The cardinal allegedly exploited the ambitions of seminarians in order to prey on them

By Fr. Alexander Lucie-Smith, Catholic Herald, Wednesday, 18 Jul 2018

The New York Times has a long well-researched article on the story of Cardinal McCarrick which needs to be read in full and which tells a story that needs to be heard.

Two things immediately command attention. The article draws attention to a structural fault in the Church, as well as a cultural fault.

The first is this:

In the corporate world, there are ways to report misconduct,” Mr. Ciolek, 57,

 said at his home in New Jersey. “You have an H.R. contact, you have a legal department, or you have anonymous reporting, you have systems. Does the Catholic Church have that? How is a priest supposed to report abuse or wrong activity by his bishop? What is their stated vehicle for anyone to do that? I don’t think it exists.

Mr Ciolek is undoubtedly right. There is no effective way of reporting a bad bishop, apart from writing to the Papal Nuncio, or making an application to Rome; both were tried in the McCarrick case, and both failed. This failure needs to be addressed. There has to be some sort of robust and effective way of making complaints about bishops. Part of the problem lies in the really simple fact that when you complain about a bishop you complain to another bishop, and the default setting in these cases seems to be that the bishops then close ranks. This has got to change. There needs to be some authority that deals with bad bishops. Some time ago we were told that the Pope was setting up a special court to do just this. But that was three years ago, and since then nothing has been done. That looks like a grave omission now.

The second thing is this:

Mr. Ciolek said that even though he just wanted to be a parish priest, Bishop McCarrick would frequently bring up how he ought to go to Rome and climb the church hierarchy.

Cardinal McCarrick allegedly preyed on young men by dangling in front of them the prospect of ecclesiastical promotion. Just how much of this goes on, I wonder? Just as unchastity is a sin, so is ambition a sin. If true, the Cardinal made a double attempt to subvert the vocations of these young men, by using them as the objects of his desires, and by encouraging them to be ambitious. We need a corrective here: ecclesial climbing is just plain wrong, and if our system of appointments lends itself to ecclesial climbing then it clearly needs reform. One further question troubles me: if McCarrick promised career help to his favourites, was his own career once helped in its turn by other patrons? But all of this could be avoided if we were to see the Church as a place of service, as the Founder stresses, rather than a place that provides a ladder to be climbed.

Finally, readers may feel that we have heard enough, indeed too much, about the case of Cardinal McCarrick. It would indeed be nice if we could forget about the poor man. He needs our prayers, as do his alleged victims. But the truth is that we must not ‘move on’ until we have learned the lessons that the McCarrick case has to teach us. If we don’t, we will be here again and again.


Alexander Lucie-Smith is a Catholic priest, doctor of moral theology and consulting editor of The Catholic Herald. On Twitter he is @ALucieSmith