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I was hesitant to write anything about former Cardinal McCarrick’s aberrant sexual immorality, as credible accusations made by seminarians and others abused by him became public. One, I didn’t want bring even more attention to this man’s heinous, evil actions. Two, writers much more talented than me have published eloquent, forceful pieces, so anything I might have to say would pale in comparison. And three, I didn’t want to write something simply for the sake of writing something. The whole “piling on” thing.
It occurred to me, though, that since evil seeks to inflict unlimited harm upon the world, then the light brought to bear upon and expose such evil should be equally unlimited. There can never be too much discussion of the true, good, and beautiful in response to deceit, evil, and ugliness. We can’t avoid discussing hard things simply because they are hard to discuss; that’s why the Church is wallowing in this wretched pit of perdition, after all. It’s why we hear so little preaching on the evils of sexual sins – some in the clergy and episcopacy have been covering up sexual sins within their number. Because they’re not really sins, if your conscience tells you so. Because if no one knows about them, there isn’t a problem.
Problem was, a good number of people knew about McCarrick and his dalliances, and nothing was done. He was propped up rather than pushed out, promoted rather than passed by. When the clergy sex abuse crisis exploded in 2002, the US bishops responded with words, and then more words. When strength was called for, they responded with weakness. When virtue was called for, they responded instead with VIRTUS.
VIRTUS was the penance exacted upon the laity due to the sins of the bishops. VIRTUS was the 614th commandment these modern-day Pharisees laid upon the faithful, a burden imposed upon people never accused of abusing children or molesting adolescents. As bishops closed ranks, countless Catholic lay people were made to feel like the criminal, simply because they wanted to teach, coach, or otherwise engage with the youth.
About eight years ago, I underwent VIRTUS training. A number of men in my men’s group recognized a need in our parish – reaching out to widowers, keeping them engaged in the parish, making sure they’re not forgotten. The pastor liked the idea, and asked us to expand it to include men experiencing any sort of loss – job, divorce, health. We had a brief course on grief counseling, and did some role-playing exercises. Then we were told VIRTUS training was required because we might come in contact with children. Might. We had to prove our innocence, and learn the signs of abusive behavior (in and of itself, that’s a good thing, don’t get me wrong), because an elderly widower might have young grandchildren at home when we stopped by to share a beer or a cup of coffee, doncha know.
At that point, the idea withered. VIRTUS killed what could have been a fruitful ministry. Several men reached out to widowers on their own, sans the parish’s association, because it was the right thing to do, because they weren’t predators. They knew VIRTUS was a hoop-de-doo for lay people to jump through, and not a solution to the clergy abuse crisis. They knew it was smoke and mirrors.
Maybe VIRTUS deterred a few people intent on harming kids. Perhaps a few predators were identified over the past fifteen years. One thing is for certain – VIRTUS didn’t stop McCarrick from becoming a Cardinal. VIRTUS hasn’t prevented seminarians from being abused or assaulted. VIRTUS hasn’t prevented the evil actions committed by those in the hierarchy.
What VIRTUS did prevent was people like myself from volunteering. Until the hierarchy shines the bright light of truth upon the evils being excused, committed, and protected amongst their brethren; until they make the hard decisions that are required; until they address the real problem unlike the way they did in 2002, my parish and the archdiocese get no additional moments of my time. I have enough burdens to bear without them flinging upon my back the heavy cross they feel is beneath them to carry.
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