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Addressing abuse, church must address the betrayal of community

REMOVING McCarrick from his office as cardinal and from the clerical state suitably addresses the individual at the heart of this case, but it does not address the deeper issues.

Catholics understand behavioral problems, mental illness, sexual sin – we understand humanity that fails. To this point in time, the church has focused on the actual sickness of the abusers. The response has been modeled after and invokes civil law to punish the offender with jail time and expulsion from the community. Settlements and monetary liabilities are paid out. We support all these actions as appropriate and necessary.

The secondary crime, which cannot be dealt with in a civil court or bought off with insurance money, is the betrayal of the community by its leaders. Addressing the betrayal of community will take more than revised charters and canon laws.

That fact that this same man would rise to the highest ranks of the Catholic Church only heightens the sense of betrayal. It is the anguish felt at the knowledge of this betrayal that caused Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, on verge of becoming Pope Benedict XVI, to cry out against the “filth” in the church. On Good Friday 2005, in the Colosseum at the Ninth Station of the Cross, when Jesus fell the third time, Ratzinger prayed:

Think of how much Christ suffers in his own Church … How often is the holy sacrament of his Presence abused…How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to him! The soiled garments and face of your Church throw us into confusion. Yet it is we ourselves who have soiled them! It is we who betray you time and time again, after all our lofty words and grand gestures.

The McCarrick case shows how this betrayal happens at the sacramental level: Bishops who hid the crimes against children or who through intention or neglect enabled the crimes to remain hidden distorted the community’s understanding of God, of God’s presence in the community that we believe, according to our sacramental theology, infuses everything and everyone.

What must happen is a deep examination of conscience by all who have held power in the U.S. church these last 40 years when the abuse crisis began to emerge in the church. We need to know, and they need to tell us what they knew, what they tolerated and what they were silent about. Full truth telling is needed so healing can happen.

When our church leadership has publicly acknowledged – in the anguished tones Ratzinger modeled – its collective complacency in the abuse of its children, then can we move forward saved and sanctified. – NCR Editorial



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