“He corrupted generations of seminarians and priests.”
These words, found in the midst of Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano’s first “Testimony” of August 2018, though perhaps only glanced by many and glossed over by others, caught my attention and have remained locked in my mind ever since.
Vigano was, of course, referring to the now-disgraced former cardinal Theodore McCarrick. He spoke these words to the Roman Pontiff, Francis, during a meeting between the two in 2013. Francis had asked what Vigano “thought of McCarrick”.
I’ve been thinking of these words a lot lately. As a writer I am at a loss. Words usually come flowing from my brain and onto the page as naturally as beautiful notes would pour forth from the mouth of Sarah Vaughan. When I have a hard time describing what I’m thinking or how I’m feeling then I find myself at a complete standstill. It is one of the reasons I have not posted much of late. Yet I find it incumbent upon myself to at least try to unlock this brain of mine for two reasons. The first is that so many of you have been such a blessed source of comfort and refuge as I have shared a story I did not think I would ever have the will to share. I appreciate that more than you know. Second, if I don’t clear the lines out then it will be hard to move forward. Be forewarned. This might come out all garbled but come out it must.
Prior to June if anyone had asked me my thoughts on McCarrick I would have shared fond memories of a man who was truly like a father to me. Every single story I have shared thus far about him had a different meaning to me. I would occasionally come across his picture in an old prayer book and smile and think about the man who preached in so eloquent a manner – gentle, unassuming, at home with Leona Helmsley and equally with Joe the Barber on Clifton Avenue in the North Ward of Newark. He loved us, so we thought, and we loved him because he knew us. He came to the parishes. He met with his flock. He invited young men to consider the priesthood when no one else ever did. He invited me to consider the priesthood and I had never given it a second thought before. Was he a little too wishy-washy on some areas where politics intersected with the Church? To be sure. But we took that as a man trying his best to navigate the difficult terrain of life as bishop to the nation’s capital.
Then came the morning of June 20, 2018.
I awoke that morning to a text from my sister.
“Did you hear about McCarrick?” she asked.
“No. Did he die?”
“Worse…” she replied. “I’m sick.”
In the following days, coming to learn the exact nature of who this man really was, I was sickened as well. This was no father. This was a monster. He corrupted generations of priests and seminarians. No words could describe him better.
In the months following the 9-11 attacks I would close my eyes at night as I fell asleep. Within moments I was awake again because the vivid image of the South Tower exploding in flame kept playing in my head.
Something similar has happened here. Every time I see a picture of McCarrick in a Facebook feed or an article about his crimes my stomach turns. I have to scroll past. Looking at his face, to me, is like looking into the heart of Satan. I think of the men who’s lives he destroyed and I think of how he very nearly destroyed mine but for the simple fact that I have a nicotine habit. I think of how every one of those stories I mentioned suddenly had different meaning to me. I think of how a man who was like a father was really a lying fraud. No father treats his children like that. My father treated us with love and kindness and he gave his life for us. This scumbag used everyone in his path for his own evil plans.
My wife remarked recently that everything I’d ever told her about him now sounds so ominous and sinister. That’s because it is.
I’ve remarked many times in this blog that interesting things happen to me; that sometimes the bizarre just unfolds in front of my eyes as if God wants me to chronicle the most unusual events in life because no one would believe they took place otherwise. How’s this for a laugh? Turns out I knew the most evil cardinal the Catholic Church elevated in 500 years and I didn’t even know it!
I take no delight in writing about him though. It hurts. It is painful watching what this man has done. The Church – the Body of Christ, and yes I still believe that with everything I’ve got – is fracturing and splintering before our eyes, the crumbling of Her walls hastened by the sledgehammer McCarrick and the generations of men he corrupted. He ordained hundreds of priests and dozens of bishops. Many more bishops, like his successor Joe Tobin the current Archbishop of Newark (and a cardinal to boot), owe their position to his direct influence and so his presence still looms large. He has not repented, not apologized and he likely never will. He is still an archbishop. Men he abused, meanwhile, have carried their scars for decades.
In corrupting these generations of priests and seminarians he unleashed on the Church a festering rot that has spread decay everywhere. Satan couldn’t have planned this better himself. Those of us sitting in the pews scratch our heads and wonder if his evil can be undone. There are too many of them and too few of us. We cling to the virtue of hope that Christ’s promise will stand and the gates of hell will never prevail against His Church.
And this week the American bishops meet as they do every November to discuss policy and hold elections for their major offices. You can be sure that almost every one of them knew the score when it came to McCarrick and that there are other McCarrick’s among their ranks. They hide behind lawyers and guards. How many of them were corrupted by him? When will Christ cleanse His Church? What more can we do?