Thursday, July 19, 2018

For "Uncle Ted," The Final Cut

Put simply, the report is a nuclear bomb.

Even as last month's credible, substantiated allegation that Cardinal Theodore McCarrick abused a minor in the early 1970s resulted in the Pope's direct suspension of the 88 year-old prelate, and with it emerged two decade-old settlements by the dioceses he led over his misconduct with adults, late Thursday afternoon The New York Times published the apparent epitaph of one of American Catholicism's towering figures of the late 20th and early 21st centuries: the testimony of some 20 years of abuse of one man by the retired Washington prelate, beginning when the victim – the son of a close friend of the future cardinal – was 11 years old.

Not merely for the Stateside church, but Catholicism beyond, the fresh charge – which the now 60 year-old survivor, identified only as James, said he revealed to his family in the wake of McCarrick's removal – represents a seismic moment. Even for the torrent of 2002, it's a confluence that would've been unthinkable: a graphic return to the crisis’ major eruption at an unprecedented level of the US hierarchy... yet now beyond, a practically uncharted frontier of new processes and potential penalties for clerics of all stripes over claims of sexual harassment or exploitation of those under their authority: as Francis himself has re-framed the issue over recent weeks in personally aiming to repair the roiled church in Chile, "the abuse of sex, the abuse of power, the abuse of conscience."

As previously reported, the first allegation against McCarrick – levied last January, the 1971 abuse of a 16 year-old boy which, in a historic step, was found credible through the standard Dallas Charter process – itself represented the first time in a quarter-century that a cardinal's assault of a minor was openly aired and acted upon by Rome.

While the removed prelate was said to have been planning an appeal of that judgment – and the final determination of McCarrick's penalty remains pending before the Pope – a second accusation of child abuse effectively short-circuits an attempt at recourse. What's more, however, given last month's simultaneous disclosure of the twin settlements over the then-bishop's misconduct toward two priests – the first of them reached in 2005 – it bears repeating that "among the College of Cardinals, never before have both degrees of scandal converged at once – that is, until now."

In today's piece, James and his attorney told the Times that a police report on the allegations was filed earlier this week, but a civil suit over the abuse has yet to be broached.

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Significant as Monday's front-page Times piece was in that it marked the public emergence of one of McCarrick's adult targets – Robert Ciolek, a now-married former priest who filed the first misconduct suit – in terms of policy, a buried comment from Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark delivered the biggest impact.

A Francis confidant and favorite of McCarrick's who was sent to New Jersey's top post at the latter's behest, Tobin said in a statement that he would "discuss this tragedy with the leadership of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in order to articulate standards that will assure high standards of respect by bishops, priests and deacons for all adults."

In as many words, that means another "Charter," at least to some extent – and as both a cardinal and chair of a major USCCB committee, just as Tobin got his declared wish for a top-shelf conference delegation to visit and minister to families separated at the Mexican border earlier this month, he will have this as well.

In the wake of the comment, what's become a fairly rote November agenda in Baltimore just got a lot more interesting – if anything, the Stateside bench's most consequential plenary on the scandals since the famous June 2002 summit in Dallas is now teed up.

Given the circumstances, though – above all, a marked lack of consensus among the body on how to address the thicket at hand – odds are a new conference entity devoted to the issue will need to be created. Accordingly, as the relevant concerns span the respective purviews of the bench's arms for Clergy/Consecrated Life (which Tobin oversees) and Canonical Affairs, not to mention the safe-environment work of the Committee for Child and Youth Protection, the announcement of a task-force or ad hoc committee on harassment and adult abuse can likely be expected over the coming weeks – at the latest by mid-September's closed-door meeting of the conference's all-important Administrative Committee, which sets the agenda for the November sessions.

Developing – more to come.