Powerful Bishop’s Letter on McCarrick Situation: Calls It “Grave Sin”

Powerful Bishop’s Letter on McCarrick Situation: Calls It “Grave Sin” July 30, 2018
Coat of Arms of bishop Edward Bernard Scharfenberger, Bishop of Albany (SajoR CC BY-SA 2.5)
Coat of Arms of Bishop Edward Bernard Scharfenberger, Bishop of Albany (SajoR CC BY-SA 2.5)

On Sunday Morning, Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger sent a letter to clergy and lay leaders in his diocese of Albany. It deals with the latest sexual scandal in the Church involving McCarrick, although it never mentions McCarrick by name. Some paragraphs are worth quoting and commenting on.

He begins by placing the whole letter in the context of the sinful acts of Theodore McCarrick and others.

Like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, many of our faithful are now feeling betrayed and abandoned by their spiritual fathers, especially the bishops. Perhaps you share this feeling, too. No doubt you have been and will be hearing from your people about how shaken and discouraged they are over public revelations of despicable behavior on the part of a very popular and charismatic Cardinal with priests and seminarians in his care. One holy and faithful Catholic gentleman – a medical professional and a dear friend – texted me just this morning about his family’s utter despondency over this and that the USCCB should disband itself: “[t]heir credibility is shot, probably for decades.”

Sinful Behavior

He then goes on to clearly indicate Church teaching on the matter. Non-marital sexual activity is “grave sin.” Furthermore, he indicates in no uncertain terms the greater sins when sex is predatory or an abuse of power as McCarrick seems to have done.

In negative terms, and as clearly and directly as I can repeat our Church teaching, it is a grave sin to be “sexually active” outside of a real marriage covenant. A cardinal is not excused from what a layperson or another member of the clergy is not. A member of the clergy who pledges to live a celibate life must remain as chaste in his relationship with all whom he serves as spouses within a marriage. This is what our faith teaches and what we are held to in practice. There is no “third way.”

“Sexual activity” includes grooming and seduction – the kind of experience that one of our brothers tells of in a recent interview in America magazine that you may have seen. The psychological and spiritual destructiveness of such predatory behavior, really incestuous by a man who is held up as a spiritual father to a son in his care – even if not a minor – cannot be minimized or rationalized in any way. On that, it seems to me, we are experiencing an unusual unity amidst the many political and ecclesial tensions in our communities.

Abuse of authority – in this case, with strong sexual overtones – with vulnerable persons is hardly less reprehensible than the sexual abuse of minors.

The Church’s Response

He ends on a positive note, showing what he sees in the Church and what he hopes for going forward. He notes how the vast majority of us priests are striving for holiness.

It is my belief that the vast majority of clergy – priests, deacons and bishops alike – live or, at least, are striving to live holy and admirable lifestyles. I am ashamed of those of my brothers, such as the Cardinal, who do not and have not. As your Bishop, you can be sure of my support for you and all the faithful during this very difficult time.

Then he points with gratitude to victims summoning the strength to come forward.

We should be grateful for all of those who have come forward to expose these patterns of sin in the lives of some – as well the institutional sins of denial and suppression of those brave witnesses whose warnings went unheard or unheeded, so that some of the harm might have been prevented.

He concludes with some words pointing to change. He wants changes in policies and procedures but realizes that is not enough. We need to resolve the Spiritual crisis.

Let me be clear, however, in stating my firm conviction that this is, at heart, much more than a crisis of policies and procedures. We can – and I am confident that we will – strengthen the rules and regulations and sanctions against any trying to fly under the radar or to “get away with” such evil and destructive behaviors. But, at its heart, this is much more than a challenge of law enforcement; it is a profoundly spiritual crisis.

You can read the rest on the Diocese of Albany’s website.


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