused”all in good fun” need to step up and start telling their stories too. We have to stop looking the other way. They have to stop thinking that their maleness or manhood is in question if this has happened to him. Sometimes it is overt, sometimes the sexual harassment is more subtle–where one man pressures and belittles a subordinate because their job or vocation is on the line. We have to STOP saying that “boys will be boys” and stop giving perversity a little brush under the rug. It is a puritanical culture that helps this disease to continue to fester.
In my own home town, and I believe in the building that our Bishop Barron resides in (I hope to God he has exorcised that place). We had the disgraced Bishop Ziemann. Before he was ever on anybody’s radar, a young priest came to my father with a dental emergency. He was an emotionally wrecked man. He told my father a very lurid story about how he’d been cast out when he tried to expose what he had endured as the secretary of Bishop Ziemann. He was completely blackballed. He had no benefits and no health insurance. He and Ziemann had a homosexual relationship. The young priest was completely ostracized. All of this happened under the now disgraced Cardinal Mahoney. My father continued to care for that young man knowing that he had nothing, but he in no way had the ability to care for him psychologically, as the entire issue of homosexuals in the priesthood enraged my father no end. I know he was kind to that poor young man, but that wasn’t enough. He was an utterly destroyed human being and he took his life shortly thereafter. None of it came to light. It was all neatly brushed aside, and hardly caused a ripple. Our next Bishop (his name escapes me) was also deposed for covering up sex abuse.
I just Googled our old Bishop for the first time ever. This practically makes McCarrick look like a saint. **The level of complicity by Church hierarchy simply blows my mind.** After the young priest I wrote about took his life, Ziemann was appointed Bishop of Santa Rosa. Here is his long tale of astounding abuse:
You say,”Uncle Ted” and not “Father Ted.” It may seem like a nitpick but it’s a big distinction for me. Do you not think that the offenses of Father Ted are that much worse than Uncle Ted’s because he is doing this while deeply knowing and proclaiming the word of God?? While touching the body of Christ during Communion?
There are very few examples of Jesus getting angry in scripture, but in one of the most famous examples, He threw merchants out of the temple because they were using a holy place to turn a profit. This is so much worse! Is this not the time for righteous anger? You should be standing with these victims and yelling at the top of your lungs, “You will not use the house of God for this!” while running these men out of the church.
Yes, Jesus died knowing about this because there was no other way to ever atone for these horrendous acts. But if you are truly the hands and feet of Christ, then it’s time to do something.
Cardinal McCarrick’s nickname, among those who knew what he was up to, was “Uncle Ted.”
Fr. Martin knew, and it didn’t change his behavior toward McCarrick in the slightest; he still treated the man like a king. He heard the story from multiple sources, the truth of which he never questioned, but it never caused him to investigate or ask questions. The idea that if you don’t hear about something from the victims own mouth then you are off the hook when it comes to reporting it to the proper authorities or inquiring further is ludicrous.
” I had heard stories about Cardinal (then Bishop and Archbishop) McCarrick’s summer home, where he would invite (or suborn or force) seminarians to share a bed with him, massage them and invite them to call him “Uncle Ted.” But at the time they were unsubstantiated rumors, and I knew no one with any first-hand knowledge. (Otherwise, I would have reported them.)”
America magazine talks a good game about how even they need to be held accountable, but they won’t admit who knew and when, nor will they discuss why they never looked into this open secret and continued to honor McCarrick and treat him like royalty (he was their honored guest and homilist at their 100th year anniversary celebration). If there are no social repercussions, let alone legal consequences, when people learn that you are a serial sexual abuser, what motivation is there to stop?
So much for America magazine being all about reforming the church. Apparently, they only want to change doctrine, not dissuade serial sex abusers from continuing to abuse their office.
One wonders how many child sex abusers McCarrick created over the years by teaching men that you can molest those under your authority without consequences. My teenage son saw that I was reading an article on this topic, and asked questions. I had to have a conversation with him about the justified use of violence in self defense when this crap happens, and that putting a priest in the hospital can be a good thing, even if the man is a bishop. Sometimes a simple no will not do. When something like this happens, the response needs to be public enough (e.g., black eye and pain), that they will have to answer questions outside the confines where the event happened and will know not to try it again.
What a world we live in.
That America article was written by a different priest (from Albany), not Fr. Martin.
I wonder why the priest from Albany identified himself as James Martin, SJ, and used Fr. Martin’s photograph.
See the photo of McCarrick with one of his victims, “James.” They stand side by side in swimming trunks. McCarrick is practically smiling with glee. The poor young man is nearly crawling out of his skin. If I ever found out a priest, bishop, cardinal was molesting any of my sons, I’d kill that piece of garbage with my bare hands.
I think you are completely exaggerating that photo. The whole thing is awful, but that photo is not as you are describing.
I agree, but the truth is that many insiders also knew about Uncle Ted and nothing was done.
Thank you Simcha.
Thank you for the column because it says exactly what I feel & could not articulate. I remember 9/11 when I fled to Church because my rage/grief was so deep that I did not know what to do with it. My feelings are similar about this, so I will flee to my Church because, at the end, Jesus will overcome all. I can only pray that, in the ensuing days, we will be given the tools to deal with this so that it is not repeated. Because, beside the grief, rage and other things that are crossing my mind is the fact that Jesus said in Scripture, “those of you without sin, cast the first stone”.
This really spoke to me. Thank you, Simcha.
What do you mean that ONLY in the Catholic Church we will find God?
The Catholic Church is the One True Church, founded by Jesus. Only the True Church confers the sacraments. In the sacraments we find God. Read it again.
Thank you, Simcha, for bringing together the words we need.
Beautiful. Thank you.
Thank you, thank you, thank you. We are not our sins. And neither is the Church. We now feel the pain and abandonment in the Body of Christ. So well said.