The fate of McCarrick – a new impulse in the fight against abuse?

“On 11 January 2019, the Congresso of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, at the conclusion of a penal process, issued a decree finding Theodore Edgar McCarrick, archbishop emeritus of Washington, D.C., guilty of the following delicts while a cleric: solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession, and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power. The Congresso imposed on him the penalty of dismissal from the clerical state. On 13 February 2019, the Ordinary Session (Feria IV) of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith considered the recourse he presented against this decision. Having examined the arguments in the recourse, the Ordinary Session confirmed the decree of the Congresso. This decision was notified to Theodore McCarrick on 15 February 2019. The Holy Father has recognized the definitive nature of this decision made in accord with law, rendering it a res iudicata (i.e., admitting of no further recourse).”

_CNS-NY-TIMES-MCCARRICK-SEMINARIANS.jpgA fairly brief note, the first from the Holy See press office today, but one with serious ramifications. The Church’s progress in the fight against sexual abuse, especially in the last few weeks leading up to the bishops’ meeting about that topic in Rome, has been heavily criticised. While progress definitely exists, many say it’s not going fast  enough or isn’t being done thoroughly enough, and that past mistakes and ill judgements continue being made today. This decision from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, however, should serve as a reminder and an impulse that no abuser can hide behind the comforts of his or her office.

Mr. McCarrick has been what is usually called ‘laicised’, which is not really the right term, as many have pointed out that it seems to mean that being a lay person is somehow a step below being a cleric. As the above publication states, McCarrick has been ‘dismissed from the clerical state’. He remains a priest, as all sacraments are eternal and cannot be revoked, but he no longer has any rights or duties associated with that state. He can not present himself as a priest or bishop, which includes dressing like one, can’t celebrate any sacraments (apart from Baptism, which anyone can confer in an emergency) and can exercise no rights regarding support from any parish, diocese or religious movement, beyond those extended to any random passer-by.

The statement also indicates exactly what McCarrick has been found guilty of: solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession, ie. improper advances or conduct during a person’s confession; sins against the Sixth Commandment, “You shall not commit adultery”, which relates to proper sexuality regarding one’s own body and the relationships with others; all this made worse by the power McCarrick held as priest, bishop, archbishop and cardinal. In the vast majority of cases, situations of sexual abuse are in the basis abuses of power.

For decades, McCarrick was one of the most powerful men in the Catholic Church in the United States and, once he had been made a cardinal 2001, in the world church. This long protected him from accusations and investigations. Now that a verdict has been reached after a due process, the question remains: who knew about the misdeeds of McCarrick, and who kept quiet when he should have spoken up? The list of those rumoured to have known at least something includes some high-level names, including that of McCarrick’s successor in Washington, Cardinal Wuerl, and that of the new Chamberlain of the Church, Cardinal Farrell…

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Papal soundbytes: Lebanon

“Is it not true that in a very short time the Lebanon will become productive ground, so productive you might take it for a forest?” (Isaiah 29:17)

With his return yesterday from a successful three-day visit to Lebanon, Pope Benedict XVI concluded what may, beforehand, have seemed like a very risky trip indeed. The ongoing protests (staged or otherwise) in Muslim countries, including some in Lebanon itself, formed a disturbing backdrop, and at times I caught myself wondering if the papal visit would end without incident. Luckily, and thank God for it, it did.

In contrast to the heated emotions and violent outburst in other parts of the Middle East, the Holy Father brought a message of peace, respect and encouragement, not just to the Catholic and other Christians in Lebanon, but to people of faith in the entire Middle East and the whole world.

Below I share some interesting passages from the various addresses and homilies given by the pope. You may read the full texts, which often include further expositions on what I have quoted, here.

On not cancelling the visit, and the reason to go ahead:

“I can tell you that no one advised me to cancel this journey, and for my part I never considered doing so, because I know that as the situation becomes more complex, it is all the more necessary to offer this sign of fraternal encouragement and solidarity. That is the aim of my visit: to issue an invitation to dialogue, to peace and against violence, to go forward together to find solutions to the problems.” [Interview during the flight to Lebanon, 14 September]

On fundamentalism:

“Fundamentalism is always a falsification of religion. It goes against the essence of religion, which seeks to reconcile and to create God’s peace throughout the world… [T]he essential message of religion must be against violence – which is a falsification of it, like fundamentalism – and it must be the education, illumination and purification of consciences so as to make them capable of dialogue, reconciliation and peace.” [Idem]

On the Exaltation of the Cross:

“Are not Christian communion and witness grounded in the Paschal Mystery, in the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Christ? Is it not there that they find their fulfilment? There is an inseparable bond between the cross and the resurrection which Christians must never forget. Without this bond, to exalt the cross would mean to justify suffering and death, seeing them merely as our inevitable fate. For Christians, to exalt the cross means to be united to the totality of God’s unconditional love for mankind. It means making an act of faith! To exalt the cross, against the backdrop of the resurrection, means to desire to experience and to show the totality of this love. It means making an act of love! To exalt the cross means to be a committed herald of fraternal and ecclesial communion, the source of authentic Christian witness. It means making an act of hope!” [Address at the signing of the Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente, 14 September]

On peace through human dignity:

“Our human dignity is inseparable from the sacredness of life as the gift of the Creator. In God’s plan, each person is unique and irreplaceable. A person comes into this world in a family, which is the first locus of humanization, and above all the first school of peace. To build peace, we need to look to the family, supporting it and facilitating its task, and in this way promoting an overall culture of life. The effectiveness of our commitment to peace depends on our understanding of human life. If we want peace, let us defend life! This approach leads us to reject not only war and terrorism, but every assault on innocent human life, on men and women as creatures willed by God. Wherever the truth of human nature is ignored or denied, it becomes impossible to respect that grammar which is the natural law inscribed in the human heart (cf. Message for the 2007 World Day of Peace, 3). The grandeur and the raison d’être of each person are found in God alone. The unconditional acknowledgement of the dignity of every human being, of each one of us, and of the sacredness of human life, is linked to the responsibility which we all have before God. We must combine our efforts, then, to develop a sound vision of man, respectful of the unity and integrity of the human person. Without this, it is impossible to build true peace.” [Address to members of government, diplomats, religious leaders and cultural representatives, 15 September]

The workings of evil:

“We need to be very conscious that evil is not some nameless, impersonal and deterministic force at work in the world. Evil, the devil, works in and through human freedom, through the use of our freedom. It seeks an ally in man. Evil needs man in order to act. Having broken the first commandment, love of God, it then goes on to distort the second, love of neighbour. Love of neighbour disappears, yielding to falsehood, envy, hatred and death.” [Idem]

Freedom of religion:

“The freedom to profess and practise one’s religion without danger to life and liberty must be possible to everyone. The loss or attenuation of this freedom deprives the person of his or her sacred right to a spiritually integrated life. What nowadays passes for tolerance does not eliminate cases of discrimination, and at times it even reinforces them. Without openness to transcendence, which makes it possible to find answers to their deepest questions about the meaning of life and morally upright conduct, men and women become incapable of acting justly and working for peace. Religious freedom has a social and political dimension which is indispensable for peace!” [Idem]

The challenges of youth

“The frustrations of the present moment must not lead you to take refuge in parallel worlds like those, for example, of the various narcotics or the bleak world of pornography. As for social networks, they are interesting but they can quite easily lead to addiction and confusion between the real and the virtual. Look for relationships of genuine, uplifting friendship. Find ways to give meaning and depth to your lives; fight superficiality and mindless consumption! You face another temptation, too: that of money, the tyrannical idol which blinds to the point of stifling the person at the heart. The examples being held up all around you are not always the best. Many people have forgotten Christ’s warning that one cannot serve both God and mammon (cf. Lk 16:13). Seek out good teachers, spiritual masters, who will be able to guide you along the path to maturity, leaving behind all that is illusory, garish and deceptive.” [Address to young people, 15 September]

On Syria:

“I understand, too, that present among us there are some young people from Syria. I want to say how much I admire your courage. Tell your families and friends back home that the Pope has not forgotten you. Tell those around you that the Pope is saddened by your sufferings and your griefs. He does not forget Syria in his prayers and concerns, he does not forget those in the Middle East who are suffering. It is time for Muslims and Christians to come together so as to put an end to violence and war.” [Idem]

In closing, here is the rendition of Panis Angelicus that was sung during the public Mass in Beirut:

All photos: CNS photo/Paul Haring

Morning reflection: Do unto others

“Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and there will be gifts for you: a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap; because the standard you use will be the standard used for you.”

Luke 6:36-38

A classic text, this one from today’s Mass, often cited under the “do unto others” banner. It’s closely linked to what the scribe told Jesus in the Gospel of Mark: “To love [God] with all your heart, with all your understanding and strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself, this is far more important than any burnt offering or sacrifice” (12:33). In the following verse Jesus confirmed this.

The love of God and the neighbour is therefore closely connected, not least because we see the face of the Lord in the people around us, especially the poor, the sick and the needy. What we do for others, we therefore essentially do for God. Jesus further expounds on this when He speaks of the return of the Son of God in glory, in Matthew 25:31-46, saying “In truth I tell you, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.” (v. 40).

The service to others is then very important to God and also to ourselves. It can in fact safely be considered the very basis of our Christian life in the context of the the ultimate return of Christ.

As for the passage from Luke itself: does Christ forbid us to judge and condemn? No, but we must remember that we too will be judged and, possibly, condemned for our misdeeds. That must always be in the back of our minds, when we judge something that someone did or did not do (we have no business judging or condemning the person anyway). The passage is also an invitation to forgive. While we may condemn an action or inaction, we should also forgive people for what they did wrong and give them a chance to do better.

“The standard you use will be the standard used for you”: having a standard to measure the world and the people around us is not a bad thing, as long as we also use it on ourselves. We are not above others, and equally prone to do wrong and make mistakes. We too want to the opportunity to overcome our failings. We should give others that opportunity too.

Art credit: “The greatest commandment”, from an unknown illustrator of a children’s Bible

National Heritage Day at the cathedral

The nave of the cathedral as seen from the choir loft

Yesterday the monumental and historical buildings in the city of Groningen were open to the public, since it was National Heritage Day (although other places organise that today). Among those buildings was the cathedral of St. Joseph. I was involved in the activities as a tour guide: I conducted three 45-minute tours which were pretty well received. Not too bad for a first-timer.

The above photo does not do the attendance justice: all in we welcomed some 380 visitors which, considering that the promotional material for the Heritage Day failed to include our cathedral and its opening times, is not bad at all…

I especially enjoyed the questions and comments from non-Catholics, some of whom were surprised how close the Catholic faith is to their own Protestant Christianity. I think the ubiquitous Biblical reference sprinkled throughout the cathedral may have contributed to that: the nave, for example, features the Ten Commandments, the Creed and the Beatitudes on the walls and pillars, not to mention the Stations of the Cross and depictions from the life of Saint Joseph and the Holy Family.

The opportunity for people who were interested to go on up to the choir loft, where our titular organist Sjoerd Ruisch was playing, was also very popular. Mr. Ruisch enjoyed himself as well, having the chance to explain all about the intricacies of the century-old Maarschalkweerd organ.

Stained glass windows above the organ on the choir loft

The tour I had come up with (essentially on the day before…) was not just a tour of the building, but also a very basic introduction to the Catholic faith. That was not by accident: the appearance and history of a Catholic church is – or should be – dictated by the fact that Jesus Christ is physically present. So I didn’t just discuss architecture and local history, but also various sacraments, the Blessed Virgin and the saints, the practice of receiving Communion and much more like that.

Ascension Day

Tomorrow is Ascension Day, and since it doesn’t look like I’ll have much of a chance to be online (rather like today, then), here is a text I wrote for the website of the St. Augustine parish for students in Groningen:

The Ascension of Christ, by Salvador Dali (1958)

This Thursday we celebrate the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Catholic Church that day counts as a Sunday. Because just like every Sunday this is a feast day which we specifically celebrate. And of course such a Sunday is more than just a day off. The Church asks us to keep the Sunday holy because of the importance of what we celebrate. That is taken directly from the Ten Commandments. How do we keep that day holy? By showing that we know what we celebrate and that we thank God for it. And we best recognise, celebrate and thank when we attend the sacrifice of Christ in the Mass. That is why there is a Sunday obligation for Ascension Day. We are expected to attend Mass that day. Not because the church has to be full, but because it is important for us, as members of the Body of Christ. Becoming aware of God’s acts is a first step towards the sanctification of our own lives.

There will not be a student Mass on Thursday. Instead you can go to the High Mass at the cathedral at 11:00. If you want to go before that, the doors of the St. Francis church, at the Zaagmuldersweg 67, are open for Mass at 9:30.

The Ascension of Christ is the conclusion of His work here on earth. Not that everything was now done and eternity was ready to begin; far from it. Things were really only starting for the Apostles. Just before ascending into heaven, Christ told them: “You will receive the power of the Holy Spirit which will come on you, and then you will be my witnesses not only in Jerusalem but throughout Judaea and Samaria, and indeed to earth’s remotest end” (Acts 1: 8). And that is exactly what happened at Pentecost, which we celebrate in almost two weeks. The Holy Spirit came over the Apostles and they become that strong witnesses of the faith who we find in the Acts of the Apostles.

The Ascension is therefore a new beginning. After the new Covenant had been established at the Ressurrection, it can now be put into practice. Jesus promises is that He will send us a helper: The Holy Spirit. We received Him ourselves at our personal Pentecost: the sacrament of Confirmation, and we can always ask the Holy Spirit to come over us anew, to guide and inspire us.

That is what the Ascension already indicates. But until Pentecost we stare up at the empty sky, with hope and faith in the promise made by two angels to the Apostles. And what a promise!

“Why are you Galileans standing here looking into the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will come back in the same way as you have seen him go to heaven” (Acts 1: 11).