Cheer up, Catholics! Cardinal Donald Wuerl, whose predecessor as Archbishop of Washington was recently kicked out of the college of cardinals because he’s a child rapist and a molester of seminarians, is now saying that the Church is at a “new beginning.”
Interviewed this week at the Knights Of Columbus annual convention (see video here), the cardinal says now the Church needs some sort of bureaucratic mechanism for dealing with “a bishop who isn’t as faithful as he needs to be, even if the charge goes back 40, 50 years.”
He goes on to say, in his mentholated voice, “I don’t think this is some massive, massive crisis” — that is, it’s just a Ted McCarrick thing.
You don’t expect Father Thomas Rosica, his interviewer, actually to press Wuerl to answer questions — “What keeps Donald Wuerl alive, young, hopeful, and joyful?” is his final query here — but this is still pretty revealing. This is going to be the bishops’ strategy going forward: isolate the contagion to McCarrick, and propose another bureaucratic “solution.”
Recently, I found myself wondering what Frank Keating made of this new eruption of scandal within the Church. Back in 2002, reeling from the scandal that began in Boston but mushroomed nationwide, the US Catholic bishops called on the former Oklahoma governor to lead a lay-run National Review Board to investigate the scandal. Keating didn’t last long there. After he gave an interview in which he compared the Catholic bishops to the Mafia, he was pressured into resigning. He left in 2003 without apology.
In his resignation letter, Keating said the church is “home to Christ’s people. … It is not a criminal enterprise. It does not condone and cover up criminal activity. It does not follow a code of silence. My remarks, which some bishops found offensive, were deadly accurate. I make no apology. To resist grand jury subpoenas, to suppress the names of offending clerics, to deny, to obfuscate, to explain away; that is the model of a criminal organization, not my church.”
I phoned Keating, who now resides in Oklahoma City, to ask him what he made of the McCarrick revelations. He told me:
The McCarrick thing was stunning and shocking to me. Surely people knew about it, but no one talked. That was the cosa nostra, not my church. I found that incredible that that could occur. Priests that were misbehaving were outed, but not bishops, not the cardinal? That’s hypocrisy at its worst level. My view is that if you have done something like that, you say, okay, I have sinned exceedingly, I’m going to resign from the priesthood, I’m going to go live in a monastery, I’m going to scrub floors for the rest of my life. But to do evil things like McCarrick did and just pass on by is an outrage. Judas Iscariot is walking the earth, and is among the council of bishops.
When I was leading the National Review Board, if I had had any idea that McCarrick had done these things, I would have gone right for the throat. I’m from a conservative, orthodox Catholic past, but I was radicalized by hearing the parents of a victim tell us on the board about what happened to their son. I asked them where he was, thinking he would have come with them to talk about his experience. They told us that he had committed suicide. That radicalized me.
Keating said that he hasn’t been in touch with the world of bishops and church reform since he left the National Review Board. The former criminal prosecutor ruffled the feathers of his fellow panelists with his gruff and undiplomatic talk about bishops. He has no regrets.
“I viewed what we were dealing with as evil,” he said. “I didn’t care that I was coming off as too rough. What do you mean, I’m not going to be invited any longer to the cardinal’s cocktail party? If a guy has a Roman collar, I’m not going to hesitate to go after him, as long as I have the facts.”
His short tenure on the National Review Board opened Keating’s eyes to the depth and breadth of the sexual corruption within the Church. It almost cost him his faith — but in the end, facing the truth made him stronger. He told me:
My faith is stronger because of what I went through on the board. I was governor at the time, and had come to the point where I thought God doesn’t care about us, and that the faith is a myth. This is ridiculous, I thought, look at the evil of these people.
Then I went to Portugal with my wife, because the Tulsa Ballet was performing in the city of Sintra. My wife said, “Isn’t Fatima here in Portugal? I think we ought to go to mass at Fatima on Sunday.” So we found out that Fatima was an hour’s drive away. We took a few people and went to mass.
We were at the open-air mass on the plaza, standing up front. The mass was in Portuguese, which I couldn’t follow, so I had an opportunity to feel sorry for myself. I was thinking how ridiculous this all is, and that I needed to resign from the board, because God doesn’t care about us.
All of a sudden, they had priests reading the Gospel in different languages. An Australian was doing the reading in English. It was the story from Matthew 14, when Jesus walked on the water. He called Peter to get out of the boat, and Peter walked out on the water to meet him. As long as he had faith, he walked on water, but when he got afraid and started to sink, Jesus pulled him out of the water and said, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Hearing that, I got teary eyed and turned to my wife and said, “Sweetie, that’s the answer.” I figured I would give it another chance.
Keating told me that he concluded during his time on the Review Board that the bishops did not grasp that the problem in the Church was not just child molesters, “but also actively practicing homosexuals who simply couldn’t stop going after people. If you want to be a priest, you have to be celibate. I’m sure many, many good men were celibate and saintly, but a lot of them weren’t.”
He also said that clericalism — focusing on the priests, not their victims — was rife. He recalled one session of the Review Board:
The head of religious order priests was asked to appear before us. He shows up at our meeting, and he had this little stack of brochures, of booklets. He sat down and started giving his talk about what the problems were, what they were doing, how they were going to implement the criminal referral agenda. That was superb — if everybody would carry it out.
While this guy was talking to the board, I started reading one of his booklets. It was titled, What To Do If You’re Accused Of Sexual Abuse. It was for priests. I said, “Father, excuse me for interrupting you, but did you write this?”
He said, “No, no, I did not.”
“Have you read this?”
“No, no, I understand this we are giving out to our members.”
I said, “Let me share with you what it says to do if accused of sex abuse: ‘Take up woodworking or bird watching.’ If I’m accused of raping and sodomizing a 14-year-old boy, and it’s true, why don’t you have in here, ‘Resign from the ministry, go work in a soup kitchen, sleep on the floors and cry for your sins at night?’”
I was just floored that this occurred. That booklet really existed, but I’m sure they’ve destroyed it by now. But their concern was all focused on the priest.
I said, “Father, I would take every one of these and burn them.” I was really upset. I understand that after I left, the rest of the board started moving more my way, but that day they looked at me like, “You need to be a little less aggressive.” But you needed to be aggressive. If you just said, “Thank you for your information, I appreciate that,” nothing would happen.
I could hear that old anger in Keating’s voice when I asked him about where the Catholic Church should go from here. He is still furious about the omertà, the code of silence he says still reigns in clerical circles. He defines it as, “We don’t talk, and we don’t make waves.” It’s the code of the Sicilian mafia.
“The Catholic Church is a faith community. It’s a religious institution. It’s not la cosa nostra. Not my church,” Keating reiterates. “After this McCarrick thing, if the senior prelates of the Catholic Church look the other way, then the lay community should demand they look back. This is outrageous!”