By Most Rev. Gerald L. Vincke
Bishop, Diocese of Salina
The church needs to be open, honest and transparent.
On Sept. 13, I received a phone call from His Eminence, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. After brief pleasantries, he got right to the point. He asked for my permission for Archbishop Theodore McCarrick to reside at the St. Fidelis Capuchin Friary in Victoria, to live a life of prayer and penance. Archbishop McCarrick is 88 years old. Cardinal Wuerl already received permission for this arrangement from Father Christopher Popravek, the provincial of the Capuchin Friary in Denver. I said, “yes.”
I realize this decision will be offensive and hurtful to many people. Archbishop McCarrick is, in many ways, at the forefront of the recent firestorm in the church. Many of us are confused and angry by what Archbishop McCarrick is alleged to have done several decades ago. The Holy See stated on July 28 that Pope Francis “accepted his resignation from the cardinalate and has ordered his suspension from the exercise of any public ministry, together with the obligation to remain in a house yet to be indicated to him, for a life of prayer and penance until the accusations made against him are examined in a regular canonical trial.” Please know that I agreed to this arrangement with the understanding that Archbishop McCarrick is excluded from any public appearances and ministry. Our diocese is not incurring any cost in this arrangement.
I believe in justice. Recently, the Administrative Committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops stated their support of a full investigation into the allegations surrounding Archbishop McCarrick. The committee has recommended that the investigation be done by lay experts in relevant fields, including law enforcement and social services. Currently, a timeline for that investigation is unknown.
I also believe in mercy. In saying “yes,” I had to reconcile my own feelings of disappointment, anger and even resentment toward Archbishop McCarrick. I had to turn to Christ for guidance. Jesus is rich in mercy. He did not come to give us permission to sin, he came to forgive our sins. We know that Christ has compassion and mercy for all who repent of their sins. The cross is a place of love and mercy. It is not a place of retribution. If our actions do not have mercy, then how can it be of the church?
Jesus reminds us to “be merciful, just as our Father is merciful.” Many years ago, I received a relic of St. Maria Goretti, who was canonized in 1950. When Maria was almost 12 years old, she was attacked by a 19-year-old man named Alessandro Serenelli. After she rebuffed his sexual advances, Alessandro stabbed her 14 times. On her deathbed, Maria’s last words were, “I forgive Alessandro Serenelli . . . and I want him with me in heaven forever.” She forgave her assailant. Yet, there was also justice. Alessandro spent a number of years in prison. During this time, he had a deep conversion and spent the rest of his life in a monastery. I have a relic of St. Maria Goretti beside the tabernacle in my chapel with a prayer that I say often. The opening line is “Dear St. Maria Goretti, your heart was so full of mercy that you gladly forgave your assassin and prayed that he might be saved.” I think St. Maria Goretti is a saint today because she forgave Alessandro.
Sometimes, it can take a long time to forgive.
At this time, I would like to take the opportunity to say how deeply sorry I am to all the victims of abuse. My heart aches for you and your families. I am unable to comprehend the extent of your suffering. Sadly, many times the victims did not receive an adequate response from the church regarding the abuse they endured and the lifelong pain and suffering that accompanies such evil. As a church, we are extremely sorry and ask for forgiveness. Because of the courage and perseverance of the victims who came forward, they have become the source of much-needed change in our church and our culture. I pray that this may bring about greater purification and healing for our world.
This is a difficult time for the church. This purification of the church by God is painful, but much needed. We need the eyes of faith as we suffer through this. “Faith is not a light which scatters all our darkness, but a lamp which guides our steps in the night and suffices for the journey (“Lumen Fidei” (“The Light of Faith”), 57).” Jesus is with us as light in the midst of darkness.
We trust that God will bring good out of this situation. Please join me in praying for Archbishop McCarrick as he now leads a life of prayer and penance. Most of all, let us pray for all victims of abuse so they may experience the healing presence of Jesus and the tenderness and compassion of Our Blessed Mother.
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