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The Cost Of Clericalism

Retired Archbishop Ted McCarrick has been accused of sexually abusing children and adult seminarians while a high profile church leader. (PBS News Hour screenshot)

I was on a train in Italy this afternoon when I saw this op-ed from Rick Fitzgibbons, the Philadelphia Catholic psychiatrist, and my jaw dropped open. Here’s a key passage:

Pope Francis on August 20, 2018, stated that “clericalism” was the root cause of the sex abuse crisis in Pennsylvania.  He stated:

“Clericalism, whether fostered by priests themselves or by lay persons, leads to an excision in the ecclesial body that supports and helps to perpetuate many of the evils that we are condemning today. To say ‘no’ to abuse is to say an emphatic ‘no’ to all forms of clericalism.”

Clericalism has been described elsewhere as a “disordered attitude” toward clergy which often results in an “excessive deference and an assumption of their moral superiority.” Pope Francis has noted that such an attitude can be “fostered by priests themselves or by lay persons.”

Clericalism, however, does not result in a psychological need in a priest for a sexual encounter with another male, especially an adolescent.

The Holy Father did not acknowledge the role of homosexual predation among clergy in the Pennsylvania crisis.

Cardinal Cupich also identified clericalism, not homosexual priests, as the cause of the sexual abuse crisis. Recently, the arrest of two priests of the Archdiocese of Chicago for public lewdness erodes the tag of clericalism.

In my professional opinion, in an effort to deny the role of homosexuality in the sexual abuse crisis, clericalism and availability (the John Jay Report) have been incorrectly identified as major causes.  There is no psychological relationship between clericalism, availability and the sexual abuse of youth.

Both these terms manifest an attempt to cover-up the true origins of the abuse crisis.

Read the whole thing. 

I completely agree with Fitzgibbons that the role of homosexuality in the priesthood is a massive problem at the heart of the abuse scandal. So why did my jaw drop?

The idea that Dr. Fitzgibbons, of all people, would say that clericalism is not a major cause of the abuse crisis is staggering. In 2002, a source tipped me off that Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was a molester of seminarians, and that his molestation widely known. So widely known, in fact, that when there were rumors that John Paul II was going to name McCarrick as Archbishop of Washington (and therefore to the cardinalate), a group of lay Catholics flew to Rome on their own dime to warn the Vatican not to do it. They met with officials of the Curia to tell them that McCarrick molested seminarians, and should not get the red hat.

It didn’t work, obviously.

My source named Dr. Rick Fitzgibbons as one of the Catholics who went on that trip. I phoned Fitzgibbons back then to ask him if it was true. He said:

“If that were true, I wouldn’t tell you, for the same reason Noah’s sons covered their father in his drunkenness.”

In other words, “If it were true, I wouldn’t tell you because I feel obliged to protect the dignity of a cardinal.”

That is clericalism, straight up. 

I don’t know if Fitzgibbons went to Rome to report on McCarrick or not. What I do know is that he believed in 2002 that protecting a cardinal was more important than telling the ugly truth about a sexual abuser who wears a red hat.

He may still believe it. I had not been in touch with him since 2002, until the McCarrick news broke this past summer. I e-mailed him to tell him that he should come forward with what he knows. There is no one left to protect. Staying silent means complicity with evil.

I invite Rick Fitzgibbons publicly either to deny unambiguously that he went on that trip to Rome to warn about McCarrick, or to admit it and say what he knew — who he met with, what he told them, and so forth. Jesus has no need of withholding the truth to protect the guilty. It’s time for the faithful to know exactly who is responsible for McCarrick’s rise.

Again: I don’t know if Fitzgibbons went on that trip, and I don’t know the full list of names. But I do know this: if those people had come forward in 2002, when the scandal was breaking nationwide, and said what they knew about McCarrick’s corruption, the Church would have been forced to deal with it then, and would not be going through these even worse agonies today.

Their silence protected a dirty old man who ought not to have been protected. And now it has caused far more damage to the Church’s reputation than it would have done had it come out in 2002. You say clericalism is not a major factor in the abuse crisis? Yes, it is — and Rick Fitzgibbons knows it better than most.

UPDATE: Rick Fitzgibbons comments below, and I answer:

RF: Rod has been informed recently by me that a psychiatrist cannot breach patient confidentiality without permission which has not been given.

[NFR: But you went to Rome to tell them something, didn’t you? If so, why didn’t patient confidentiality restrain you then? Or, do you deny that you went to Rome on a mission related to Cardinal McCarrick? You told me back in 2002 that IF it were true, you wouldn’t tell me, NOT because of patient confidentiality, but because you would protect the cardinal from public shaming. That is where the clericalism lies. — RD]

I repeat the questions to Dr. Fitzgibbons:

  1. Did you go to Rome prior to Cardinal McCarrick’s appointment to Washington to discuss with officials in the Vatican anything related to McCarrick’s suitability for that post? (Note that I’m not asking what you may have discussed with the Vatican, only whether or not you went on that trip.)
  2. In light of events of this summer involving McCarrick, do you stand by your 2002 claim that if you had gone on such a mission, you would have been justified to stay silent on it to protect the cardinal from public shame?

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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