Summary of the Law (said at every Sunday Mass)

Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Monday, June 25, 2018

The Fall of Uncle Ted

ITHAMORE. Look, look, master; here come two religious caterpillars.
BARABAS. I smelt ‘em ere they came.
ITHAMORE. God-a-mercy, nose! Come, let’s begone. …
FRIAR BARNARDINE. Thou hast committed—
BARABAS. Fornication: but that was in another country; and besides, the wench is dead.

—Christopher Marlowe, The Jew of Malta

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I just heard the news that Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has been removed from public ministry on the instructions of the Holy See. Two allegations of abuse of a minor, and three allegations of sexual misconduct with adults, have been advanced.

The original child abuse scandal that the Boston Globe broke turns sixteen this year. The Catholic Church seems to have learnt something, though perhaps not much, in that time. Cardinal DiNardo, the current president of the USCCB, stated that ‘As clergy in God’s Church, we have made a solemn promise to protect children and young people from all harm. This sacred charge applies to all who minister in the Church, no matter the person’s high standing or long service. This morning was a painful reminder of how only through continued vigilance can we keep that promise.’ Too little, too late? Possibly. The issue of the canonical trial of Cardinal McCarrick remains to be seen, as does any reformatory work—including, among other things, whatever reparations to victims are possible—that the Catholic Church in this country undertakes.

But why, why, why the lies and evasion and backroom squalor, the hypocritical concealment of hypocritical perversion? Rod Dreher (about whom I have mixed feelings [1]) expresses it very well at The American Conservative:
McCarrick was a major bone in my throat. Take a look at this story from the Boston Globe
‘Prominent church opinion-makers, including two cardinals, have suggested that the clergy sexual abuse crisis is a relatively minor phenomenon that is being turned into a major scandal by the media and others with an ax to grind. Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, for example, told The Washington Post this week that some newspapers are having a “heyday” with the issue. “Elements in our society who are very opposed to the Church’s stand on life, the Church’s stand on family, the Church’s stand on education … see in this an opportunity to destroy the credibility of the Church.’” 
Imagine seeing and hearing things like that from the likes of McCarrick, knowing that he was a serial abuser of priests and seminarians—and knowing, obviously, that he knows it. He was playing a role. The stories about Uncle Ted were rampant on the East Coast, among priests. I know this because they told me. These weren’t just rumors … 
Some bishops were part of a gay cabal who looked out for each other, and made sure their secrets stayed safe. Many other bishops were neither gay nor sexually active, but had a strong sense that the Church’s image must be protected at all costs. This is how a dysfunctional family works. Nobody notice that Uncle Ted has his hands down Cousin Bobby’s pants. If we don’t talk about it, maybe it’s not happening … 
Which brings us to the laity. [A] reader wrote, with admirable self-recognition, that ‘we’d fooled ourselves into thinking’ that the crisis was over. This is why actual sex abuse victims remained silent about their abuse: because they knew that people wouldn’t believe them, because they didn’t want to believe them. … When I blew the whistle on a priest in my own parish in 2005, a friend of mine who was on the parish council reproached me bitterly. Of course we all knew what Father had been accused of, and that he wasn’t supposed to be in ministry, he said. But we kept it from the parishioners for their own good.
‘We kept it from them for their own good’: the plausible, Satanic mantra of the gaslighting abuser. Is the Catholic Church as obsessed with image as Hollywood and the White House? I wouldn’t have thought so, but maybe I was naïve; not that I ever thought the Church was perfect—my acquaintance with Christian history and my Calvinist upbringing prevented me from falling for that idea—but I had supposed that she was better than this.

This is what happens when the ikon is allowed to calcify into the idol. In ordinary language, an ikon [2] is a depiction of God, Christ, or a saint, and ritual veneration of the ikon is an act of reverence to the person it depicts, rather like kissing a loved one’s photo while separated from them. More broadly, the function of an ikon is to establish contact between ourselves and the persons, mysteries, and archetypes of the heavenly realms, and in this way practically every thing is an ikon: each woman and man is an ikon of God, Christ is the ikon of the Father, every word is an ikon of an idea, every love-affair is the veneration of an ikon. That which transcends the senses must nevertheless be presented to us in terms of the senses, because that’s how human beings learn. I think it is in this light that we must understand the profession of the Second Council of Nicæa, that reverence for ikons is not only licit but necessary in Christian worship; even if we were to ban wood and paint, sculpture and tapestry, from the liturgy (which is a good deal more austere than the instructions for the Tabernacle), it would still be true that the incomprehensible God can only be approached through images—poetic if not pictorial, and perhaps no less crude for being conceptual.

But there are two skewed ways of looking at ikons, and Iconoclasm is only one of them. The other error is the mental blending of the type with its archetype, the confusion of the ikon with the thing it communicates. This is when the ikon becomes the idol, usurping the reverence and loyalty due only to God, and issuing inevitably in monstrosity and corruption, and often in bloodshed. The lover who pretends that all his beloved’s real flaws are mere harmless quirks is an idolator; so, too, are the official who conceal the sexual predation of athletes to protect the college’s reputation, and the statesman who forces other peoples to bear the cost of the prosperity of his own nation.

Returning to Dreher:
I’m traveling right now in the Azores. One of my party is a faithful Southern Baptist layman. His confession is going through its own scandals right now. He and I were talking about Uncle Ted last night. He’s not gloating at all. Nobody should gloat. …  
Despite all that, I must tell you: this Uncle Ted story is all very good news. I mean that sincerely. Everything that was hidden, and foul, and corrupt, and that thrived in the darkness, is being exposed. My Catholic faith was not strong enough to withstand knowing that Uncle Ted, and those like him, were getting away with this injustice. I was a prideful, triumphalistic Catholic, and that set me up for a big fall. A Russian told me when I was coming into the Orthodox faith that there are so many scandals in the Orthodox Church that no Orthodox has the right to look down on Rome. If I had been the same kind of Orthodox Christian, my Orthodoxy would have been at risk. 

If you are committed to remaining a Catholic, I strongly urge you to remind yourself that God allows chastisement to fall upon his people for the sake of their repentance. Maybe you’ve fallen so in love with the institution that you’ve forgotten the One who is supposed to be at its center. That happened to me once. 
This is an opportunity to repent. This is what judgment means. This is what purification is. That same light will shine into the dark corners of your soul and mine, if we let it. 
… As a Catholic, I always imagined that one day I might have to suffer for the Church. I never imagined that I would have to suffer from the Church. Losing my Catholic faith was the most painful thing that ever happened to me, but honestly, I thank God for it. It broke me, and I needed breaking. I was ideological, I was triumphalist, I was sentimental—and I was much weaker in my faith than I realized. … 
This e-mail just came in. This is a perfect example of the role the laity has played in perpetuating the scandal: I simply don’t understand your eagerness with this prosecution of McCarrick. I support the legal ramifications, but not your public dancing on his grave. You have to understand the intense hatred the media have for Catholicism. We MUST protect our brand, our shield, our faith! I fully support Pope Francis and his softened tone, and even swipes at capitalism because the media love him. And image is everything. … In short, we must handle these issues swiftly, legally, but privately! As a successful advertising executive in NYC I am looked up like an alien because I am a weekly Mass attender … Image is everything, and when it comes to the One True Church we MUST protect her!
The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, Francisco de Goya, 1799

Dreher’s correspondent happens to be a layman, but the attitude this person evinces is plentiful among clergy too. And in mere justice, we must concede to Caiaphas that it is expedient that one man should die for the people. Although even Caiaphas did not sink to the grotesque slogan ‘We must protect our brand.’

No matter what degree it occurs in—pope, cardinal, bishop, priest, deacon, religious, or pew-warmer—the worship of the Church is one of the wickedest and most disastrous forms of idolatry possible. The better and more plausible the idol (which is almost the same as saying: the nobler and more important the ikon that has been turned into an idol), the more loathsome and horrifying its corruption, for much the same reason that a character with lousy powers makes an unsatisfying supervillain, but a good supervillain is of the same stuff as a good superhero. The Church is a beautiful and sacred ikon; she is accordingly an ugly and powerful idol, as capable of devouring children as Ashtoreth or Tlaloc or Kālī. [3] And insofar as she is an idol the Church deserves to be smashed. Such smashing will not hurt the Church-as-ikon, the Body of Christ; for that identity is of heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. Nor is it any kindness to the Church (or to one’s neighbor) to let her be an idol to others; there is no virtue in protecting the Church’s ‘brand’; the Church’s one job is to be an ikon, and those who try to keep the popular image of Catholicism squeaky clean, by any means other than trying to keep actual Catholicism squeaky clean, are as guilty of corrupting and breaking the Church as those who blatantly attack her.

If not guiltier. For the Iconoclast may be a heretic but at least he is not a hypocrite; and our Lord was far gentler with the Samaritans than he was with the Pharisees.

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[1] On the one hand, I was and remain extremely unimpressed with his attitude toward poverty, his willingness to tolerate or even defend the President’s ugly utterances, his paranoid view of Pope Francis, and a soupçon of apparent homophobia exhibited in this very article. On the other, this article displays some of his best qualities, too: honesty about the flaws of churches, frank refusal to take pleasure in scandal, and willingness to confess his own faults (this last being a quality that many people whom I agree with far more fail to display).
[2] I use this spelling to differentiate the religious object from other uses of the word icon. The theology and spirituality of ikons is much more characteristic of the East, but it is also part of the proper heritage of the West. The peculiar heresy of Iconoclasm that shaped the East in the eighth and ninth centuries had little influence in the West, until the Protestant Reformation; and even then, the Anglican and Lutheran traditions were mostly tolerant of ikons—both retained the use of crucifixes, for instance.
[3] Many people are familiar with Ashtoreth (or more properly Ashtart) as an ancient Canaanite goddess, to whom babies were sometimes offered. Tlaloc was an Aztec deity who also received child sacrifices (many Aztec gods received human sacrifice in one form or another); apparently, because Tlaloc was a deity of fertility and rain, the children were injured before being actually killed, in order to make them cry, their tears being considered a form of sympathetic magic that would prompt Tlaloc to send rain. Kālī is a severe and terrifying Hindu goddess, normally considered a destroyer of evil and a protectress, who has often been associated with human sacrifice.


  1. We are in the end times. satan is targeting the Catholic Church and the chosen people of God. Lets be on our guard. Whoever makes at least one Rosary Prayer daily without fail will never be doomed...!
    Why do Catholics Venerate and Pray to Blessed Virgin Mary?:

  2. It seems to me that we should keep in mind that there are two aspects to the child abuse scandal. One is the actual abuse. The other is the cover-up. I believe that the actual abuse has been stopped — at least in the United States — to the extent possible in any institution as large as the Catholic Church. There remain cases of abuse which have been covered up. Apparently Cardinal McCarrick's is one of those. Clearly, those who knew for a fact what Card. McCarrick had done should have come forward long ago. Then there are those who heard rumors. Third (or fourth or fifth or more) party hearsay isn't enough, IMO, to require or justify a suspension-causing, ministry-ending report. IOW, the blameworthy ones are those who had personal knowledge of the facts and remained silent.

    When people say, "The scandal is still going on," we need to be clear about which aspect we are talking about and to correct any impression that long-ago abuse is part of current events.

    1. Your distinction between the abuse as such and the concealment is quite correct. However, until the tumor of concealment is excised, I don't think we can have much confidence that the abuse has also stopped. I hope it has, and the newer policies about training and supervision are encouraging. But I hesitate to say that even that part of the scandal is over with any confidence.