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A tale of two priests, and the way forward

Joseph F. Naumann is Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann

This week’s virtual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops devoted a significant amount of time to the Vatican’s McCarrick report.

It is a report that is difficult to read because of pain experienced by the trail of victims who suffered because of Theodore McCarrick’s abuse of his office as priest, bishop, archbishop and eventually cardinal.

The report still leaves a lot of questions regarding how Theodore McCarrick was able to rise to positions of authority within the church, while living in a way completely inconsistent with celibate chastity.

The report exposed the multiple human failures that allowed McCarrick to continue to function as a prominent leader within the church until three years ago.

Fortunately, the efforts of the church for the past 20 years to hear with respect and openness the accusation of victims eventually led to Theodore McCarrick’s removal — first from the College of Cardinals, and ultimately resulted in his prohibition from exercising the ministry of bishop or priest. The recent implementation of the protocols instituted by Pope Francis to create a means to report accusations of misconduct by bishops is an important step for the prevention of the possibility of future McCarricks.

However, the best laws, protocols and systems must be implemented by human beings. The ultimate safeguard for the church is the integrity of its deacons, priests and bishops living the commitments that we make in the ordination ceremony.

One concrete suggestion made during the discussion of the report was for each bishop to recommit ourselves to our personal pursuit of holiness. We were challenged to spend a portion of our daily eucharistic Holy Hour praying for the healing of victims of clergy misconduct.

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the papal nuncio to the United States, and Archbishop Jose Gomez, the president of the USCCB, in their addresses to the bishops, both proposed an Irish-American Catholic priest, Blessed Michael McGivney, the founder of the Knights of Columbus, as an example of priestly integrity and zeal.

Father McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus to provide fraternal, spiritual support for Catholic laymen who, in turn, could offer financial resources for widows and their children.

Today, we benefit from the legacy of Blessed Father Michael McGivney in the amazing charitable efforts of the Catholic fraternal organization that he founded. Just this past Saturday, I blessed a new sonogram machine the Knights of Columbus donated to the Wyandotte Pregnancy Clinic, allowing mothers a technological window into their womb to witness the humanity of their unborn child.

This is just one small illustration of the amazing charitable work performed by the Knights of Columbus today. Father McGivney showed what is possible when Catholic clergy and laity work together to fulfill the mission of the church to make the love of Jesus tangible in our world.

Father McGivney died at the age of only 38 from pneumonia during an 1890 pandemic. His life was too brief, but its impact is being felt 150 years later. Father McGivney exemplifies priestly zeal and dedication as well as a charism for inspiring and equipping Catholic laymen to transform the world by the light of the Gospel.

It is no coincidence that his beatification took place during the Covid pandemic. Father McGivney is a beautiful example of how a health crisis provides an opportunity to witness powerfully to the love, hope and joy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

McCarrick and McGivney is a tale of two American priests. Theodore McCarrick is a tragic example of clericalism and the worst kind of abuse of authority. Blessed Michael McGivney, on the other hand, is a shining example of the difference one humble, zealous priest can make in the lives of millions.

Please pray for me that I can strive more and more to become a shepherd after the example of the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep. Pray for all priests that we can be faithful to the promises we made on the day of our ordination, seeking not to be served but to serve.

Blessed Michael McGivney, pray for us.

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Archbishop Joseph Naumann

Joseph F. Naumann is the archbishop for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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