Posts Tagged ‘Virtue’

Cardinal McCarrick and the Integrity of the Church

Monday, July 2nd, 2018

The news about the sexual abuse allegations against Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has produced a great deal of heat in secular and Catholic circles, and very little light. Several online pundits have used this news to bash the Church as thoroughly corrupt. One even claimed that “of all the institutions and societies that intersect with my life, the Church is by far the most corrupt, the most morally lax, the most disillusioning, and the most dangerous for my children”.

These are outrageous calumnies. They leave people with the false impression that the Church has done nothing to combat child sexual abuse. And they totally misunderstand the real significance of the Cardinal McCarrick story — as much as it is a tragedy and a crime, it is also in reality a success story.

It proves that nobody is above the law, and that the system in place to handle allegations of sexual abuse really works. It proves that people can rely on the Church to root out corruption and to protect everyone who comes to her. And it encourages other victims to come forward and tell the truth about what happened to them.

I am a lay person who loves the Church and wants to keep the Bride of Christ “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:27). If you look around the country, you will see hundreds of people like myself — safe environment directors, victim assistance coordinators, review board members, diocesan attorneys — who are doing the same thing in every diocese. The vast majority of them are lay people, and there is no question that they have the support of their bishops and clergy. I know that because I hear it all the time from my Archbishop and our priests.

Every diocese has elaborate procedures in place to handle complaints about sexual abuse of minors. I am part of the team in the Archdiocese that does that. In the Cardinal McCarrick case, as in all other cases involving allegations against clergy, we followed our process precisely, gathering all the relevant evidence and pursuing the truth wherever it led. (I should note that I was not an active part of that investigation, which was conducted by other members of our team.)

Our procedure is that whenever a complaint comes to our attention, we always refer it immediately to law enforcement. Every time. Always. We then step back and let law enforcement do their investigation. We cooperate 100% and let them do their jobs. In most cases, the allegations cannot be prosecuted because they took place too long ago. So law enforcement notifies us of their conclusions and we take over from there.

The Archdiocese then does our own investigation. We have hired an independent firm of private investigators who are former federal law enforcement agents, and they spearhead the investigation. They interview witnesses, gather documentary evidence, all the things that seasoned investigators do. Archdiocesan staff also assist in the investigation. Our diocesan attorney has a vast amount of legal experience and has conducted literally hundreds of investigations. I am a former Assistant United States Attorney and Assistant District Attorney and I have done hundreds of criminal investigations. We are professionals, we take this work very seriously, and we leave no stone unturned. We are given complete discretion in carrying out these investigations.

These cases are very, very difficult. The allegations usually involve events that took place decades ago. Many of the potential witnesses don’t remember any relevant details from so long ago or may even be dead. Very few of the incidents were reported to anyone at the time they occurred. Independent evidence that can corroborate or contradict the allegation is very hard to find. There is no physical evidence that can be examined forensically. Assessing the credibility of witnesses is a critical factor, and can be very challenging even to experienced professionals.

At a certain point in the investigation, the accused priest is interviewed. He is represented by an attorney and has been given access to all the results of the investigation. He has every opportunity to present his side of the story.

Once the investigation is complete, the case is presented to our Archdiocesan Advisory Review Board. This consists of several judges, a psychiatrist, a religious sister, a priest and several lawyers. They all have a great deal of experience and wisdom, and they are very engaged and proactive. If they think that more investigation is warranted, they ask for more information. In some cases (like the Cardinal McCarrick case), they ask the accuser and the accused priest to personally appear before them to give their testimony. They evaluate each case based on the hard facts, not on rumors or innuendo. If they find the evidence sufficient to substantiate the allegation, they say so. And they don’t hesitate to exonerate priests when there is insufficient evidence. They call them as they see them.

Backing all this up is an intensive program of child protection that is designed to minimize the risk of future incidents. We don’t do a good enough job letting people know about this. We background check everyone who works with minors, whether paid or volunteer – we’ve done almost 130,000 checks since our program began. We train everyone who works with minors in the signs and prevention of child sexual abuse, and we provide age-appropriate lessons to children too. We have a team of former police officers who conduct onsite visits to our parishes and schools to see if our policies are being implemented. We have detailed Codes of Conduct and policies to make our standards of behavior clear. And we are audited every year by an independent team that makes sure we’re doing our jobs. This involves a huge amount of labor and money, and it represents a major commitment by the Church.

There is also a separate and extensive process that takes place to determine if a cleric is has committed a crime of sexual abuse against a minor as defined by Canon Law. That process is initiated and conducted by officials here at our Tribunal Office. It can ultimately lead to a proceeding in Rome before the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which can decide to dismiss the accused from the clerical state (i.e., “laicize” him). I am not a canon lawyer, so I am not qualified to explain that process and I have no idea how it will play out in the case of Cardinal McCarrick. But it is a vital part of the way that the Church addresses these terrible offenses.

So when people allege that the Church is not doing enough to police herself, that defames all of the people across the country who are doing everything they can to the best of their ability to make sure that justice is being done and that future crimes are prevented. When people claim that the Church doesn’t care, or that we haven’t improved, they are just showing their ignorance of the facts.

It is especially aggravating when people claim that the laity is somehow part of the problem for either not caring or not taking action. Every single person who was involved in the Cardinal McCarrick investigation was a lay person. With two exceptions, our Review Board consists entirely of lay people. Everyone who works in my Safe Environment Office is a lay person, and the vast majority of those who implement and enforce our policies in the parishes and schools are lay people acting under the leadership of their pastors. Here in the Archdiocese, lay people are part of the solution, not part of the problem.

It’s also not fair to accuse the bishops or the priests of not caring. Our Archbishop, and I believe the other bishops in the United States, are all sincerely trying their best. The priests of the Archdiocese have been very supportive of what we have been doing. We’re not perfect, and neither are our bishops or priests. But the number of priests who have been found guilty of sexual abuse is still minuscule and the vast majority of our clergy are good and holy men. Of course, we can always do better, and even one offense is a horrendous crime. But this isn’t the 1970’s anymore, and we’re never going back to those bad old days.

The ultimate lesson of the Cardinal McCarrick case is that nobody is immune to sin. And these sins are terrible. For those of us who are working in this area it’s like swimming through a sewer every day with your mouth open. It’s horrible work, and you can feel the presence of the Evil One, who would do anything to corrupt the Church and scandalize God’s faithful people.

Writing blog posts from the sidelines, repeating rumors and conspiracy theories, and publishing anonymous allegations and grievances are no help whatsoever in fighting this evil. We need more people to do what’s best for the church and God’s people – help us root out the corruption no matter where it is so that we can ensure the integrity of the bride of Christ.

Sowing, Reaping, and Protecting

Thursday, December 7th, 2017

Our nation has been horrified over the past few months with revelations of sexual misconduct by major political and artistic figures. This follows the disclosure last year of the President’s sexual misconduct and the rehashing of past sexual scandals involving powerful political figures like President Clinton. Along with the new allegations have been numerous instances of cover-up conspiracies, cultures of fear and silence, and punishing and intimidating of victims and witnesses.

All of this is way too familiar for us in the Church. It is startlingly similar to the crimes of clerical sexual abuse against minors, and the failure to respond to those allegations, all of which began to come to light in 2001. We have learned many hard lessons from our past failures, and we are continually challenged to keep improving.

One thing we have learned is that sexual abuse of vulnerable people comes from many causes, and that there are many ways that we can respond to it.

One major contributing factor has been the destruction of all norms of sexual morality that came about from the Sexual Revolution. A climate of “anything goes as long as there’s some kind of consent” seems to be the only operating principle of sexual ethics in our culture. And even that standard seems to be optional among the rich and powerful. Gone are the virtues of modesty, chastity, continence, self-control, respect, and temperance. They have been replaced by a hedonistic worldview that treats human beings as mere bodies to be used for pleasure – a pornographic culture. Virtue has been superseded by vice. And we are left with the disordered sexual feelings that have eclipsed healthy sexuality and replaced it with lust.

This cultural ethos certainly infected the Church – we are not at all immune from social trends and attitudes. And it definitely pervades the entertainment industry, which has also been its principal propagandist. And, of course, the political world has been inundated with it. This shouldn’t surprise us, especially when you consider the toxic formula that produces it. The loss of sexual virtue plus the glorification of vice plus tremendous power imbalance in relationships equals a structure of sin that inevitably harms weak and vulnerable people – and in our culture, that principally means young women and men, and especially children.

St. Paul hit it on the nose: “whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Gal 6:7). And we have certainly reaped the whirlwind. The calamitous results of the Sexual Revolution are uniformly depressing and tragic, as the daily headlines demonstrate. Just consider: 50+ million unborn children lost; the destruction of the nuclear family in large parts of our nation as marriage rates have gone down and out-of-wedlock births have skyrocketed; robbing children of their innocence and normalizing early sexual activity, which has disastrous consequences for mental and physical health; confusion about sexuality that even leads people to doubt the reality that we are made as male and female; an epidemic of sexually-transmitted disease, some of which are fatal and incurable; massive increases in depression in women and young people; the explosion and mainstreaming of pornography, which is fed by the appallingly exploitive human trafficking industry; and on, and on, and on. The number of victims grows daily.

And the behavior we’ve seen reported falls right into this disgraceful legacy. Some of it is as bad as it gets: rapes committed on the “casting couch”;  forcible grabbing and groping of private parts; pursuing, grooming and molesting minors. Others are not as grave but still appalling, particularly the persistent and egregious courses of sexual harassment like repeated lewd comments and unwelcome solicitations of sex. Organizations have rallied around the powerful to cover up their abuses, and the weak have been cast aside. I’ve been involved in policing this behavior for a long time and it still astonishes me how brazen and unprincipled some people are.

We’ve learned from our own history in the Church that there are concrete ways to prevent – or at least minimize – sexual abuse and harassment. The willingness of victims to come forward is the first and most important step in preventing the whirlwind from taking more casualties. That is the only way that we can remove offenders from circulation and prevent future victimization.

Of course, victims won’t come forward unless they know that they will be listened to and that justice will be done. Recent events and campaigns like #MeToo have shown that many are willing to speak up once they know that people will listen. Unfortunately, it’s also obvious that some people would rather re-victimize them in order to protect a powerful person like Harvey Weinstein or an institution like a Hollywood studio, to advance the political career of a person like Roy Moore, or to preserve a GOP advantage in the US Senate. We have to make clear that this kind of re-victimization is utterly unacceptable and reprehensible, and that there is no excuse for overlooking sexual abuse to serve some utilitarian agenda.

It’s also essential that victims understand that we want to help them to heal. The transition from victim to survivor is difficult to manage, and it’s a very individual thing. If an organization is serious about responding to sexual misconduct, they have to be willing to invest time, effort and money to helping victims heal. We’ve done that recently and successfully here in the Archdiocese with our Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program.

We also have to have an up-front commitment that there will be no toleration of sexual abuse or harassment, and that an organization’s efforts will be held accountable and be transparent. There have to be clear standards and they have to be enforced consistently and reasonably. This is especially important in the sexual harassment arena, because the boundaries of acceptable behavior are malleable and uncertain right now, and it would be a tragedy if normal human relations are deterred because of unnecessary fear and suspicion.

The ultimate response to the scourge of sexual misconduct is to re-develop a climate of virtue. Authentic sexual desire is a gift from God, intended to lead us ultimately to the mutual self-gift of marriage. It can also be expressed in altruistic and chaste friendships, and in many other positive and healthy relationships in the workplace and elsewhere. If we could restore an ethos of sexual virtue, then that would be a genuine Sexual Revolution.

A Culture of Protection

Tuesday, October 31st, 2017

In the past few weeks, we have seen a series of lurid and shocking stories about sexual exploitation in the entertainment industry. Accounts by actresses of disgusting sexual harassment and assault by powerful industry leaders. The continuation of the infamous “casting couch” where sexual favors are the price for advancing a career. Abuse of child actors that is excused, overlooked or explained away. And the conspiracy of silence and retribution that prevents victims from coming forward and allows offenders to act with impunity.

In the Church, we have seen more than our share of this. When the major scandal broke out in 2001, we were all horrified at the extent of child sexual abuse that had occurred, as well as the ineffectiveness (and in some cases culpable inadequacy) of the Church’s response.

But things have changed dramatically in the Church. In creating a safe environment for children, a protective corporate culture is the most important element. In the Church, we have successfully made child protection a key part of our regular course of business and we have made it unequivocally clear that any kind of sexual sin against minors is utterly unacceptable. We have put into place strong policies that are aimed to prevent any abuse. These policies are taken very seriously by the leadership of the Church (the Archbishop, Chancery, pastors, principals, DRE’s, etc), who have all demonstrated repeatedly that they are committed to the program. We have demonstrated over and over again that we are open to receiving complaints, we take all allegations seriously, we vigorously investigate them, and we are firm in correcting any problem.

Like every other diocese in the country, the Archdiocese has put into place comprehensive policies for child protection. We require all those who will be in contact with children to be screened (including a criminal background check) and trained in our policies and in how to recognize and respond to potential child abuse situations. Our policies address a wide range of potential situations, including overnight and day trips, online safety, professional boundaries, and child pornography. We regularly review and adapt our policies to address new situations. And we have a team of retired law enforcement officers who visit our parishes and schools to evaluate the effectiveness of our policies at the local level and to recommend any changes or updates that are needed. We are audited annually by an independent firm hired by the US Bishops’ Conference, and the audit results are submitted to the National Review Board and made public.

We have a zero tolerance policy that applies equally to clergy and laity. All reports of child abuse are immediately reported to law enforcement authorities (typically local district attorneys, state child protection authorities, and local police). We fully cooperate with any law enforcement investigation, conduct our own internal  investigation as well. If it is determined that the allegation is substantiated, then the offender is permanently barred from any ministry. We have also tried to offer some closure and peace to past victims by setting up our Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program.

The net result is a corporate culture in the Church that has demonstrated a clear commitment to child protection, as well as transparency and accountability for how we put that into practice.

The contrast with the entertainment industry couldn’t be more stark. In that world, there is a widespread acceptance and promotion of all kinds of sexual vice, including the gross sexualization of children (especially young girls). There has been no demonstrated commitment to identifying and excluding offenders, and there is no systematic approach to prevent further abuse. Repeated allegations by actors about having been abused as children have been ignored. Known offenders continue to work and in some cases are defended and given prominent honors. And the recent revelations make clear that powerful people in the industry can act with impunity, can intimidate victims into silence, and that there are many people who will turn a blind eye to abuses.

At the root of all of this, of course, it is a question of good and evil, vice and virtue. For all our faults, the Church has always upheld the virtues of sexual purity and chastity. That gives us a guiding star to orient all of our policies and programs. Failure to abide by those high standards is a terrible betrayal, but we can always re-orient ourselves back to the ideal with the help of God’s grace.

The entertainment industry, sadly, is not guided by any such principle. It is the leading promoter of sexual license and immorality, and as a result has created “structures of sin”. Pope John Paul had an important insight into this kind of phenomenon:

“such cases of social sin are the result of the accumulation and concentration of many personal sins. It is a case of the very personal sins of those who cause or support evil or who exploit it; of those who are in a position to avoid, eliminate or at least limit certain social evils but who fail to do so out of laziness, fear or the conspiracy of silence, through secret complicity or indifference; of those who take refuge in the supposed impossibility of changing the world, and also of those who sidestep the effort and sacrifice required, producing specious reasons of a higher order. The real responsibility, then, lies with individuals.” (Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 16)

As he also noted, structures of sin “grow stronger, spread, and become the source of other sins, and so influence people’s behavior.” (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 38)

Corporate culture is rooted in individual actions. When an organization is committed to doing the right thing, the corporate culture will reinforce those efforts and make them more effective. In child protection, there is nothing more important than that.

The Politics of Principle

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017

(This is a repeat of a post from this same day the last eight years.  This post was written in memory of Jack Swan, a great warrior of faith and politics, who entered eternal life on February 2, 1998.  God sent Jack into my life to teach me these lessons about politics, and I’m just a pygmy standing on the shoulders of a giant.  As time goes by, I see more and more a need for us to recapture the politics of principle — perhaps now more than ever, in this poisonous political environment.  Jack, please pray for me, that I get the lessons right.)

In the mind of most people, “politics” is the struggle of candidates, political parties, and their supporters to gain power and influence in the government. That is certainly true up to a point, and it makes for interesting entertainment.

I write a good deal about politics on this blog and elsewhere, and I’m frequently perceived as being “political” in that sense — of being”partisan”. That completely misses the point.

There is a deeper, more significant nature of politics. It is the way we order our society together, so that we can live according to our vocations and be happy, and ultimately attain eternal life. In this understanding of politics, the partisan theater is an important reality, but it is not the main focus. What really matters is principle.

Without principles, politics becomes mere pragmatism, where the question is whether something “works”, or, in the less elevated version of the game, what’s in it for me. Now, don’t get me wrong. Pragmatism is important — we want our government to be effective. But again, principle is more important.

I received much of my tutelage in the real world of politics from a man who devoted his life to being a practitioner of the politics of principle. I learned that it was fine to be keenly interested in the partisan scrum, but only to the extent that it advanced the principles we hold dear — defense of human life, protection of marriage, family and children, and religious liberty. The promotion of those principles is more important than party label, and the idea is to support — or oppose — politicians based on their fidelity to those principles, not based on what party label they happened to be wearing this week.

That’s how I try to practice politics, in my small and limited way. I have opinions and judgments about many pragmatic issues, and what kinds of national security, economic and other policies would “work” better than others. But none of those pragmatic issues matter at all, compared to the core principles.

Here’s how it works for me. If a politician doesn’t protect human life, I don’t care what his position is on other issues. If he can’t understand that human life is sacred and must be protected at all stages, I have no reason to trust his judgment about any other issue. And, very frankly, anyone who does not understand that basic principle is not, in my opinion, fit to hold public office.

The same holds for the other core issues. I don’t care if you’re a Republican or a Democrat. If you don’t respect human life, don’t see the need to preserve marriage as one man and one woman, and won’t defend religious liberty, they you just have to look elsewhere to get your fifty percent plus one.

This means that I am perpetually dissatisfied with our political process and our politicians. But that’s fine with me. They are all temporary office holders anyway, here today and gone tomorrow, and their platforms are passing fancies that nobody will remember in a short time. The principles, however, remain perpetually valid.

Listen, Our Lord made a very simple request of us. He said, “Follow me”. He didn’t say, be a Republican or a Democrat, a Socialist or a Whig. He demands that I be his follower. So I need to look to the Lord for my principles, and in this age that means I have to listen to the Church. That’s what Our Lord wants me to do — after all, he said to his apostles “he who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Lk 10:16). We happen to have in our midst the successors of those apostles — the Holy Father, our bishops, and my bishop in particular. As a Catholic I must listen to them, and get my political principles from them, not from Fox News, CNN, talking heads of the left or the right, the editorial page of the Times, or either the Democratic or Republican Parties.

This, to me, is the way to live as a disciple of Christ in this crazy political process. I realize that this will be considered odd by many, and even dangerous by some.

But we hardly need more party loyalists at this, or any other, time. And we certainly need more practitioners of the politics of principle.

The Need for Political Morality

Tuesday, October 11th, 2016

Recently, I read a journalist’s account of the Watergate scandal. It was actually a bundle of inter-related illegal acts and conspiracies that led to the downfall of President Richard Nixon. One of the things that struck me was the astonishing and complete lack of morality among “All the President’s Men”. These were the most powerful men in the country, most were lawyers, and all considered themselves to be religious in one way or another. Yet they acted in total disregard for the law and for basic morals. They committed a series of crimes with no compunction — burglary, theft, bribery, illegal wiretapping, violations of campaign finance laws, and obstruction of justice. The amount of lying was breathtaking — a systematic campaign of perjury and knowingly false public statements. They never asked themselves “is this right?” but only cared about “will this work”.

I was a teenager when all this happened, and I remember following the stories with great interest. But I didn’t appreciate the sheer scope of all of it until I read this book. And, naturally, it led me to reflect on the current political climate, and on the desperate need for “political morality”.

There are two components to political morality. One is the personal morals of those who hold public office — are they people of integrity who can be counted on to obey essential principles of honesty, financial responsibility, lack of self-interest, fairness, seriousness, humility, etc. I utterly reject the notion, which is usually attributed to Macchiavelli, that rulers are not bound by ordinary moral laws, but are free to do things that would be illegal or immoral if done by ordinary citizens. No matter what public office one holds, the Ten Commandments still apply, and personal virtue will lead to good government.

The other component is constitutional morality — do they respect the rule of law, the process of law-making and governance, the rights of citizens, the notion that nobody is above or outside of the law, etc. I’m not as cynical as most people think, and I actually believe that a sound legal process will lead on the whole to sound results. I believe that the principles embodied in our Constitution — separation of powers, limits on the authority of the government, checks and balances, protection of fundamental rights, and federalism — provide a rich and fertile soil for living a peaceful and just life.

These elements of political morality were utterly lacking in the Nixon Administration. The Watergate scandals and their threat to the constitutional order were the direct result. The similar lack of political morality in the current climate fills me with dread for the future of our Republic.

At all levels of politics, we are repeatedly presented with — and we routinely elect — candidates who have a propensity for falsehood, whose financial affairs are deeply suspect, who treat people as instruments to be used and then discarded, and who seem obsessed with personal power rather than selfless public service. It has become unremarkable for candidates to affirm that they will use their power to commit gross moral evils, like abortion on demand, torture, aggressive war on civilians, and racial and religious discrimination. Candidates openly show disdain for the proper Constitutional process and promise to rule unilaterally by decree. And candidates and political advocates make crystal clear that they will use the levers of power to punish their enemies, and all those who disagree with their ideology.

The men who built and established our Republic understood very well the need for political morality. George Washington, who was an exemplar of this, said, “Virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government,” and “Human rights can only be assured among a virtuous people.” John Adams, who was no stranger to the rough and tumble of partisan politics, said “Public virtue cannot exist in a Nation without private Virtue, and public Virtue is the only Foundation of Republics.”

The current state of affairs in our political system would horrify the Founding Fathers. They should equally horrify us.