Mr Theodore McCarrick will spend his last days within the limestone walls of St Fidelis Friary in Victoria, Kansas. He’ll be able to see the stunning St Fidelis Church, ‘the Basilica of the Plains’, from his window. His quarters in the monastery will be simple, clean, and pleasant. He’ll have all the time in the world to pray, read, write, think, or just putter, as old men like to do. His meals, laundry, heating, and other necessities will be taken care of for him. There will always be a tender Franciscan nearby if he needs to talk, or cry, or play checkers. He’ll die surrounded by holy men praying for the repose of his soul.
The ‘life of prayer and penance’ might not be everyone’s cup of tea; but, before he was laicized this week, Mr McCarrick was a member of the clergy of the Catholic Church. Six decades ago he was ordained in the Archdiocese of New York and went on to become Archbishop of Washington. He was a member of the College of Cardinals, the most honored and trusted men in the Church, from 2001 until July of last year. If his clerical career was anything other than a complete sham – if there’s any love or fear of God in his heart – the life of prayer and penance isn’t a punishment: it’s a tremendous grace. It’s a chance to make peace with his Creator before he dies, away from the anxieties and temptations of the world.
No other Catholic layman, however devout or virtuous, would be afforded such a happy retirement. If (God forbid) my wife dies before I turned 88, I would love to move into a quiet friary where the priests would feed and clothe me, pray with me and keep me company. But that would never happen. For the most notorious living predator in the Church, it’s what passes for justice.
Mr McCarrick will never stand trial. He’ll never be forced to face his victims or their families. He’ll never be forced to witness the wreckage he brought upon the Church he vowed to serve, or the hundreds (perhaps thousands) of men and women in his care who have abandoned the Faith out of disgust for his crimes.
This should come as no surprise to anyone who understands the inner workings of the Catholic Church today. Cardinal Bernard Law, the late Archbishop of Boston, was complicit in the largest cover-up of predatory priests in the history of the American Church. He spent his last years in Rome where, according to Vatican-watcher Robert Mickens, ‘he did not lose his influence. He was a member of more congregations than any other bishop. There are nine or 10 and he was a member of six of them.’
But even if McCarrick is no longer Pope Francis’s éminence grise, his influence is still being felt throughout the Church.
Next week, senior bishops are meeting in the Vatican to discuss the abuse crisis. Pope Francis asked Cardinal Blase Cupich, whom Mr McCarrick allegedly handpicked as Archbishop of Chicago, to help organize the summit. Cupich has become distinguished for his theological liberalism, his unpopularity with his brother-bishops, and his opposition to lay-led investigations into the clerical hierarchy.
On Thursday, Francis appointed Cardinal Kevin Farrell, the former Bishop of Dallas, as camerlengo. The camerlengo oversees Vatican City when the Pope dies and prepare the conclave that elects his successor. Farrell was McCarrick’s auxiliary bishop and vicar general in Washington, DC. The two men lived together for six years, though Cardinal Farrell insists he knew nothing about Mr McCarrick’s predations.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Mr McCarrick’s protégé and successor as Archbishop of Washington, resigned his post this past October. He remains Apostolic Administrator of the diocese, however – despite admitting that he knew about the allegations against McCarrick back in 2004. Wuerl also remains ensconced in the Congregation for Bishops, which helps the Pope select new bishops, including his own successor.
Cardinal Joseph Tobin is the most likely to follow Wuerl. Tobin’s another liberal whom McCarrick supposedly recommended for his current post, Archbishop of Newark. According to the North Jersey Record, Tobin also admitted to hearing about McCarrick’s notorious beach house as early as 2016.
Given the powerful friends he kept, Mr McCarrick’s laicization is perhaps more punishment than we could have reasonably expected.
And it may be that, for Mr McCarrick, being stripped of honor and power and and access to handsome young seminarians is the worst fate of all. Confinement to a monastery with simple friars might be worse than rotting in the sex offenders’ unit of a federal prison with his fellow perverts. Maybe he’ll spend his last days choking on the odor of common holiness. Still, it doesn’t feel like justice.