We are demoralized by the sexual crimes against children and young people committed by ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, DC. His offenses reveal a network of bishops and priests who enforced a web of silence, perhaps fearing exposure themselves. Some of these clerics were the first to express pious outrage over sexual abuse (McCarrick himself was among the chief architects of the 2002 “Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People”). We now learn that “everyone” around New York and Washington knew that Bishop McCarrick was grooming young men for his beach house, and that, despite written complaints, he continued to advance in Church leadership. In this climate, who can believe Cardinal Kevin Farrell, whom McCarrick promoted as his vicar general, when he tells ABC that he knew nothing about his superior’s predations on seminarians and young priests? Bishops in Chile, Austria, Honduras, and Australia have also been removed for similar offenses in recent months. Who can have confidence in the Pope’s judgement when some of his closest collaborators are found to be complicit in these crimes? Can we trust our bishops anymore?
But in Nicaragua last week, tens of thousands marched in support of their bishops. In that country the Ortega regime is assaulting bishops who stand in defense of their people. These bishops give themselves not to fundraising or media appearances (ex-Cardinal McCarrick raised hundreds of millions, which apparently protected him from scrutiny). The bishops of Nicaragua give themselves over to suffering with and for their people as good fathers rather than good fundraisers. A father who sacrifices himself for his children can be trusted. A bishop who personally suffers for his flock is trustworthy. It is in our bishops' personal martyrdom that we see the authentic face of our Christ, who died for us.
Theodore McCarrick didn’t like the title “father.” He preferred to be called “Uncle Ted,” and he avoided doctrines that make people uncomfortable. But especially in “fatherless America,” we need fathers who fear offending God more than displeasing men. As Matthew Schmitz wrote recently, “Children without fathers do not need uncles. They need a father who fears the Father above.” Thanks be to God that the Church has many prayerful, sacrificial, fatherly bishops. May God give us the wisdom to know the difference between a shepherd and a wolf in shepherd’s clothing.