Today, we finally get to see the long-awaited McCarrick Report, a massive public document released by the Vatican describing the sins of former Cardinal McCarrick and the sins of those who covered up or ignored his abuse of men and boys in minute, nauseating detail. It’s going to take a long, long time to work through this report and its ramifications. Religious and secular news outlets from all sides of the political spectrum are reacting in shock.
The information contained in the report is, at one level, shocking, but at another it’s entirely predictable. Everyone right up to the Pope was warned about Cardinal McCarrick’s misconduct. Everyone chose to believe McCarrick himself, no matter what evidence was presented. No one did anything like their due diligence to investigate. Whistle-blowers were gaslit and ignored for years and years.
We’ve known for so long now that the cover-ups of child abuse in the Catholic Church go straight to the top. Anyone familiar with the Legionaries of Christ and Regnum Christi knows that John Paul the Second was complicit in cover-ups of child abuse. Now we know that the pontiff’s near-infatuation with the infamous Father Maciel was not a one-off thing. John Paul the Second had a habit of deciding he liked horrendously abusive clerics, and pampering them, and dismissing charges against them as gossip. He was told about McCarrick’s behavior, but decided to believe McCarrick’s insistence that he’d done nothing wrong and make him a cardinal anyway.
Of course, it’s not as simple as John Paul the Second presuming himself to be an excellent judge of character. The McCarrick Report points out that his youth in Poland, where the Soviet regime often tried to discredit clerics by making false accusations, might have made him more inclined to presume that allegations against priests were all propaganda. And I can understand how he got to that point. Living under two different totalitarian regimes, the Nazis and then the Soviets, must have been traumatic. It could make you believe that every negative allegation about your oppressed culture was propaganda.
But he was the Pope.
We call the Pope the “Holy Father.” He’s supposed to be our father. He’s supposed to be the father of the whole Church family, the grown-up, the one who knows what’s going on and the one who selflessly serves and protects the children. Fathers aren’t allowed to let their traumas cloud their judgement in how they deal with the children. That’s child abuse and there’s no excuse for it. Grown-ups are supposed to get over their hangups and be as rational as they can, for the family’s sake. They are morally remiss if they don’t. By all accounts, John Paul the Second wallowed in his hangups. He treated his hangups like the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Both with Maciel, then with McCarrick. Lord knows how many others there were.
The Holy Father wasn’t very holy, and he wasn’t a good father.
And everyone knew about McCarrick. Everyone was told. Pope Emeritus Benedict shares the blame because he didn’t do anything about this either. It’s notable that the infamous “Deep Church” crackpot Vigano didn’t do what he was supposed to do either. Not only was John Paul the Second a bad father, the Church was simply a bad mother.
I know, I know, we’re not supposed to say that. We’re supposed to say “Holy Mother Church” and think only good thoughts about her. But the fact is: many, many people have come to Holy Mother Church to be comforted and nourished by the Bread of Life, and she abused them. She re-traumatized them when they tried to speak out. She ignored their cries. She neglected her children while she was busy prostituting herself to powerful men. This wasn’t just a case of a bad priest, one bad apple in the barrel. This is a particularly horrendous priest who made his way to the top of the barrel aided and abetted by the whole hierarchy. There are countless other terrible priests who abused the innocent, and though they may not have made it as far as McCarrick, they received similar deferential treatment. This is a systemic evil that infects the whole Church. The Church abused her children, then re-abused then when they tried to seek justice, then recruited all the other children to silence the abusers so she could keep doing it. That is what happened.
There’s a phenomenon that often happens in abusive families, one I know very well. It occurs when a mother scapegoats certain children to abuse and lavishes extra care and attention on the others. And then the pampered children accuse the abused ones of lying about their mother, because they’ve only experienced kindness from her. They do this even when the other children are being abused right in front of them. They continue to do it even after the scapegoat children have grown up and run away. I see that very thing happening in the Catholic Church, over and over again. People who were victims of physical, emotional, spiritual and sexual abuse stand up and try to talk about it, and the Catholics who have been treated sweetly by the Church silence and gaslight them. They tell them to stop slandering Holy Mother Church, and they do every abusive thing they can to make them stop. The McCarrick Report simply details an especially famous case of this happening, but it happens all the time.
I’ve been publicly criticized for saying that it was wrong to rush through John Paul the Second’s canonization, and for saying his feast day ought to be struck from the calendar. But I’m saying it again. It’s grossly wrong and a slap in the face to everyone who has been abused. John Paul the Second was not a great or a good man. Admitting this would be another step towards healing the Church, though it’s not enough. The resignation of just about everybody in the hierarchy might be a nice gesture as well, though it’s not enough. I also hope people give a bit of credit where credit’s due to Pope Francis, who seems to be the first pope to want to deal with this matter with some transparency and honest, though it certainly took him an awfully long time.
None of that will fix this.
I don’t know what can fix this.
But I am certain that Christ does not stand with our abusive mother Church, but with us.
Christ could have come to earth as any type of human. He could have been a priest, I mean in the sense that He’d be recognized as one on earth, but He didn’t choose that. He voluntarily chose to become a working-class Man Who would be tortured to death by everyone He might have trusted to help and protect Him, including the high priests of His faith. He told us the Parable of the Stewards so that we would understand from the beginning that human beings placed in power would torture and abuse the other servants while the Master was away, and when He came back, He would punish those abusive stewards severely.
That’s not much comfort right now, but at least we already know where the Lord stands on the McCarrick Report and what He’s going to do about it on the Day of Wrath. In the meanwhile, here we are.
This is extremely bitter medicine to swallow, but I don’t see how we can ever work for justice if we’re not in reality about what happened.
Holy Mother Church is abusive, and she has to be reformed.
Image via Pixabay.
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross.
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