I had hoped not to write about the abuse crisis again, but actually everything I do reminds me of it. School and seminary have begun again, and seeing the faces in the congregation I am acutely aware of how people just like these have been harmed by those who share the same priesthood as I do.
I gave a workshop on the lasting damage that abuse does and a priest came up to me at the end in tears, apologising for being emotional but saying how totally demoralised the priests he knows are, and how good it was to hear that at least there is some attempt to try to bring healing to the crisis.
At Grief to Grace, the programme of Christian healing for abuse that I help to run in the UK, we are receiving several applications each week, and the people we talk to in our support group are really feeling the crisis. Some very faithful souls describe how they have not been able to go to church because of the torrent of information about abuse circulating. I understand this. Our faith is not in the Church but it is through the Church, and so they continue to experience something which makes them relive an aspect of their original wound; they must put themselves in a situation which makes them feel profoundly unsafe if they are to find the solace for which their heart longs. They won’t feel it is safe until they see evidence of a total change of culture. Apologies are necessary and fine, but there is still a lack of transparency and a serious will to support healing for victims.
I know about six degrees of separation and all that, but since the allegations were made public I have met three people who knew Theodore McCarrick personally.
One studied theology with him and said that he was already living a double life, but the seminary staff always described him as “so pastoral”. “Pastoral” is a word still much used in seminaries. There is no real, objective definition, and that is why it is frequently used as a sort of trump card to justify a subjective liking for the more naturally clubbable, extroverted and doctrinally liberal candidates in the seminary. As a criterion for selection, my own experience tells me it is deeply flawed, so it is no surprise to know that it was invoked to ordain McCarrick. Nearly all the “pastoral” poster boys of my generation at seminary have abandoned the priesthood – in one case, because of an abuse conviction.
A second American priest I met told me that he knew McCarrick as a priest and a bishop and said his proclivities were well known “50 years ago”.
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