I fell asleep last night with a sense of sadness and dread, and I know I am not alone. Like many, I’ve read the media reports and heard the speculation that in the near future, the Vatican is expected to issue a ruling in the case of former Washington Archbishop Theodore McCarrick and the allegations against him involving abuse of minors and sexual misconduct with seminarians and priests.
The sexual abuse scandal that erupted in the Catholic Church in the early 2000s following the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation by the Boston Globe newspaper, roiled the Church across the United States. But with the allegations against Archbishop McCarrick that were publicized this past summer, the abuse crisis hit home in a heart-rending and personal way for the people of the Archdiocese of Washington and for those like me who worked with then-Cardinal McCarrick while he served as archbishop of Washington from 2001 until his retirement in 2006.
Those of us who had great respect and admiration for Archbishop McCarrick and witnessed the good things that he accomplished for the Church of Washington and its people have had to reflect with sorrow on the pain expressed by people who say that he victimized them. Reconciling that image of the churchman whom we loved and thought we knew, with the disturbing details of the allegations against him, has been a difficult thing to reckon with, psychologically and spiritually.
The Archdiocese of Washington conducted an investigation and reported that it had found no allegations of wrongdoing against Archbishop McCarrick while he led this archdiocese. The reported abuse and misconduct allegedly happened decades earlier when he was a priest in New York and then the bishop of Metuchen and the archbishop of Newark, both in New Jersey.
After Pope Francis accepted Archbishop McCarrick’s resignation from the College of Cardinals and ordered him to live a life of prayer and penance, the disgraced prelate has been living in a friary in Kansas, awaiting the Vatican ruling in his case, which could strip him of his priesthood.
As the editor of the Catholic Standard newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington, I covered then-Cardinal McCarrick extensively during his years in the nation’s capital, and the story of his downfall has been something I never expected to see or write about. The morning last June when the allegation of sexual abuse by Archbishop McCarrick of a New York teen-ager from nearly 50 years ago was announced, I went to the chapel at the archdiocesan Pastoral Center and prayed with tears in my eyes, then I went to my desk and wrote the story.
Now eight months later, when the Vatican ruling appears to be imminent, I am bracing for the official word on this tragedy, and know that I need to pray for Christ’s healing for abuse survivors, for the people of the Archdiocese of Washington and for the Church in the United States wounded by this scandal, for Archbishop McCarrick, and for myself.