There are two myth-making forces at work in the McCarrick scandals. One is denial. Clinging to the idea that there are a few bad apples, and they are just so very sneaky and that’s why they got away with their crimes.
The other myth is that the good guys can fix this. We imagine we can run over to Costco and pick up the plenty-pack of Accountability Spray, and with enough elbow grease the house will be squeaky clean again. Everyone pitch in!
If the Church is a house, myth #1 is that the fridge is a disaster and needs to hauled to be the dump, can’t decide whether to fumigate the couch in the den or just burn it, and let’s rip out that musty carpet in the back bedroom — then everything will be fine again. A few cobwebs and a squeaky staircase? Typical old house. Relax.
Myth #2 is that sure, we belong on an episode of Hoarders, but if we call in the team we can all work together until the junk has been cleared out and the walls and floors are all scrubbed down.
That’s not what we have. What we have is extensive rot in load-bearing walls.
What does the rot look like? It looks like this comment from the fabled orthodoxy-wonderland Diocese of Lincoln:
I’m glad someone has finally spoken about this. A fellow-seminarian (now-priest) and I were tormenetd by MK’s [Msgr Kalin] behaviors for a long while. Our experience was part of what led +Fabian to order that at least 2 people accompany MK on the stadium walks. I wish it weren’t true, but it is.
What was happening is that Msgr. Kalin, who was both diocesan director of vocations and director of the University of Nebraska Newman Center, was molesting his students. The former student explains:
Since you seem to be afraid to read between the lines, I will state it plainly: repeatedly asking to touch and be touched in inappropriate places, asking for “French kisses”, and doing these actions without being given permission — to say nothing of the entire grooming process by which these actions/gestures were normalized. I finally said something after my friend walked into the chapel literally *shaking* after one of these episodes, because until then, I thought it was just me. It was at that point I woke up to how twisted the whole situation was and had been for some time. Now, think about the fact that this is coming from the person who made himself your confessor and spiritual director.
This is the same Msgr. Kalin who was the picture of a balanced commitment to priestly chastity in an interview for American Catholic: The Saints and Sinners Who Built America’s Most Powerful Church:
When I asked Kalin about homosexuality, he said, “I get to know a candidate pretty well before I recommend him to the seminary, and if I think someone is an active homosexual, I’ll take him aside and we’ll agree that the priesthood isn’t for him. On the other hand, Bishop Flavin always said that he didn’t care what someone’s inclinations were, as long as he was sincerely committed to a chaste life.”
Predators cover their tracks.
A healthy, sane person would react to such betrayal with shock, despair, and disbelief. If the lone-predator myth were true, then when Msgr. Kalin’s deception was uncovered, a clear-thinking supervisor would do a thorough investigation and either exonerate the accused or determine the man was not competent for ministry.
What was bishop Fabian Bruskewitz’s solution to this problem? Require seminarians to only visit their director in pairs.
That’s right: The bishop understands that the director of seminarians can’t be trusted alone in the room with a seminarian . . . but he still thinks the man is competent to direct the formation of the diocese’s future priests?
This is the behavior of people in abusive relationships.
Here’s an interesting article in that it shows you the shiny veneer of a dysfunctional family. Compare the key players in that happy vocations story to the names in Rod Dreher’s efforts to dig out the facts on the Kalin case (quoted above). Gives you pause for thought.
People in abusive or dysfunctional relationships behave in insane ways. There is constant blame-shifting, avoidance of responsibility, and generating of excuses and distractions to cover over the real problems. Anyone who tries to speak reason or point out real problems becomes the enemy. The status quo must be preserved. Everyone tied up in the abusive relationship has somehow come to believe that their safety is threatened if anything disrupts their twisted, tormented way of life.
So seminarians are sent to see their director in pairs.
A generation of priests in one of the most boomingly orthodox dioceses in the nation were formed by a notorious lecher who was left in office after his crimes were known to the bishop.
That’s not about McCarrick. That’s about Bruskewitz. Different theology, different politics, different dioceses . . . same problem. All across the nation and around the world, whitewashed pillars of the church are decayed to the core with this rot of abusive and dysfunctional relationships.
I and others who have been writing about the McCarrick fallout get letters from church-workers, clergy and laity alike. We get thanked for our open, outspoken coverage of the bishops’ failure of leadership. And invariably there’s a coda: “I can’t say anything myself. I have to be careful.”
Yes, I know about that. I know about being pushed out of a parish ministry because I held someone accountable for a gross failure of common sense where child safety policies were concerned. I know about silence and “discretion” that involves never, ever, speaking up with plain answers. I know about people accused of sexual crimes against children threatening lawsuits if you share public information about the status of their legal case . . . even as they are in the process of inviting your own children to their home.
I know about that.
I also know that things are complicated. I know that false accusations happen. I’ve been the key witness in a case defending an innocent man against an egregious and absolutely fabricated, revenge-motivated accusation. I know that decent people get overwhelmed in difficult situations, and we don’t always handle the moment in the best way. I know that sometimes you are under the gun and you do something really dumb, and you regret it later, and you resolve to never do it again. I know that sometimes you examine a situation carefully, and you still come to the wrong conclusion about the best way to handle it. I know that sometimes you just don’t understand how serious a situation is, and you don’t treat it with the gravity it deserves. Stupid happens. It happens to all of us.
Here’s the difference between stupid and dysfunctional: Healthy people don’t build their lives around defending and perpetuating stupid.
So what can anyone, in any state of life, do in response to the rot of abuse and dysfunction in our Church?
Of course #1 is to fast and pray. You know that. You don’t need a blog post about it.
The response that hurts is #2: You have to act like a healthy person. You have to refuse to be part of the cycle of dysfunction and abuse.
The only way for the Body of Christ to be healthy is for members of that Body to be healthy. The gangrene stops here.
That’s not fun. It gets ugly fast, because the dysfunctional people will pull out every weapon they have to fight your insistence on sane behavior. You can expect lying, evading, shunning . . . the works.
What does it mean in parish life? It means you might not have much of a parish life. It means that you might become the persona non grata, because you refuse to play along and pretend everything is fine. It means you or a family member might be denied the sacraments.
Oh no! In that case—
Think about it. You’re afraid that if you refuse to sin, and if you refuse to be party to perpetuating sin . . . you’ll be cut off from the grace of God?
That’s not how God works.
How God works is that He rewards His prophets by having them thrown into a cistern. He rewards His son’s obedience with the Cross. But His grace is right there the whole time.