September 03, 2019

The McCarrick Story

I’m reading a book about prison ministry and the author (Valerie Schultz) mentions that middle-aged white men without tattoos are almost always in for sex crimes. Which made me think of Theodore McCarrick (although he's obviously elderly now).

So I googled a magazine article circa 2004 about then the well-respected Cardinal McCarrick. Reading with benefit of hindsight it’s kind of a “what went wrong?” angle, although of course you can’t glean much from a magazine article except that it was written before his sins were widely known and so there’s less guardedness.

He grew up fatherless and brotherless, an only child whose father died when he was age 3 so one wonders what impact the tragedy had.  There’s the weak father trope that is sometimes used to explain homosexuality. He was thrown out of high school for truancy, which he never explained other than he didn’t want to go to classes. He had a wanderlust early, marking on a map all the exotic places he wanted to go, and he always had a thirst for vacations. He grew up poor, and would buy toys instead of candy because they “would last while candy would not”, and always boasted of his frugality. As an adult he read middlebrow thrillers by Tom Clancy and mysteries by Mary Higgins Clark, and listened to middlebrow pop music. Given the dovetail of his native sensibilities, it’s not entirely surprising that he saw his priestly vocation as one to move up the ranks. to see as a worldly one.

His weekly columns to his diocese tend to be shallow and free of theology or Scripture. Perhaps he felt the mission was to tell his flock, “hey, I’m just like you...I like travel and meeting interesting people...I’m not thinking about God all the time.” Perhaps it’s not good that he called prayer his “escape” (like his John Denver music?) rather than a challenge, encounter, or discernment. There’s perhaps an element of the therapeutic.

His love for vacations (one I obviously share), one time squared off against his ambition to advance in the Church: he chose to go to an important Church conference where he met Pope John Pau II, then a cardinal, and mentioned to him that he had skipped his vacation to be there. (The Pope later asked him, “did you ever get to take that vacation?”)

McCarrick and Bergoglio are bedfellows in one sense: ambition. Both were (in the case of Bergoglio) or would’ve been (for McCarrick) unhappy as mere priests. The final line in the article is instructive: “.... Catholic writer Gibson says, ‘McCarrick as a parish priest would have been like trying to keep a tiger in a birdcage.’”

I’m sure it’s inevitable that ambition and high office are inseparable. One wishes it were otherwise, but that seems to be a big part of the problem of church hierarchy. Likely it was ever so, going back to the apostles argued power politics, i.e. who was the greatest among them. One of the many things I liked about Pope Benedict was you could tell his true passion was writing and thinking about God. One doesn’t get that sense with many other high-level prelates.

So it’s interesting how the child McCarrick was so reminiscent of the adult: resistance to the ordinary rules of society (like attending high school or respecting sexual boundaries), love for travel, and extreme interest in money and the objects it could buy.

The silver lining for McCarrick, such as it is, is that God chastises those he loves, and exalts the humble. McCarrick, one would think, has been humbled by such a public exposure of his sins.

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