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Cardinal Theodore McCarrick attends a Mass in St. Peter's Basilica in 2005. Marco Di Lauro / Getty Images
Phil Lawler

Opinion,

The laity can take credit for the defrocking of McCarrick. What’s next?

Phil Lawler

February 19, 2019 (CatholicCulture.org) — The Natonal Catholic Register report on the laicization of Theodore McCarrick, by Edward Pentin, is excellent: thorough, balanced, and accurate. I strongly suggest that you read the entire piece. (Be sure to scroll down past the fundraising appeal.)

Have you done that? Good. Now let me call your particular attention to a few important passages that you might have overlooked:

In an open letter released last month, Archbishop Viganò called on McCarrick to repent publicly in order to "bring a significant measure of healing to a gravely wounded and suffering Church."

Of course McCarrick should repent; he has been guilty of multiple grave sins. Sinners should repent; there is no teaching more fundamental to Christianity. But what other prominent Church leader, aside from Archbishop Viganò, has issued a public call for McCarrick's repentance? Why do we hear so much from our prelates about standards and policies, about a "commitment to safeguarding" and a "healing process," and so little about sin and repentance?

Some stalwart Catholics complain that the secular media have paid inordinate attention to the sex-abuse problems within the Catholic clergy, glossing over similar stories of abuse by public-school teachers, athletic coaches, and now Southern Baptists. It's true that the coverage of clerical abuse has been disproportionate. But devout Catholics should understand the reason for the focus on our Church. Catholic priests are not just like other men; their ordination sets them apart. We Catholics know — and I think secular reporters intuitively sense — that the abuse scandal within the Church involves the defilement of the sacred. To which the proper response is not a new set of bureaucratic procedures, but a call for repentance and reform.

The meeting is being held due to public anger over the McCarrick case, …

Here Pentin refers to the "summit meeting" in Rome this coming week, at which the presidents of episcopal conferences from around the world will discuss the proper response to the sex-abuse crisis. I have argued that there is very little reason to hope that the summit will produce significant reform. But if Pentin is right — and I think he is — this meeting would not even have happened, but for the outcry from the Catholic laity.

As a matter of fact, the disciplinary action against McCarrick wouldn't have happened, either, unless the Vatican had felt the outrage of faithful Catholics. How do I know that? Because the Vatican was aware of McCarrick's perverse behavior as early as 2000, and the canonical disciplinary process was opened only after the reports hit the headlines.

Even before his call for McCarrick's repentance, Archbishop Viganò charged that Pope Francis protected and even advanced the now-disgraced prelate. Pentin reminds us:

The Holy Father has not responded to the accusations, and the Vatican has yet to release the findings of a promised investigation into its own archives on McCarrick.

In all likelihood the Vatican never will release a full report on the McCarrick scandal, unless forced to do so by a continued public outcry. Sadly, there is already ample evidence that Pope Francis will continue to protect his friends and allies in the hierarchy, while denouncing their critics as Pharisees. The prestigious new appointment given to Cardinal Kevin Farrell, a protégé of McCarrick — announced on the day after McCarrick's canonical appeal was denied — speaks volumes.

If angry protests from the laity forced the Vatican finally to act in the McCarrick case, maybe — just maybe — a continued swelling chorus of outrage will force further action to eliminate the broader corruption that has been exposed by this scandal. Let's bear that in mind, if this week's "summit" produces no substantial results. We, the loyal laity, have a role to play in the reform of our Church. If our bishops have defaulted on their obligations to lead and to govern, we have our own duty to reproach them. Yes, I'm talking about a call to repentance.

Published with permission from CatholicCulture.org.

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