The McCarrick Report And The Judgment Of The Church

The McCarrick Report And The Judgment Of The Church November 12, 2020

U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 1st Class Michael W. Pendergrass: Admiral William Fallon, Vice Chief of Naval Operations, greets McCarrick / Wikimedia Commons

The release of the McCarrick Report has revealed what has long been believed and understood:  sin and corruption not only affects the world at large, but it has likewise infected the earthly church, causing great scandal, but also great harm to many innocents within and outside the church.[1]  The church, even when it is called together by the grace of God, and through that grace, to bring God’s presence to the world, nonetheless has a dark side to it, a side which has been with it from its foundation and will be with it until the end of the world. Apologists who only present a triumphalistic vision of the church without recognizing the evil which also lies within not only confuse people with their misrepresentations of the church (albeit, based upon false understandings of what it means to say the church is holy), they allow the evil to fester, because those who listen to them will believe a lie and will ignore the evil within the church until it is too late.

The McCarrick Report shows that in the administration of the church, there are officials, like Cardinal McCarrick himself, who use the power and authority they had to abuse people within the church, with some having to deal with the terrible psychological harm those assaults have caused them with the rest of their life. It shows others have used the power and authority they have gained for further personal gain, and so they were willing to be bribed in order to turn away from the crimes happening within, and lie when asked about what they had heard. Some tried to warn authorities of what they knew or at least, of what they heard, suggesting investigations should be done, but then those who should have done such investigations, like Vigano, did not do them. Some wanted to believe the lies, and were poor administrators (this is likely the case with St. John Paul II – showing us that being a saint is not indicative of someone being a good administrator, indeed, can be and often are failures in regards administration, with some, like St. Symeon the New Theologian, finding themselves kicked out of positions of authority because of it). Poor administration is not just an excuse; it can be, and often is, treated as a criminal offense when an administrator should have investigated allegations of wrong-doing and did not do so properly – and it is possible to suggest this is the case with John Paul II (a saint can be criminally negligent and still a saint, indeed, they can be reckless and cruel, and still be a saint, because saintliness comes from grace).  We have also learned that many who knew what was going on, and did nothing, like Vigano, used their knowledge to attack the church once they lost power – this is exactly what Vigano has tried to do with his attacks on Pope Francis, while in reality it is he, John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI who helped elevate and keep McCarrick in office, while Francis, when he learned of the accusations, had them properly investigated and was the one who took away McCarrick’s power and authority.

For all the talk about the McCarrick Report, for all the horrors brought up in it, for all the crimes and poor administration within the church revealed in it, the McCarrick report is nonetheless anticlimactic. This is not because the report is unimportant: it is very important, and the evil witnessed in it must be made known and properly dealt with. It is anticlimactic because its contents have long been guessed and understood, and should have been revealed and declared a longtime ago. It reveals a dark truth about the interior administration of the church, but it does not reveal the whole of the truth, but only hints at the greater picture, the terrible state of the church’s administration as it existed before Pope Francis, and as it continues to exist under Francis (but who is trying, albeit slowly and with much push-back, to do something about it). The report it anticlimactic because it is a little too little, and a little too late. But we must make do with what we have been given and use it as a snapshot for the cancer within the administrative wing of the church, showing how and why judgment truly needs “to begin with the household of God” (1 Ptr. 4:17).

The church is far more than its administrative wing, far more than its bishops, its priests, and anyone else who have been given positions of power within the confines of the church. But the administration of the church is important, and when sin has infected it, the whole body of the church suffers. It should not be surprising that the confusion and harm of that sin will cause scandal, and many who are members of the church will want nothing to do with the administrative wing of the church and so separate themselves, at least for the time being, with the external manifestations of the church. Those of us who do not do so should be considerate and understanding, praying for them and trusting in the mercy of God, who understands why they do so, even as Augustine understood and expressed sympathy for those who felt pushed out by the clergy of his day:

Often, too, divine providence permits even good men to be driven from the congregation of Christ by the turbulent seditions of carnal men. When for the sake of the peace of the Church they patiently endure that insult or injury, and attempt no novelties in the way of heresy or schism, they will teach men how God is to be served with a true disposition and with great and sincere charity. The intention of such men is to return when the tumult has subsided. But if that is not permitted because the storm continues or because a fiercer one might be stirred up by their return, they hold fast to their purpose to look to the good even of those responsible for the tumults and commotions that drove them out. They form no separate conventicles of their own, but defend to the death and assist by their testimony the faith which they know is preached in the Catholic Church. These the Father who seeth in secret crowns secretly. It appears that this is a rare kind of Christian, but examples are not lacking. Indeed there are more than can be believed.[2]

The reality of the church, and the sin which happens within it, especially by those in power, must be understood, and fought against throughout time. This does not mean the church does not continue to be the church. God gives his graces in and through the church, and the corruption of officials within do not overcome God’s graces given in and through it (which is why Donatists and those like them were wrong). Jesus draws all to himself (cf. Jn. 12:32), and as they come to him, he will offer to them both his grace, and his judgment. That means, those drawn to him can still sin, and if they do, they will have to face the bitter judgment of Christ, indeed, the judgment of Christ is first going to come to those who have been drawn to him in the church so that he can sift through them, taking away the tares of sin. This means, however, that sinners will be drawn to the church, and many of them will find positions of power and authority inside the church: the holiness of the church relates to the grace given to it, as well as its eschatological purity, when the purificatory judgment has finished  (beyond time). Within time itself, that holiness will manifest itself, but only in part, just as the eschaton is “already and not yet” with us. The holiness of the church is not compromised, but it must also not be used equivocally to suggest that the historical institution is free from sin or scandal, or should be expected to be free from sin or scandal: if Jesus draws all to himself, he will draw sinners. The closer great sinners come to Jesus, the more the light will shine on them, and the more their sin will become manifest as it responds to the light of Christ: the light will shine in the darkness, and the darkness will fight back, and its demonic hold on people otherwise drawn to Christ will manifest itself in greater and greater forms of evil, until at last, it is either exorcised through judgment,  or the evil corrupts the person and entirely turns the person once drawn to Christ against him and cast aside with all that hold onto such evil (at least, for as long as they attach themselves to such sin).

Church history is filled with sinners causing problems, and even great saints showing themselves to be poor administrators. St. Peter needed St. Paul to keep him in check;  St. Peter, like many of the early Jewish believers, had a difficult time engaging and embracing the “Hellenists” within the church (cf. Acts 6:1-7).  The mistreatment of the “Hellenists” led to the creation of the diaconate, the first official administrative reform in the church, so that the deacons could and would work as servants, hoping to keep the church together and make sure no one was neglected by the Apostles and their successors. Nonetheless, though there was some success in that reform, it was not perfect, and even one of the first deacons, it seems, was connected to further problems within the church (as seen in the development and later condemnation of the Nicolatians in the Apocalypse). This shows us that reform is important, but every time there is reform, history will continue, and corruption will find a way even to use such reform for its own end. This is something which we should expect; once we come to expect it, we will not be surprised by it, we will not flee the church because of it, but rather, we will be that much more diligent, that much more concerned about corruption, and not seduced by any one reform, thinking the historical institution of the church is finally pure and can be free from corruption. The church must always be in the process of reform, and we must always be working for that reform, even as we, as members of the church, should likewise see the corruption of sin in ourselves, always working to overturn it. We should recognize how easy it is for us to fall again to the temptation and sin, and see how that is likewise true for the church us a whole.

The McCarrick report should be a wake-up call. The church has failed to meet its responsibilities, and in saying this, it is the whole church, and not just its administration, which has failed. For the laity have also been involved with the corruption of the church and the cover-ups which happened (such as can be seen in the way many apologists have tried to downplay the problems of the sexual abuse crisis). The church is rightfully being judged. The church must take responsibility for its failures and accept the judgment which is to come. This does not mean the church can be and should be dismissed. The church’s foundation is not on its people, those who have been called to Christ, but on Christ himself. Christ is the judge and he is likewise judging the church, and what happens to the church today will be a part of that judgment. The church suffered early on with the expulsion of Christians from Jerusalem, and that was in part, because of Christ’s judgment, making sure Christians did not just focus upon and show favoritism to the Jews; in the end, that judgment led to Christians to engage missions and allow the  church to embrace its proper role in the world as a place to bring people together and unify them under Christ. Today, when the church is judged, when members of its hierarchy, and even its laity, are judged and condemned for criminal activity, or criminal negligence, this is not the end of the church, but another part of the judgment which it needs, a judgment which will purify it (at least in part) so that it can once again return to its mission. We must not despair,  but rather, see this as a good, for then not only will the church be forced to deal with its internal problems, those who have been hurt from the church can find healing, the healing which they need, a healing which, in part, will come to them from secular authorities, but also from Christ, as the judgment of the church can be seen to be willed by Christ himself for the good of all.

The McCarrick report has been needed. We truly needed to learn how McCarrick rose in power and was able to continue to abuse innocents. But we need to remember, this is not just about McCarrick, but about the church and its failed administration. Now is the time for further reform. Let us hope Pope Francis continues and does what is necessary for the church to exorcise itself from the harm not only of McCarrick, but all those like him and all those who took advantage of the situation and used it for their own evil plots.

[1] See, for example, Balthasar’s Casta Meretrix.

[2] St. Augustine, “Of True Religion,” in Augustine: Earlier Writings. trans. John H.S. Burleigh (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1953), 231.


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