Rules, Principles, and a Defrocked Cardinal

I’m not sure how the ‘defrocked Cardinal’ story will play out in America’s news.

Assorted presidential campaigns will be building up steam, and there’s no shortage of other newsworthy angst.

Maybe the McCarrick case will be a nine day wonder, maybe not. Either way, I did a little checking, and shared what I found.

Saturday’s Headlines

The Pope’s decision in the Theodore McCarrick case may have come at almost exactly the right time for a French author’s “bombshell book.”

Maybe the McCarrick case will fade into the back pages, as America’s presidential campaigns get juicier. Then again, it’s been a while since we had a high-profile Catholic scandal; so maybe there’s sound and fury ahead.

Either way, I’m not happy about what’s happened. Maybe I’ll talk about that some other time. Today, I’ll share what I learned about Theodore McCarrick — and talk about what’s right, what’s not, and how I see rules.

Theodore McCarrick: Sentenced to Life in Kansas

(From Reuters, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“Multiple allegations against Theodore McCarrick have emerged”
(BBC News))

US ex-cardinal Theodore McCormick defrocked over abuse claims
BBC News (February 16, 2019)

A former Roman Catholic cardinal has been defrocked after historical sexual abuse allegations.

“Theodore McCarrick is the most senior Catholic figure to be dismissed from the priesthood in modern times.

“US Church officials said allegations he had sexually assaulted a teenager five decades ago were credible.

“Mr McCarrick, 88, had previously resigned but said he had ‘no recollection’ of the alleged abuse.

“The alleged abuses may have taken place too long ago for criminal charges to be filed because of the statute of limitations.

“Mr McCarrick was the archbishop of Washington DC from 2001 to 2006. Since his resignation last year from the College of Cardinals, he has been living in seclusion in a monastery in Kansas….”

Backing up a little, Theodore McCarrick was born in 1930. He and his parents lived in New York City. His father died when he was three. McCarrick became a priest in 1958.

He studied and served as an assistant chaplain at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., where he became dean of students and director of development. From 1965 to 1969, he was president of the Catholic University of Puerto Rico.

Next, McCarrick was recalled to New York. He became an assistant secretary for education and was assistant priest at Blessed Sacrament parish from 1969 to 1971. Later, someone said that he’d been abused by McCarrick around this time.

From 1971 to 1977 McCarrick as Cardinal Terence Cooke’s secretary. After that, he was an auxiliary bishop, bishop and archbishop of New York, Metuchen, Newark and finally Washington, D.C. — and now lives in a monastery somewhere in Kansas.

After a life spent mostly in America’s Northeast megalopolis, being sentenced to serve a life of prayer and penance in Kansas may feel like being exiled to Siberia.

Still, it could be worse. McCarrick could have been sentenced to life in Minnesota. And that’s another topic.1

Accusations and a Question

Quite a few folks seem to think Theodore McCarrick did something wrong.

But did he? The question isn’t all that crazy.

McCarrick has been accused of having sex with other men: many of them above the age of consent.

The accusations apparently weren’t made until years after the affairs. That could suggest that the other men didn’t feel victimized until long after the event.

The Catholic Church has rules about sex: controversial rules. Many folks say they’re out of date, not in tune with today’s world. Maybe it’s the rules that are wrong.

The idea’s been around for a while.

“One has not only a legal, but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that ‘an unjust law is no law at all.'”
(Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King, Jr.(1963))

“An unjust law is no law at all.”
(“On Free Choice Of The Will,” Book 1, § 5, Augustine of Hippo (387–389))

“For there is but one essential justice which cements society, and one law which establishes this justice. This law is right reason, which is the true rule of all commandments and prohibitions. Whoever neglects this law, whether written or unwritten, is necessarily unjust and wicked.”
(“De Legibus (On the Laws),” Cicero (1st century BC))


Here’s where it gets interesting.

From what I’ve read, Theodore McCarrick probably did violate Church rules about sexual behavior.

The BBC News article says that the Archdiocese of New York had an independent forensic agency investigate allegations against McCarrick.

Legal experts, psychologists, parents and a priest on a review board said the allegations were “credible and substantiated.” (BBC News)

That doesn’t strike me as a rush to judgment. Maybe he honestly didn’t remember the incidents, or maybe he was still hoping that folks would believe him.

Either way, I’m willing to assume that McCarrick acted as his accusers said he did.

That brings me to whether the Church’s rules about sex are okay. Also what sin is. I’ve talked about this before, fairly often.

Sin and Respect

Sin is a failure to love. It’s what happens when I don’t love God and my neighbor, or don’t see everyone as my neighbor. Everyone. No exceptions. (Matthew 5:4344, 22:3640, Mark 12:2831; Luke 10:2537; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1706, 1776, 1825, 18491851, 1955)

Sin is an offense against reason, truth and God. (Catechism, 18491850)

I do that more often than I like.

Feeling an impulse to act badly isn’t a sin, by itself. Acting on the impulse: deciding to follow through with whatever I feel like doing, or that stopping myself is too much trouble? That’s where I start sinning. (Catechism, 17301742)

Basically, I’ve got a brain. I’m expected to use it.

One more thing, about thinking and feeling. Emotions happen. They’re part of being human. By themselves, they’re not good or bad. What matters is what we do about them. (Catechism, 17621770)

Feeling an impulse to perform homosexual acts can happen. Feeling the impulse isn’t what’s evil. Deciding to cooperate with the impulse, or deciding to go with the flow: that’s where trouble starts. (Catechism, 23572359)

I’m expected to recognize the action as a sin, and remember that folks deserve “respect, compassion, and sensitivity.” (Catechism, 2358)

Even folks who aren’t exactly like me. And that’s yet another topic.


Martin Luther King, Augustine of Hippo and Cicero said, or at least implied, that sometimes breaking a law isn’t a bad thing.

How can I, as a Catholic, possibly think they’re right?

Aren’t we expected to blindly do as we’re told? And doesn’t respecting authority mean obeying even the most obviously-wrong laws?

My guess is that describing Catholics as brainwashed minions of a foreign power is out of fashion in most American circles. Times change, and so do our cliches and slogans.

Old stereotypes die hard, though, so I’ll talk about authority, rules, and doing what’s right.

I should respect authority. Obedience is a good idea. Blind obedience isn’t. (Catechism, 1900, 1951, 22422243)

Some rules don’t change. No matter where or when I lived, loving God and neighbor would still be good ideas.

Some rules must change, as our circumstances change. Rules work better when they’re in line with the rules that don’t change.

We call the unchanging rules, principles written into this reality, natural law. (Catechism, 19501974)

Positive law is our name for rules we make up. Those rules should change if they aren’t consistent with natural law. (February 5, 2017)

More, mostly how I see love and acting like it matters:

1 Background:

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About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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