CATHOLIC VALUES COLUMNIST
Last Saturday morning, the first thing I saw online was the news that Ted McCarrick, former cardinal and disgraced archbishop of Washington, D.C., had become the first American bishop and cardinal to be defrocked, or removed from the clerical state.
It really hit me when I read the New York Times’ story on the defrocking. Famous for their use of courtesy titles, the Times referred to “Uncle Ted” as Mr. McCarrick; no longer was he called Cardinal, Archbishop or even Father McCarrick. Just Mr. McCarrick.
And while observers can go back and forth as to whether it took unnecessarily long to take this action and whether more action should be somehow sought against McCarrick, this uncompromising defrocking is an important, although small in the large picture, step to ridding the Church from the horrible stain of sex abuse.
Knowing all these things, McCarrick’s defrocking tasted like a sweet, sweet victory after so much anger and frustration at the failures of the Church’s bureaucracy, both to allow McCarrick to get where he did and then not punishing him for his actions decades ago.
But then I was struck by a sobering thought, one that has been reoccurring since all of this began but that I’ve never wanted to really buy into. Ted McCarrick is a terrible, horrible person who committed atrocious sins — atrocious crimes — the graveness of which are only compounded by his place as a successor to the apostles. He is also 89 years old. So, what’s going to happen to him when he dies?
As easy as it might be for those of us Catholics who, having spent the past eight months in utter frustration with McCarrick and his gang of ecclesial protectors, want to say, “I don’t care what happens” or “I hope he rots in hell,” we should do anything but that.
As Catholics, we believe that all people can be forgiven for their sins and received into heaven if they are truly repentant. As paragraph 1446 of the Catechism states, “the sacrament of Penance offers a new possibility to convert and to recover the grace of justification” for all sinners, including McCarrick.
Not only that, but the Catechism reminds us in paragraph 2003 that we have a role to play in bringing our fellow man along with us on the road to salvation: “the gifts that the Spirit grants us … enable us to collaborate in the salvation of others and in the growth of the Body of Christ, the Church.”
One of the most fitting ways we can do this is through our heartfelt prayers for someone and for the conversion of his or her soul. We do not want a single soul to be damned for eternity and we pray during every Mass for God to have mercy on us and our fellow sinners so that we might hope to join him in heaven for eternity. We cannot merely go through the motions with these prayers during Mass, and if we truly mean them, we should be praying for the salvation of all souls, especially those priests and bishops who have been part of this deep-seated problem within the Church for decades.
They betrayed us, they betrayed themselves and they betrayed God in one of the worst ways they possibly could have: using their ministerial priesthood, the same priesthood instituted by Jesus Christ, as a way to manipulate children and their spiritual charges mentally, emotionally, physically and sexually. On paper, it seems that there is no hope for them, which is why it seems they are destined to live with the devil for eternity.
I do not want anyone to go to hell; to never sit in the presence of the Trinity, the Blessed Virgin, all the angels and saints and to instead face eternal suffering and damnation is beyond terrible and I would not wish that on anyone. I despise McCarrick and every other priest, bishop or cardinal that has every committed these terrible crimes. But his sins are the exact reason I pray especially for his soul and for his true conversion.
We are nothing without God and his mercy, and I pray that God gives healing to the victims, that their wounds and hurt are filled by his everlasting love. I will also pray that those who committed such terrible crimes will realize their evil, be truly repentant and make their penance so that they might be saved from eternal damnation. That is what I believe we are called to do as Catholics, and it is what I am going to strive for.