The McCarrick case has revealed a defect in the system

If the allegations against Cardinal Theodore McCarrick are true, they represent a microcosm of the whole abuse crisis. A powerful cleric using his position to commit his crimes and sins; a cycle of abuse, in which victims become perpetrators; churchmen not themselves guilty of abuse who nevertheless fail to see, and when they are made to see, fail to act; a culture of corruption and violence that is deeply entrenched and global in scope.

A month after the Archdiocese of New York said that abuse claims against McCarrick were “credible and substantiated”, new allegations continue to appear in mainstream news outlets. One alleged victim, the son of a family friend of McCarrick’s, told the New York Times that McCarrick began to abuse him when he was 11 years old and that the abuse continued over two decades.

The Washington Post added to the story on Monday, building on the Times’s account of how one former priest, who alleges Cardinal McCarrick abused him when he was in seminary, says the abuse he suffered at McCarrick’s hands impelled him to touch two children inappropriately. When the man confessed his behaviour, the then Bishop of Metuchen, Edward Hughes, sent him to a Church-run facility for evaluation and treatment. Medical staff at the St John Vianney Center in Pennsylvania told Hughes they believed their patient was himself the victim of sexual abuse and believed his abuser to have been McCarrick. The Post goes on to report: “Hughes wrote back to the therapist saying that he found the allegations ‘very troubling’ but that he wasn’t sure he believed them. ‘At the present time, I do not have sufficient factual basis for making such a determination.’ ”

The Washington Post story also contained allegations from a Brazilian priest, who lodged a complaint against Cardinal McCarrick in 2011, which he withdrew after Metuchen sued the priest for misusing parish funds and distributing flyers alleging that senior churchmen were homosexuals. The Post quoted the priest’s complaint – filed in a New Jersey court – as saying: “Cardinal McCarrick, through manipulation, deception and fraud . . . attempted to convince the plaintiff that engaging in the sexual relationship with Cardinal McCarrick was a necessary and accepted practice in the Roman Catholic Church in the United States.”

If the correspondence this journalist has had with knowledgeable and committed members of the faithful – laity and clergy alike – is any indication, then the prevailing view of the crisis is that it is one rooted in protracted and disastrous failure of leadership.

​How to continue reading…

This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week

The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection