We've had a lot of bad news to take in today... which has kind of felt like a punch to the stomach.
In the United
States, everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty. We can argue about whether that is the case
in the court of public opinion. So I
want to be careful in reflecting on the news that all of us heard this
morning: that a credible, substantiated
abuse of a minor announced by the Archdiocese of New York from 47 years ago
against Cardinal McCarrick, who was the Archbishop of Newark for 15 years. While McCarrick maintains his innocence... or
rather - as he put it:
I have absolutely no recollection of this reported abuse, and believe in my
innocence, I am sorry for the pain the person who brought the charges has gone
through, as well as for the scandal such charges cause our people
that doesn’t inspire a lot of
confidence in me, nor does it want me to join his defense. The added, serious news that was announced
with all of this:
the past, there have been allegations that [Cardinal McCarrick] engaged in sexual behavior with adults. This
Archdiocese and the Diocese of Metuchen received three allegations of sexual
misconduct with adults decades ago; two of these allegations resulted in
just added to the feelings of
sickness, anger, and nausea I have had today.
I can’t put it politely - I’m
pissed. Not to mention heart sick,
embarrassed, ashamed, confused... and a whole range of things that’s going to
take time to unpack.
This is the first time that a priest,
bishop – and Cardinal - who not only did I know personally; he was very much a
part of my vocation story - has been accused of such things. He was our Archbishop during my young,
impressionable years of high school when I first began seriously discerning
God’s calling me to priesthood. He spoke
at Vocations retreats that I attended while in college. He was the Archbishop who accepted me as a seminarian... a year later he would
ask me to consider going to study in Rome (and then have lengthy fatherly
discussions over that request and my feeling unable to go - when I said “No”
three times) - three years later he would ordain me a deacon and then a year
after that a priest. He was the one who
assigned me to my first parish assignment - a community I still deeply love and
feel connected to. Even though he left
our Archdiocese soon after, (in 2000) about
5 years ago when I was made vocation director by then Archbishop Myers -
(a position I accepted out of obedience, that was very overwhelming and that
I had serious personal doubts over) I received a personal letter from then
Cardinal McCarrick, who was now the retired Archbishop of Washington. It was such a surprise, so affirming and
supportive that it helped quell some of those doubts. I know and recognize full well that my
vocation is God’s call. So it’s
not like I feel duped or something like that.
It’s more that I have always had a deep respect and appreciation for
Cardinal McCarrick as a spiritual father.
So this news hit hard today.
I’m sickened... And I don’t doubt that there are many others
out there who feel that. For those
who’ve been victimized by priests and bishops – I can’t imagine the feelings
you’re going through right now. For
that, I don’t know what to say other than I’m sorry. There’s no excuse for it... and those wounds,
wound the body of Christ.
As we still reel from today’s news,
I’ve had a lot of reflections that I’m sharing with the hopes that perhaps they
may be of help to those who are similarly angry and upset.
I remember very clearly when the
priest-sex abuse scandal hit our national headlines back in 2002... Here it
was, not even months after 9/11, which was devastating on so many levels for
the whole nation, but particularly people of our local NY metro area, including
the Archdiocese of Newark. On the heels
of something that was already a horrific nightmare came a seeming flood of
stories of depravity and abuse, and cover ups that were just unbelievable.
In fairness - if that’s possible in
understandably very emotional times like these when a scandal this massive is
revealed - some were proven unbelievable
and untrue - and some very good priests were forever maligned by
opportunists. Sadly - many, many were proven believable, true, and
those stories and accusations were verified.
Soon after all these previous
failures were digested, the Catholic
Church in the US’ response called “Protecting God’s Children” was put into
place, which was and has been extremely thorough and comprehensive. To the point that, especially when it was
first instituted, personally it felt intrusive and unfair to have to submit
myself to fingerprinting, new background checks and investigations as if I had
been accused of one of these horrible things.
All of that, amplified by horrific
jokes by late night comedians, awkward reactions and looks by those in the
public when I would simply be seen wearing my priestly clothing (clerics), and
so on – all of that hurt, all of that felt unfair, all of that angered me. This is all part and parcel of this ugly,
scandalous, disgusting chapter of our Church’s history. I hate/hated all of it - the stories of the
abuse, the priests who had committed them, the people who helped cover it up,
and now this horrible aftermath. And it
was just, once again, confirmation of what sin, what evil is capable of...
That contributed in part to my,
what felt was a final decision, to leave the priesthood. While I took an “official” leave in 2006 -
the groundwork for that was several years in the making. I know I’ve shared parts of that story over
the years, but this is one part I haven’t.
I didn’t just decide to up and leave in 2006 and pursue another
childhood dream of becoming a NYC Firefighter.
Any FDNY member will tell you that’s not possible. It’s a years long process. So that’s where this part of the story comes
It was in 2002 - after the
scandal broke that seeing an advertisement to take the FDNY written test that
caught my attention. There was many
reasons that was the case. But I know
part of it was feeling embarrassed and ashamed of the Church; my personal
desire to, despite my sinfulness, that I strove to be a holy and virtuous man -
and recognizing that I could offer my life and even “lay down my life” - the
supreme measure of love that Jesus posits for us in the Gospels - in albeit a
The application, testing,
background process to become a NYC firefighter took over 2 years... They then
establish a list of the close to 20,000 men and women who took those tests and
often hire about 6,000-7,000 from that list (particularly after 9/11) I first took the written test in 2002...
the physical test in, I believe August of 2004.... further background
investigations and interviews to the point that in 2005 when the list was
established I was #2363. Virtually
guaranteeing I’d have a shot to become
one of “the bravest.”
My point in sharing all of this is
that I know how devastating these priestly abuse stories are and have been for
so many just regular churchgoers who are simply reading and hearing these awful
reports... While I ultimately never
did accept that invitation to become a NYC firefighter (deferring the chance 3
times and then ultimately closing the door on that in 2007) I did pray,
struggle, vent, pray some more, and eventually felt those gentle, loving, pulls
from the Lord that first made priesthood seem even remotely possible so many
years ago were still there. I recognized
the importance of that call - and even more, how often in my life and that of
my family we needed a good priest - a family crisis, a death, an
illness - when things mattered the most - we needed a good priest, I
needed a good priest - and how many of those good guys had helped me
through all of this re-discernment really stood out... And when all of that clicked, I asked the
Lord for forgiveness for my losing sight of all of that... for giving into
temptations and fears and angers and getting so close to walking away - and
most importantly recommitted myself to trying, with the grace of God, to being a happy, healthy, and holy
priest every day of my life as best as I can.
Some 11 years later, I cannot
imagine my life without these past 11 years as the Catholic chaplain to
Montclair State University. It frightens
me to think how close I was to this chapter of my own life not happening. The ways that I’ve met Christ, encountered
him personally and witnessed what he has done for so many people here - I could
fill volumes when I think about it. And
it was so close to not happening. In
part, because of things like what we’re talking about today.
So, yes, I’m angry and hurt today
with all of this news. That anyone
should suffer any abuse - physical, mental, emotional, spiritual is
evil. I don’t know if there’s a category
for “extra evil” but when those things happen within the Church, I think they
would fall into such a category. news:That, once again, we find
ourselves in the midst of such ugliness and that it deflects us from our
divinely charged call of proclaiming the Gospel - not simply by words but
actions - is beyond words for me.
But I do pray – which we really do
need to do, to pray – that as we deal with devastating news stories again, that
everyone of us personally remains vigilant not simply to the continuing and
important work of protecting children - and all people - from sexual
abuse... But also to remaining vigilant
in protecting the precious things that St. Paul speaks about in 1 Cor 13: 13: faith,
hope, love – for each and everyone of us, and for one another.
If I learned anything from almost
leaving the priesthood is that leaving (or almost leaving) is a lot easier than
It is easy to give into the
It is easy to give into
It is easy to say faith, hope
and love are nice ideals that are not possible (and almost look for any
example that proves that premise, which sadly there are too many examples
that do just that)
But when we realize how easy that
all is, we need to pause, to take a breath, and to come back to the truth of
our faith. Which is the reality that we
are all sinners. We see what sin does in
these horrific examples. Ultimately that
has helped me to see what my sins has done (and sadly still does) to myself and
others. And that puts me right beneath
the foot of the cross - looking for Jesus’ love and mercy once again. And He
lovingly, generously offers that to me - and the whole world.
And He does that knowing that yes we have the
potential and have in dramatic ways throughout human history, picked up the
nails and crucified Jesus many, many times in our thoughts, words and deeds....
but equally as true is that we each have the potential within ourselves
to heed the call we hear every Ash Wednesday: “to turn away from sin and be
faithful to the Gospel...” When we
choose to do that, then we become the hands, and feet of Christ. Then we start offering His love, His mercy,
His Healing, His care of the poor and suffering; His very self to a world of
fellow sinners, all desperately looking and desiring on some level for all of
those things. Through much more
repentance and prayer, hopefully, we can get back to sharing that - and
genuinely being that good news, once again.