Too many Catholic leaders have treated Archbishop Theodore McCarrick’s alleged crimes as an isolated issue. Cardinal Donald Wuerl told an interviewer: “I don’t think this is some massive, massive crisis.”
Bishop Robert Barron has said that any suggestion of widespread corruption is “deeply unjust”. Such claims miss the point. Men at the highest levels of the Church knew what McCarrick had done and took no action. As a result, the exposure of his crimes has gravely damaged the credibility of the whole hierarchy. If bishops expect to be taken seriously as witnesses to Christ, the crisis is massive indeed.
Bishop Barron not only downplayed the extent of the crisis, but also cautioned against what he called an “ideological” response. According to the bishop, anyone who raises concerns about Humanae Vitae, priestly celibacy, or “rampant homosexuality in the Church” is riding a “hobby horse”.
No one cares for the endless Catholic culture wars, but we should be wary of attempts to shut down frank discussion of how we got here. Bishop Barron’s list of taboo topics suggests that he – like most bishops – is keen to preserve the settlement of 1968.
In that year, Pope Paul VI famously reaffirmed Catholic teaching on birth control in Humanae Vitae, but then declined to discipline the many bishops and priests who rejected that teaching. The result was an uneasy truce: the teaching was formally upheld, but obedience to it was not demanded.
The same dynamic played out in 2005, when the Vatican decided that men with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” should be barred from the priesthood.
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