Over the past several decades, Catholics and Christians around that world have felt some disillusionment with a number of individuals within the Catholic church. It’s important to preface this by stating that not every member of the clergy is guilty of some of the accusations discussed in this gallery.
That said, one would have to be quite obtuse indeed to ignore the fact that many members of the religious community have been abusing their power for what might very well be centuries. Recently, however, the Pope has decided to do something about these abuses and his actions have long-standing ramifications for faithful Catholics the world over…
Struggling with Faith
It was the 1980s and young Robert Ciolek was in seminary. He was studying to become a priest, a career that not many young men would choose in this modern age. Still, he wanted to find God, to find purpose and meaning in his life. Unfortunately for Ciolek, life in seminary turned out to be a bit more complicated than that.
James Grein, was 11 when his own complications began. Like Ciolek, Grein had run afoul of a bishop named Theodore McCarrick. At 11 years old, Grein trusted the priest as any young Catholic would. As it happened though, McCarrick would end up abusing that trust, just as he would with many young Catholic men as the years went on…
Understanding the abuse that Theodore McCarrick heaped upon others begins with knowing his story. He was born in New York City to an Irish American family. His father, a ship captain, died when he was only three and his mother provided for the family by working at an automobile factory in the Bronx.
McCarrick attended Xavier High School as a teen but was expelled in his junior year for missing classes. Discipline problems followed him and his future seemed bleak. That is until a friend in his family was able to help get him into the Jesuit Fordham Preparatory School. Eventually, he graduated, attended Fordham, joined the U.S. Airforce and entered St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers; that was where the trouble began…
McCarrick was ordained to the priesthood by Cardinal Francis Spellman, the then Archbishop of New York. His church career saw him as a teacher, assistant chaplain at Catholic University, and eventual dean of students and director of development. It was here, in the shadow of the basilica, that McCarrick began his supposed trail of abuse.
Preying on the Innocent
For decades, McCarrick preyed upon the innocent in secret. His alleged dalliances with adult seminarians and even minors were kept quiet. Those whom he abused chose to keep silent rather than risk exposing the church or themselves to the scandal. There were many reasons for his victims to do so, but much of them can be directly attributed to fear…
A Sinful Path
By all accounts, McCarrick preyed on young men who wanted to be priests and all the while, wore his piety as a shield in public. Then, he ended up becoming a cardinal. Still, secrets don’t hold as much sway in this modern age as they may have in decades past. Victims of sexual abuse started to pour out of the woodwork and accusations began to fly.
Cardinal McCarrick, who had been a prominent Catholic voice for social justice causes as well as a champion for progressive Catholics on issues of both international and public policy, suddenly found himself accused of sexual abuse. Three minors and a number of adult seminarians and priests had come forward with evidence against McCarrick…
Worse than the accusations was the fact that either the church or the 88-year-old cardinal himself had allegedly paid off the accusers. A generous settlement had apparently been paid to some of the men who complained of abuse when McCarrick was a bishop in New Jersey in the 1980s.
The Sad Truth
This is similar to the scandal that happened involving father Joseph Maskell in the 1960s. The church knew what Maskell was doing and simply moved the priest around; hiding him from public scrutiny until his death. This meant that some church leaders knew what was happening and either did nothing or paid the victims to keep quiet in order to save face. But it didn’t last forever…
Pope Francis, upon learning of McCarrick’s crimes and his resignation from the College of Cardinals, decided that this wasn’t enough. He wanted to send a message to all those who would besmirch the church’s name by engaging in such abuses and summarily suspended McCarrick from all priestly duties.
This move was the first time that any cardinal has been officially defrocked for sexual abuse. It indicates more than anything that the Vatican is finally looking to do something about the slew of scandals that have gripped the church for nearly two decades. It also happens to be the first time an American cardinal has been removed from the priesthood. Though that’s not all it means…
Across the Country
Since the allegations against McCarrick first surfaced last summer, the Catholic church has found itself plunged even deeper into a new chapter of what has been a become a pretty damning narrative. (Please pardon the pun.) And this spurred many additional state and federal investigations across the country.
It seems that each week, a new diocese releases the names of priests who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse. This all means that no priest, bishop, prelate, or cardinal is immune to either scrutiny or punishment when it comes to breaking either canon law or the law of the land. It’s also a clear sign that abuse will not be tolerated…
The past few years have seen the Vatican has defrocked hundreds of priests for sexual abuse of minors, but few of the church’s senior leaders have faced any sort of severe discipline. The former cardinals defrocking has been described as “almost revolutionary” by canon law professor Kurt Martens.
Abuses of Power
The Vatican released a statement about McCarrick’s dismissal as well, indicating that the accusations against him were more than just hearsay. He was dismissed after being tried and found guilty of several crimes. These crimes involved many abuses of his power, including soliciting sex during confession and “sins” with minors and with adults…
Addressing the Epidemic
The Pope and other church leaders are hoping to move forward from this scandal and are gearing up to address the sexual abuse crisis within their community. Pope Francis has often faced criticism about moving too slowly in regards to these abuses, but his willingness to publicly punish McCarrick and distance him from the church itself is a step in the right direction for all Catholics.
McCarrick’s defrocking means that he loses everything. He loses his clerical standing, all church-sponsored housing, and all church-given financial benefits. He can no longer hide behind God in order to justify his crimes. Also, he will very likely face legal ramifications because of these abhorrent actions as well…
The Archdiocese of Washington, McCarrick’s former diocese, has since issued a statement to the defrocking. “Our hope and prayer is that this decision serves to help the healing process for survivors of abuse, as well as those who have experienced disappointment or disillusionment because of what former Archbishop McCarrick has done.”
The Right Direction
Today, James Grein and Robert Ciolek are still healing from what the former cardinal did to them. However, both see the defrocking as a “very positive step.” Ciolek added that “It signals that Rome may finally be serious about taking matters like abuse of power very seriously, with grave consequences for those who engage in that conduct.” You can see the official defrocking covered in the video below…