Who will guard the (Catholic) guardians?

A few weeks ago, referring to the exploding sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church in Chile, I wrote:

The Catholic Church, as an institution, and its bishops acting as a collective, have lied, are lying, and will continue to lie to the people of God about this problem.  They have no interest whatsoever in resolving it – only in protecting their own power, and the institution of the Church as a whole, and its power and prestige in society.  They do not care about the individuals involved, or the victims . . . or the good clergy who have been tainted with the stench of this scandal.

How can I say that?  It’s very simple.  Actions speak louder than words – and lack of action is, in itself, an action.  The Church, in the United States, in Chile, in the Vatican, and elsewhere, has taken little or no effective, meaningful action against those who were ultimately responsible for this scandal – namely, its bishops and administrators, who routinely concealed the extent of the problem, shuffled offenders around among themselves, and allowed them to continue to offend, rather than deal with the matter.  Even after the scandal blew up, many leaders of the Church continued to try to defend their offices and the institution of the Church, rather than admit that the situation was absolutely indefensible.

There’s more at the link.

Now comes the news that one of the Catholic Church’s former (now retired) most senior leaders has been accused of sexual misconduct.  His punishment, however (at least so far) amounts to little more than a public slap on the wrist.

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who led the Archdiocese of Washington and was a political force in the nation’s capital, said on Wednesday that he has been removed from public ministry by the Vatican because of a decades-old allegation of sexual abuse.

The Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, “at the direction of Pope Francis,” told McCarrick that he is no longer to exercise his priestly ministry in public, said Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, whose archdiocese led the investigation.

McCarrick was also accused three times of sexual misconduct with adults “decades ago” while he served as a bishop in Metuchen and Newark, New Jersey, the current bishops of those cities said on Wednesday. Two of those allegations resulted in settlements, the bishops said.

Again, more at the link.

Cardinal McCarrick is hardly the first prelate to have indulged in sexual sin while in office.  The former Archbishop of Milwaukee, Rembert Weakland, was hardly a shining example of probity, and displayed what appears to have been callous indifference to clergy sex abuse in his archdiocese.  Bishops Symons and O’Connell of Palm Beach diocese both resigned due to their personal involvement in scandal.  They are not alone.

Having been a priest myself, until I withdrew in disgust over the gross mishandling of the clergy sex abuse scandal, I’ve been informed by clergy in several other dioceses of suspected or alleged misconduct by other bishops, some still in office.  For obvious reasons, I can’t name them here, because that would be regarded as hearsay rather than legally admissible evidence, no matter how holy or trustworthy the clergy providing it.  However, I daresay the truth will come out sooner or later.  In fact, I guarantee it will.

The Roman poet Juvenal asked, Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?, meaning “Who will guard the guardians?”  Since the Catholic Church sees bishops as the successors of the Apostles, one might reword that as “Who will guard the guardians of faith?” – or, at least, their consciences and conduct.  It seems some of them certainly need someone to do so!


EDITED TO ADD:  Tom Dreher has a lot more fuel to add to the fire. Go read it.


  1. The Catholic Church has always been interested mainly in power and money. That's why some of the bishops of old sometimes got murdered as they vied for power.

  2. I get how bad people exist everywhere. I also get how people are attracted to jobs that let them exert their bad tendencies. People who like to beat up people (but not get hit back) get jobs as cops or bouncers. People who want to abuse kids get jobs as teachers, youth leaders and priests.

    Those people are going to exist. Of course we should guard against them and punish (Harshly) them but they are going to pop up.

    What bothers me is when institutions and in particular the Catholic Church knowingly aid and abed the bad people in their organizations. There is no excuse for that.

  3. Just like our police… Good guys covering for the bad guys. But a good guy that won't weed out the bad ones is not a good guy…. he's an enabler, and no better.

    The time of the tree branch and the lamp post may return sooner than we think.

  4. Rod Dreher. Who is Orthodox.

    Who historically have seen the entire church including the laity as the guardians of the faith. Not just the Bishops. This IMHO is one of the errors of Rome, where the bishops are disconnected from their people by personifying the Bishop of Rome as the wholeness of the church.

  5. Name names. Hearsay rules only apply in court.

    The only way to get them into court is to name the names, publicly and loudly.
    If you keep known abusers hidden, how, exactly, are you the better man?

    (Yes, I know I'm a jerk. Thanks for noticing.)

  6. One question: What is a prominent religious organization doing being involved in sex scandals?
    Isn't that a bit antithetical to their alleged cause and purpose?

  7. Is there some doctrinal reason why it's impermissible to castrate priests who commit sex abuse or are at risk?

    I mean, it's not rocket science and it does prevent sexual offenses.

  8. "…news that one of the Catholic Church's former (now retired) most senior leaders has been accused of sexual misconduct. His punishment, however (at least so far) amounts to little more than a public slap on the wrist."

    What punishment should someone who is **accused**, but not convicted receive? I guess due process is out the window for anyone accused of sexual misconduct.

    Try this one on: "Peter Grant aka Bayou Renaissance Man, has been accused of sexual misconduct. His punishment, however (at least so far) amounts to little more than a public slap on the wrist."

    I have said it before and I will say it again and again: "Just because someone says it does not make it so."

  9. the Catholic Church knowingly aid and abed the bad people

    Sorry. It's not "the Catholic Church" that does it. It is the PEOPLE IN the Church (mostly men) who do that.

  10. …some doctrinal reason why it's impermissible

    Yes there is. Mutilation of one's body is a sin; we are created in the image and likeness and not empowered to mutilate that image.

    That's the general rule. The biggest exception is for preservation of life, such as removing a cancerous lung (etc.) There is no exception for "immorality" problems.

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