Until recently, 88 year old Theodore McCarrick was a prince of the Roman Catholic Church, an influential and widely known Cardinal who had the ear of the Pope, and who influenced Church policy at the Vatican and before his retirement, in the powerful diocese of Washington D.C.
McCarrick also abused his power by sexually assaulting seminarians and altar boys to whom he had unfettered access. The abuse went on for decades, and was apparently known at highest levels of the Vatican, who continued to promote McCarrick to increasingly more exalted positions.”Uncle Ted”, now an old man, says he doesn’t remember being the quintessential funny uncle at the party that everyone tried to avoid.
Uncle Ted has been defrocked after an investigation, his removal from the priesthood ultimately sanctioned by Pope Francis. Funny Uncle Ted is now simply “Mr. McCarrick”. No more red berettas or pointy cardinal hats for him.
A new book coming out by Frederic Martel called In the Closet of the Vatican claims that 80% of priests who work in the Vatican are gay, although not necessarily sexually active. This volume joins others written over the years on the same topic. Prominent Catholics like the late Cardinal Spellman of New York and theologian Henri Nouwen have long been alleged to be gay. There has been widespread speculation about retired Pope Benedict, who dresses in ruby red slippers and ermine capes and is often seen in the company of his personal secretary Archbishop George “Gorgeous George” Ganswein.
Now things get complicated. Being gay does not equate to being sexually active, and clearly Catholic priests both gay and straight struggle with celibacy and often fall off the wagon. Being sexually active as a priest is arguably not always coercive — arguably, because of the power differential. Being gay or straight and sexually active does not equate to pedophilia, although American Cardinals like Raymond Burke want to cleanse the priesthood of all gay men and therefore “solve” the pedophilia crisis.
Writers who have long studied the issue of gay clergy often suggest that the most vociferous and vindictive Cardinals doth protest too much, and are hiding their sexual orientation themselves. Et tu, Cardinal Burke, he who wears scarlet gloves and jeweled red hats and a 20 foot silk train?
But official Catholic teaching does label homosexuality as “objectively disordered”, so having to live in the closet as a gay priest is a problem of integrity and authenticity. And the pedophilia crisis, along with the now recognized problem of priests and bishops raping and impregnating nuns, roils on. Uncle Ted apparently keeps his pension and his savings, and has the good will of prominent Catholics who are likely to provide him a place to live after he is turfed out of Church supported housing.
At the very least, my take is that the Catholic priesthood attracts seriously sexually immature men who then act out in ways that are deeply damaging to the people who look to them for spiritual guidance, not sex. The inherent power of the priesthood for observant Catholics amplifies the damage, which for many victims is lifelong.
This is a structural problem, solved only by changing the structure of the ordained priesthood. In my view, admitting both married men and ordaining women would go a long way. We’re beyond the point where Church tradition of an all-male clergy can legitimately be sustained.