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The ‘Mysterious’ Uncle Ted

It's no puzzle how he got away with it for so long: nobody would talk. Most still won't
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I wasn’t planning on writing about Cardinal Theodore “Uncle Ted” McCarrick until more major news broke, but a Catholic priest e-mailed this morning to encourage me (and other reporters and commenters) to keep doing so. He pointed out with enthusiasm veteran religion reporter Julia Duin’s meaty Get Religion critique of the New York Times piece from Monday. Duin writes, in part, about the “odd holes” in the NYT’s narrative. I won’t cite them all, because I want you to read the whole thing, but here are parts:

The article then tells the story of a second former priest, also the receiver of a settlement from the Catholic Church, whose story of priestly sex play at a New York state fish camp involving then-Bishop McCarrick has been making the rounds on the internet for a decade. The Times team says it was not allowed to mention the name of this second priest, but I have the same documents the newspaper cites and the writer was one [name]. He was a seminarian at the time and his description of the sexual goings-on at the fish camp involving McCarrick, Ciolek and a third priest identified as Robert Lynan sure make it sound like Ciolek was a willing participant.

[Name] had some misspellings in his narrative and commentators to my previous column suggest the real name was Robert Lynam, now heading up a parish in Kendall Park, N.J.

It could be that the Times did not name this priest, as Duin does, because it follows the common journalistic practice of not naming victims of sexual assault without their consent. I’m following that model here. It could also be the case that Ciolek is telling the truth, and the other priest, in his account of the homoerotic fish camp follies, is lying. More:

More dramatically, there was a group of people who traveled to Rome to beg officials there not to elevate McCarrick to the Washington see. I’ve talked with a priest who was part of that group and their unsuccessful journey to the Vatican was an open secret. Why did the Times not mention these people?

The story does break some new ground and obviously much hard work was involved. But for other reporters who are still tracking this story, there’s a lot more stuff out there to dig up. Someone needs to find [this priest] wherever he is in Hickory, N.C. (which is where he was when I was researching this story) or wherever he’s hiding out these days. If the church has released Ciolek from his vow of silence, [the other priest] too can come forward.

Also, has anyone approached the aforementioned Robert Lynam? And where are other priests who might have been sexually compromised by McCarrick? Surely there are more. Look for people whose careers McCarrick, now 88, boosted throughout the years. These could be priests or bishops whose stars were hitched to McCarrick’s wagon. I’m not alleging all such men were pursued by this cardinal, but there has to be more.

Read the whole thing — especially the jaw-dropping penultimate paragraph.

Julia and I are friends, but I didn’t know most of this about her coverage of the Uncle Ted story (I only knew that she, like many reporters in the past, had tried to report on it, but ran into a wall of silence from those who knew about it.) I had no idea — or perhaps I had forgotten — that she too knew about the mission to Rome, in which nine US Catholics, including the priest she mentions, flew to Rome before McCarrick was named to the Washington see, in an effort to stop it. The rumor at the time was that McCarrick was in line for DC after Cardinal Hickey’s retirement, and these Catholics were so worried about it that they went to Rome at their own expense to try to spare Washington the episcopal services of this notorious gay lecher.

As the story was told to me by one who went, and confirmed to me by another — neither of whom would talk about it on the record — they met with some Vatican officials (I can’t recall who, but I imagine someone with the Vatican office that names bishops), told them that McCarrick was a notorious molester of seminarians, and begged them to stop him. It did no good. As one of those on the trip told me, McCarrick had by then raised millions for the Church, and expected a reward — which he received.

As I’ve said in this space before, when I contacted a third man who went on this trip, and told him why I was calling, his response was: “If that were true, I would not tell you for the same reason Noah’s sons covered their father in his drunkenness.” Where does that come from? This passage in Genesis 9:

Now Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. But when he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and uncovered himself inside his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father’s nakedness and told his two brothers outside.

Then Shem and Japheth took a garment and placed it across their shoulders, and walking backward, they covered their father’s nakedness. Their faces were turned away so that they did not see their father’s nakedness.

When Noah awoke from his drunkenness and learned what his youngest son had done to him, he said,

“Cursed be Canaan!

A servant of servants

shall he be to his brothers.”

That was where the story ended for me. Somehow, McCarrick got wind of what I was working on, and a personal friend of his intervened with my editor to ask that the story be squashed. The McCarrick friend inadvertently confirmed its truth by that act, and he failed to get my editor to do his bidding. But it didn’t matter: nobody who knew about McCarrick’s dirty deeds would speak.

Later that spring, I heard from others who knew about McCarrick’s predation, and who wanted it exposed. But none of them would talk. One of those sources was Father Boniface Ramsey. I couldn’t convince him to speak in 2002, but recently, after McCarrick was removed from public ministry by the Vatican, Father Ramsey reached out to The New York Times, and told his story to them. Here is an excerpt from the Times story:

At least one priest warned the Vatican against the appointment. The Rev. Boniface Ramsey said that when he was on the faculty at the Immaculate Conception Seminary at Seton Hall University in New Jersey from 1986 to 1996, he was told by seminarians about Archbishop McCarrick’s sexual abuse at the beach house. When Archbishop McCarrick was appointed to Washington, Father Ramsey spoke by phone with the pope’s representative in the nation’s capital, Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, the papal nuncio, and at his encouragement sent a letter to the Vatican about Archbishop McCarrick’s history.

Father Ramsey, now a priest in New York City, said he never got a response.

… Father Ramsey said he continued to warn church leaders about Cardinal McCarrick. In 2008, he said, he raised the issue with Cardinal Edward Egan, the New York archbishop, but Cardinal Egan cut him off quickly. Father Ramsey said he was disturbed in 2015 to see Cardinal McCarrick serving at the funeral Mass for Cardinal Egan, so he wrote to Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston, who had been appointed by Pope Francis to lead a commission on sexual abuse of children.

“I have blown the whistle for 30 years without getting anywhere,” Father Ramsey said recently.

I was really moved by Father Ramsey’s courage in coming forward. As a priest, he has a lot to lose by telling the truth. I’ve been hearing recently from Catholic priests who have written to me to explain what can happen to them if they tell what they know. One of those priests writes:

I’ve been considering some of the same things you have, why don’t more priests who have been victims not speak out?  Ultimately, I believe it’s not much different from the story of the single mom [Note: a story I told about a source who told me of an outrageous case she reported to her sexually compromised gay bishop, who did nothing about it; she wouldn’t go on the record because she said she’s a single mom, and can’t afford to lose her job with the Church — RD].  As priests we have dedicated decades to one career and most of our education is only applicable in Church work.  Ultimately our bishop has almost unlimited power over us.  Yes, we are supposed to have some rights that ought to be protected and can appeal to the Congregation for the Clergy, but we all know that our bishop can send us into limbo with little or no financial support.  And therein lies one of the main problems.  We don’t have the resources to hire a canon lawyer or a civil lawyer to protect our rights against our bishop.  The moment we do secure their services our bishop takes that action as being disobedient, even though we have every right to do it.

A huge part of the problem is priests are stuck in their career as priests.  I realize “stuck” is a strange word here.  But given our relatively low pay we don’t have the ability to move to another career should the difficulties as a priest become too grave.  If you don’t have any other options, then the people in authority over you have quite a bit of coercive power.  The bishop has financial power over you, spiritual power, power of assignment, power to suspend, power to send for psychological assessment, etc.  Now ideally, if a bishop is righteous, this would all work out for the good of the priest.  But what if he isn’t?  Or what if the priests in his curia who are advising him are corrupt?  If you are a priest in such a diocese what are you to do?  If you are in your 30s you might leave knowing you can start over, but if you are in your 50s?

And how do you as a priest expose corruption?  There is no mechanism.  Write a letter to the Nuncio?  Who is he friends with?  Who is going to see it?  I have friends in the Vatican.  I know that they are “very concerned” about how priests are being treated by their bishops.  Yet, nothing changes.  My point here is, given the backlash a priest knows he very likely will receive by exposing corruption, he will either have to be willing to put up with persecution for possibly the rest of his life or he has to be willing to leave the priesthood.  This makes the stakes rather high.

It’s one thing to expose obvious abusive situations.  I would do that in an instant.  Hell if I found a guy abusing a kid I would put him in the hospital then and there.  Then I would call the cops.  Then I would call the diocese.

More from this same priest:

When a priest is mistreated the laity often never find out.  They receive notice that he has resigned his parish over health reasons and then is reassigned somewhere else some months later.  No one is ever told why and the priest is told to not say anything because he knows he will be further punished if he does.  Sometimes this mistreatment happens without parishioners even knowing.  Some spurious accusation happens to a priest and the bishop demands he gets a psychological evaluation.  He disappears for a week to undergo a humiliating extensive psychological evaluation of which all of the data is put in his file.  If that facility recommends further treatment the priest must submit to it.  If he doesn’t the bishop will suspend him indefinitely.  If he doesn’t submit to the evaluation the bishop will suspend him indefinitely.

I am referring to situations that have nothing to do with child sexual abuse.  Remember the Church teaches a priest cannot be compelled to undergo psychological testing against his will.  Bishops do this all the time.  They use it like a weapon, they also use it to protect themselves from liability and to satisfy the whims of insurance companies.  Priests are being sent off to these places constantly.  These are psychological hospitals where they also keep child abusers and other predatory priests.  So regular priests who have no issues of any kind like that, have to live with serial abusers and men with very significant psychological issues all because their bishop needs to cover his liability or is using it as punishment for a priest.

With all that in mind, consider how brave Father Ramsey was to go public in the Times. The things he said — like, for example, how he told the Vatican’s then-ambassador to Washington about McCarrick, but nothing was done — will make life much more complicated for some powerful men in the Church. I went back this morning into my e-mail files and found this from a priest, who sent it a couple of weeks before the Times published its story:

My question to you is, with reference to what happened to the bishops of Chile, it would seem that a good number of priests and bishops knew of McCarrick’s improprieties.  If they were in positions of power (priests like Vicars General or Vicars of Clergy or bishops) and they came across credible information that McCarrick was using his power to exploit priests and seminarians (there were two settlements on the books if I remember correctly) should they not be held accountable as well?  Should there not be a call for the Nuncio to investigate the situation and determine what was overlooked and who looked the other way?  And, yet, I don’t know how such a thing would be affected except if a certain number of bishops themselves asked for such an investigation.  Yet they are the ones who could be implicated.

Who guards the guardians?

We now know from Father Ramsey that the nuncio (that is, the Vatican ambassador) knew about McCarrick, because Father Ramsey told him. Father Ramsey has no reason to lie; by telling this story, he has exposed himself totally to the tender mercies of the machine. Father Ramsey also said he told the late New York Cardinal Edward Egan, and the sitting Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley (who, as you’ve seen, declined to comment on the allegation). They knew. And if they knew, why did the Vatican do nothing about McCarrick?

Who covered up for Uncle Ted, and who is still covering up for him — and why?

If reporters start examining whose episcopal careers are entangled with Uncle Ted’s rise, the whole thing may start to untangle. There are a lot of powerful men with a lot to lose if it’s all exposed.

There are some who have knowledge about Uncle Ted and his machinations that could help bring about justice and cleansing, but who still won’t talk. They’re still keeping his secrets, presumably for what they imagine is the greater good of the Church. I don’t understand how they can live with their consciences if they let a courageous priest like Boniface Ramsey risk so much to tell the truth about this sexual predator, McCarrick, but leave him to stand alone in the public square. But then, if one is absorbed into the system, one learns to compartmentalize and to live with cognitive dissonance, to keep the ship sailing on.

I’ve been having an exchange about all this with a Catholic reader, an avid follower of the abuse scandal, who has an incredible memory. He writes:

Of course, the problem is wider than male clerics.  I saved this post by Barbara Nicolosi (from Amy Welborn’s blog 5-24-2005) because it rang true at the time and still does:

I was in a religious community. The thing about only going to a superior of your superior is a sham. The superior of your superior probably appointed your superior! There is an inbred system in religious congregations to back up their superiors.

I have SOOOOOO many stories I could tell about this. Here are a few…

Once, when I was about 25, I had a young superior develop an infatuation with me. She had entered the convent when she was 15, and had received no formation to intimacy and friendship (very much like the LC system a few years ago…I hope they have changed it now.) Anyway, she used to insist that I hold her hands when I met with her for spiritual direction. I was confused, embarrassed, and generally weirded out. I called my Junior Mistress in the Motherhouse and expressed my dismay. She told me, “We have never had a problem with sister before.” She told me I was being paranoid and suspicious. The situation, of course escalated, with me calling the superiors in the Motherhouse at least three times. It finally got rectified when the sister sent me a love letter which I then put in front of the Provincial. Years later, I was told by another sister, that the superior who had the infatuation with me had been moved there from another house – because she had been involved in an inappropriate relationship! The superiors knew. They lied…for the greater cause of keeping the ship going.

– Another time, two of the superiors were involved in what looked like an inappropriate relationship. Several sisters went to them and expressed their “confusion” at the blatancy of the goings on. Many of these good women were sent home! I also complained – and then I was told that my lack of trust was a sign that I didn’t have a vocation! Eventually, I was pressured out too. Over fifty juniors left in the five years “THOSE TWO” were in power. Years later, after I was back in lay life, I met with the nun from Rome who was in charge of formation for the whole world. She admitted that Rome was “concerned” by all the young sisters in the States who were being sent home. I said, “So WHY DIDN’T YOU DO SOMETHING?!” She said, looking down, “It wasn’t our habit to interfere in the running of the Provinces…” In other words – “We back up the superiors.”

Preventing members of a congregation from saying to each other, “Hey, does this look weird to you?” is a very bad idea.

Barbara is a friend, and I knew she had been a nun at one point, but I either never knew, or forgot, the circumstances under which she left. Anyway, you see how this works, right? Nobody on the outside knows this is happening — and many do not want to know. It disturbs their inner peace too much. As I wrote in a 2008 piece on my old Beliefnet blog:

Unless you’ve spent a lot of time talking to people who have dealt with this stuff personally, it’s hard to believe this situation really exists. I interviewed a seminarian who had been studying in a religious order’s seminary, but who left for a diocesan seminary because, he said, gay sex was open and rampant in the particular order seminary in which he was studying. He told his own parents about what he was dealing with, and they didn’t believe him. They couldn’t believe him: priests didn’t do these sorts of things, as they saw it.

… Another story: a thoroughly orthodox Catholic acquaintance, a layman who retired from teaching at a seminary admitted that there was a great deal of gay sex going on in the seminary, and he was deeply troubled by it. Did the archbishop know? I asked. Yes, of course he knew, came the answer. Nobody ever accused this archbishop of being gay, or even thought he was — so why didn’t he do anything? My acquaintance had no idea — yet he loved and respected his archbishop, and so lived with the cognitive dissonance:

The archbishop is a good man.

His seminary is corrupt.

The archbishop knows about it.

The archbishop is doing nothing to intervene.

You can’t reconcile all of them, and my acquaintance emotionally couldn’t do it. So he more or less turned a blind eye too.

People tell these stories to themselves to inoculate themselves against doing their moral duties as Christians and as human beings.

Speaking of just-so stories, the Catholic LGBT advocate Father James Martin, SJ, appeared on PBS the other night to give his take on why Uncle Ted got away with it for so long. Excerpt from the transcript:

John Yang:The New York Times reported that the first documentation they see of a complaint that the Catholic Church was aware of, church officials were aware of, was in 1994. How could these allegations have been around for so long, and yet Cardinal McCarrick rise in the church hierarchy?

Rev. James Martin: That’s a very good question. I think you’re talking about the allegations about him toward seminaries and priests. I think, essentially, priests were probably embarrassed to come forward and former seminarians embarrassed to come forward. And it is shocking to me these allegations have been around for so long. It’s really pretty mystifying.

It’s not mystifying at all, and out of respect to the fact that Father Martin is one of the savviest and most cosmopolitan Catholic priests on the public scene, I don’t think this is as much of a mystery to him as he says. Father Martin’s longer take in America magazine has a lot of truthful things in with with regard to why this happened, but it ignores the darkest truth here: that there are secretive cabals of gay priests who protect and advance each other, and who depend on the protective culture of secrecy within the Catholic Church to shield them. The longtime Catholic journalist Phil Lawler wrote about this recently. Note this passage from the Times story of Monday:

For Mr. Ciolek, there were about a dozen trips out of town with Bishop McCarrick, including to a fishing camp in Eldred, N.Y., with other seminarians, and once to Puerto Rico, where he waited in a hotel lobby while his host spoke with the local bishop. Bishop McCarrick also took him to Yankees games. At one game, Mr. Ciolek said he was seated in George Steinbrenner’s box between the team owner and Henry Kissinger, in what he described as one of the highlights of his young life. But after the games ended, Bishop McCarrick sometimes took him to a small apartment on an upper floor of a hospital that he used for overnight stays in the city, and directed Mr. Ciolek to share his bed.

Mr. Ciolek said that even though he just wanted to be a parish priest, Bishop McCarrick would frequently bring up how he ought to go to Rome and climb the church hierarchy.

How do you climb the church hierarchy? There are the ordinary, honorable ways, but there are also back-door ways. If the New York Times — which had the McCarrick story nailed in 2012, but did not publish it — and others in the mainstream media want to tell a more complete and truthful version of the Mystery Of Uncle Ted, they will have to face down their industry’s own protective prejudices about homosexuality, and homosexuality in the Catholic priesthood.

Those ambitious clerics who climb the hierarchy the back-door way depend on the complicity-by-silence of the straight arrows. Pope John Paul II, who moved Uncle Ted to Washington and who made Uncle Ted the US Catholic bishops’ point man in dealing with the abuse crisis, is known to have been so viscerally disgusted by the idea of sexually corrupt priests that he refused to see what was right in front of his eyes (Cardinal Schoenborn has spoken publicly of this, and others in a position to know have said the same thing privately.) Refusing to acknowledge the truth in cases like this and act to restore justice and is a moral failure. It’s a moral failure when it’s done by religious superiors, as in the cases Barbara Nicolosi discusses in her former order of nuns, and it’s a moral failure when it’s done by a Pope who is also a saint.

(Speaking of Cardinal Schoenborn, Jason Berry has written about how Schoenborn, by his own account, went to John Paul repeatedly about the case of Austria’s Cardinal Groer, a grotesque molester, but how JP2 wouldn’t act against him. In 2010, Leon Podles wrote:

Now that he has made a public statement, I feel I can now reveal what Cardinal Schonborn told me two years ago.

I know him a little, and I sent him my book Sacrilege: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church. We met in San Diego, and I asked him what he thought of the book, especially the section on his predecessor, Cardinal Groer. I wondered whether I had understood all the German sources correctly.

Schonborn said the situation was worse than I knew. Groer had molested almost every student he had come into contact with for decades. After Groer was accused of this abuse, John Paul II continued to receive Groer socially in the Vatican, and tens of thousands of Austrians were resigning from the Church in protest.

Schonborn in person pleaded with John Paul to make a statement about Groer. John Paul replied that he would like to, but “they won’t let me.”

Podles, who is a faithful Catholic, also wrote:

I know that John Paul refused to act.

Cardinal Schönborn told me that he sat directly opposite John Paul and pleaded with him to make a statement about Cardinal Groër, the Fatimaniac molester that John Paul had appointed, against the advice of the bishops of Austria, to the see of Vienna. John Paul told Schönborn that he would like to make statement, but that “they” wouldn’t let him. “They?” John Paul wouldn’t explain, but it was clear then and Schönborn has since publicly made it clearer that Cardinal Sodano, the Secretary of State of the Vatican, and his underlings were protecting molesters like Groër, Gino, and Maciel.

The Schoenborn statement was remarkable. In 2010, the Catholic Herald wrote:

The Vatican Information Service has just released an unusually detailed communique relating to a meeting between Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn and Cardinal Angelo Sodano in which the Austrian cardinal was made to explain public criticism he had levelled against Sodano.

After Cardinal Sodano made a surprise speech at Easter criticising the media’s reports about abuse as “idle gossip”, Cardinal Schönborn publicly accused the former Secretary of State of having deliberately obstructed an investigation into accusations of child abuse against Cardinal Hans Hermann Gröer of Vienna. In today’s meeting, Pope Benedict seems to have done several things: he has reminded Cardinal Schönborn that the disciplining of members of the hierarchy is the responsibility of the Pope, he has clarified Sodano’s controversial comments about “idle gossip” and has brought the two men together. Interesting.

Got that? Cardinal Schoenborn told the truth about Cardinal Sodano, whose public statement was intended to throw people off the trail — and he was upbraided by Benedict XVI, essentially for airing the Church’s dirty laundry in public. Benedict appears to have been more interested in protecting the Church’s outside image, and maintaining the formal hierarchical order, than in telling the truth about a matter of sexual corruption that devastated the Austrian church. It’s like Barbara Nicolosi’s story, isn’t it? Better to keep quiet and keep the factory machines humming along. That might be a defensible strategy if the factory managers could be trusted to fix the problems, but they can’t be. If even a cardinal of the Catholic Church suffers reproof from on high for truth-telling in these cases, what hope does a lowly parish priest, monk, or nun have?

Failure to confront and deal with the truth is an egregious moral failure when done by a Roman pontiff, to whom all Catholics are subject — but it is also a moral failure when it is done by anybody who wouldn’t suffer grave consequences for doing so. Just this week I was e-mailing with a conservative Catholic layman who has long known the truth about Uncle Ted, and who also knows about the so-called “lavender mafia” within the Church, and agonizes over it. Yet even though this man, an accomplished professional, has nothing to lose compared with whistleblowers like Father Ramsey, he lacks the courage to come out and tell the truth, because he’s hypnotized by this idea that keeping silence is necessary to protect the Church.

But who is being protected by that silence? Not the Church, that’s for sure. And not the cause of Jesus Christ. The Mystery of Uncle Ted is not much of a mystery at all, for those with eyes to see. The only real mystery is why so many people still, in the year of our Lord 2018, after seeing the catastrophic damage all of this has done, continue to keep the secrets.

UPDATE: You have to read this amazing piece by Father Dwight Longenecker, a Catholic priest, about the mentality behind the cover-ups. He’s a convert to Catholicism, and writes about an Evangelical college with which he’s familiar, and how it kept everybody in line with low salaries, and making them entirely dependent on loyalty to the institution’s leaders. More:

It is very difficult for me to say this, but the Catholic religious orders and the Catholic priesthood very often operate with this same dynamic. A military style of leadership is there from the earliest formation: if you are a priest or religious the deal is the same as that Protestant college – You give us everything. We look after you.

On the surface it sounds great.

But there is a profound, underlying problem. It breeds dependency and that dependency nurtures immaturity and stunted growth as a person. The individual working within this dynamic is terrified of rocking the boat. They will not speak up and blow the whistle. They have seen what happens to those who do. They are scapegoated, persecuted and excluded.

In the college I am referring to, if you rocked the boat you were branded as “rebellious” or “a trouble maker”. The same thing happens among the Catholic clergy.

When the culture of dependency develops among the troops it then feeds itself. The dependent troops increasingly become worker bees–drones–cogs in the great machine. Their creativity is stunted, their vision is blinkered, their ideas of suppressed because the machine does not want imagination, creativity, initiative or independence. The machine wants dependability, hard work and above all–loyalty…because the only thing worse than the enemy on the outside of the little fortress is the enemy within.

Then who emerges as the leaders? Not people with drive, imagination, vision and creativity, but individuals who are groomed for leadership from among those who are already the insiders. The leaders who are abusive, domineering and manipulative choose other men who are abusive, domineering and manipulative and no wonder they watch each others’ backs, circle the wagons and keep control. That’s how they’re wired.

Furthermore, in religious groups those people in leadership almost always are accountable to no one. They appoint their Board of Directors. They appoint their employees, and there is no system of check and balances.

The bishops for example? To whom are they accountable? No one, and they operate within a closed, self supporting circle. No wonder they cover up for each other.

Read the whole thing. Let me point out that Father Longenecker is a Catholic priest who is dependent on this system that he courageously criticizes. If you are a layman who knows what’s going on, in good conscience, how can you leave priests like Father Ramsey and Father Longenecker out there to fight this battle alone? Speak up! Your silence will be held against you, if not in this life, then in the next.

UPDATE.2: An important comment from reader Augustinus:

Let me step in and defend Pope Benedict here, whom I know you, Rod, deeply admire. As other commenters have noted, Ratzinger moved on Maciel once he was in the position to do so.

Sodano is immensely powerful. Note that I didn’t say *was*. At almost 91, he is still the dean of the College of Cardinals, still wields tremendous influence over the goings-on in the Holy See, and has a long memory. He and Pope Francis were not always on the same page, especially when Sodano was vetoing Bergoglio’s selections for the episcopacy in Argentina. But now they have something like common cause: Francis has handed control of the Vatican’s money back to the Italians after deciding that the reform was too much effort, and Sodano is a major player in that regard, especially through proteges like Cardinal Parolin and Cardinal Becciu.

All of this to say that on his way out of office, Pope Benedict was so concerned about what would happen to his own former staff at CDF, namely those responsible for the investigation and prosecution of certain sexual abuse cases like Scicluna and Deeley, that he named them bishops in order to provide them some measure of protection from retribution by the likes of Sodano and his crowd. Benedict did not know who would take charge in the Holy See, but he did know that Sodano would wield influence as dean of the College of Cardinals in the interregnum and possibly after, meaning anything could happen to those who worked with him in dealing with the abuse crisis.

And then there’s this perceptive piece from The Guardian of all places: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2010/jul/05/religion-catholicism-schoenborn-sodano-papacy

Schoenborn was Ratzinger’s student. They have been close for decades. Who put Schoenborn in as a main editor of the Catechism of the Catholic Church? Ratzinger.

Read that Guardian piece closely. It says a lot about the way the Vatican uses language, and how Vatican statements are often as important for what they don’t say as what they do say.

Sodano has long been a formidable figure on the Vatican scene, especially when it comes to protecting the image of the Church. If it’s true that John Paul II couldn’t do anything about Groer because Sodano would block him, it can also be true that Pope Benedict would have been wary of Sodano’s influence and motivations, as well.

Bishop Fellay of the SSPX reported once that he was visiting Pope Benedict and imploring him to do something about theological corruption in the Church. And the Pope said, “See that door,” pointed to the door out of the room, and continued, “That’s where my power ends.” The man was boxed in from the beginning in so many ways.

Remember who insisted that sexual abuse cases be brought into the exclusive competency of the CDF. Cardinal Ratzinger.

When the final history of this crisis is written, I’m confident that Joseph Ratzinger will be the hero.

I am grateful for this comment, and hope Augustinus is right. I love Benedict XVI, and want to believe the best about him. But I try to guard myself against allowing my personal affection for someone to keep me from seeing things that are actually there.

UPDATE.3: Reader Mac61:

Vatican politics are complex. I have no doubt that it isn’t as simple as a pope putting his foot down and everyone falling into line. If I am not mistaken, Francis was to reform the Curia and the Vatican bank and he has given up on both. It pains me to think John Paul and Benedict failed to address these matters that have been shredding the credibility of the Catholic church for 17 years now.

I like my parish. I like my parish priest. He’s a good guy. I am getting married in the Catholic church in two months. I am not leaving. But I have spent the better part of the past 17 years working through a permanent state of cognitive dissonance to deal with this scandal. I do not know many young people who can handle that cognitive dissonance.

Why cleansing the church of this filth has not been Job #1 every day all day for every Pope since 2001 is beyond me. I get that it’s difficult and complex. Is it more difficult than watching as the stories of abuse, corruption and perversion topple one country after another? Is it more difficult than seeing parish after parish with only a tiny fraction of young adults?

I know Francis was in the middle of some incoherent project of murky theological reform when he took time to rebuke Chilean victims of sexual abuse as liars in front of the worldwide media. Hope the next pope cares enough about Christ and the Catholic church and the people who have continued to faithfully come to Mass week in and week out to do everything in his power and make every sacrifice necessary to reform the hierarchy. Somehow, however, I suspect that won’t happen. Cognitive dissonance. Return to local parish and forget the Vatican.

As you know, that’s the attitude I’ve taken in Orthodoxy, to preserve my own weak faith. I almost strayed from it once, and made mistakes I regret. To be fair, we don’t seem to have nearly the problems in US Orthodoxy that US Catholicism does, but I think that has a lot to do with the fact that we are small and powerless. I met a Russian Orthodox theologian at a conference a few years ago. He lives in either Moscow or St. Petersburg. He told me lots of stories about political and financial corruption in the Russian Orthodox Church, and how powerless the laity was to stop it. I asked him how he persevered in the face of it. He said pretty much what you said: focus on living a faithful life and serving the local parish, and to remind himself at all times that the Church is not 100 percent the same thing as the institution.



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