Ross Douthat and Father Matt Malone discuss McCarrick, Viganò and the crisis of sexual abuse

(America Media)

Discussing Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò’s explosive 11-page letter that has roiled the church over the last week, Ross Douthat of The New York Times told America’s Editor in Chief Matt Malone, S.J., he was “skeptical that it would simply boil down to a he-said, he-said scenario” between Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò and the Vatican.

On Aug. 30 Father Malone interviewed Mr. Douthat about what was needed from the Vatican regarding the allegations that Pope Francis and others had known about former-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s abusive past, as well as how Catholics can maintain their faith in light of all the news about abuse in the church this summer.

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Regarding the validity of Archbishop Viganò’s letter, Mr. Douthat said documentation, or a lack thereof, ought to clarify if Catholic leaders, including Pope Francis and past popes, allowed then-Cardinal McCarrick to carry on a public ministry with knowledge of what he had done.

“If it's simply false, the Vatican should be able to, if not fully prove that, at least begin to establish it,” said Mr. Douthat. “What I think is more likely is that it is partially or largely true, but that there may be reasons to draw more exculpatory conclusions from the material than the archbishop himself draws.”

Archbishop Viganò’s letter contends that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI sanctioned then-Cardinal McCarrick and banned him from public ministry (despite evidence showing McCarrick celebrating Mass, receiving awards and appearing in public with then-Pope Benedict XVI) and that Pope Francis later lifted this punishment. Father Malone pointed out that the archbishop’s accusations potentially implicated St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XIV as well as Pope Francis.

“With the sex abuse crisis there is in fact common ground between liberals and conservatives,” Ross Douthat said.

“You could argue that...in the grand arc of this dark story that the worst decision of all was the decision to elevate McCarrick to Washington D.C., in the first place—to the extent that that decision was made with some knowledge having reached Rome that he had preyed on seminarians,” Mr. Douthat said.

Mr. Douthat added that if the Vatican did not or could not produce documentation about former-Cardinal McCarrick’s history of abuse, “it is perfectly reasonable for people involved” to speak out about it the way Cardinal Wuerl has.

When questioned about whether or not Catholics would be too divided by ideology to accept the truth, Mr. Douthat was cautiously optimistic. “With the sex abuse crisis there is in fact common ground between liberals and conservatives,” he said, “beginning with a general belief that the abuse of children is a terrible crime.”

 

Mr. Douthat also warned fellow Catholics about seeing others’ “moral failings as intimately connected to their theological errors.” And both Father Malone and Mr. Douthat called for nuance in our current conversation about the causes of abuse.

“The Catholic Church has existed for 2,000 years and in much of that time regular Catholics have had a great deal of realism about the potential failures of priests but especially of bishops and the way that power corrupts,” Mr. Douthat said.

Additionally, both Father Malone and Mr. Douthat agreed that, as Catholics, our faith should not be in people, but instead, Mr. Douthat said it “is in God, it's in Jesus Christ, it's in the saints, it's in the sacraments, it's in what happens at Mass and it's not in human beings.”

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Harvey Milk, MD
2 weeks 4 days ago

Interviewing Ross as the “conservative” perspective perpetuates the conservative vs liberal shtick that has decimated America and now the US Church. We are all One in Christ. Divisions are not licit nor Christ-like.

Stop perpetuating the tribalism of conservatives vs liberals. Ut unum sint

Michael Painter
2 weeks 4 days ago

I'm dismayed to see that Fr. Malone would pick Mr. Douthat, of all people, as the one to give an entire video interview to on this subject, and at this time. Mr. Douthat has consistently spoken and written widely in a way that encourages a split in the American Catholic Church away from the Pope. He can hardly now be expected to give an evenhanded answer as to where we are and how to proceed.

ED THOMPSON
2 weeks 4 days ago

I don't agree that the laity should look to the saints and to God for direction here. What is needed is not prayer but action. Remove those bishops who have been part of the conspiracy to shield pedophiles from being discovered and dealt with. What we need is clarity now and not obfuscation. We need Francis to publicly asked forgiveness of the Sin of the Hierarchy, including the sin of Pope Francis. Let this tragedy never happen again by removing prelates from office post haste. I don't think Francis is to blame, but his predecessors need to be held accountable. This great sin will cause great eruption of a concerned laity and will if nothing else empower the laity to protect its children in the future. It's either that or the elimination of Catholic School participation and the end of the Catholic Church as we know it.

Agustin Paz
2 weeks 4 days ago

If I am a Christian I am a sinner and I am the church. The mission the church gives me as a Christian is to love the sinner and hate my sin. The only hate I am allowed in the church is of my own sins. With respect to everybody and everything else it is love, love supreme and love only.

Al Cannistraro
2 weeks 4 days ago

Four thoughts:

First, Ross's comment near the end that reveals his view of the Old Testament as a reliable history text makes me discount the value all his previously stated judgements and opinions.

Also, this sensational McKarrick story serves as a great temporary distraction from the deeper institutional questions, and the Vatican's tactic of being close-mouthed only strengthens the distraction. However, given that a succession of three popes are implicated in this scandal, the institutional questions will again come into focus. And institutional questions conceivably lead to theological ones, as occurred in the Reformation.

Third, I regret that, though I have largely "moved on" at this point, I could nevertheless turn out, in death, to have been among the last of the Roman Catholics. The present course is unsustainable, in my opinion. I hope I'm wrong about that. But reform is necessary in order to keep the Church going as an intellectually and morally respectable enterprise, in my view, and not another mindlessly fundamentalist religion with severely limited appeal.

Finally, sans reform, what sorts of youths will want to join the Roman Catholic clerical class going forward?

Gerard Ahrens
2 weeks 4 days ago

Problem is, all those truly important things that Ross talks about, e.g., Mass, have been integrally linked to the power of the ordained priesthood for their efficacy, rather than to the power of the faith of the community of believers, as V II tried to do with the concept of the priesthood of the laity.

Lucie Johnson
2 weeks 4 days ago

I agree! So trust in God, yes. But the Church, the hierarchy, the priesthood, and therefore even the Sacraments and the Mass... As to the saints... it seems John Paul II probably covered abuse as well...

James M.
2 weeks 4 days ago

“Father Malone pointed out that the archbishop’s accusations potentially implicated St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict X[VI] as well as Pope Francis.”

Since those two are both sacred cows, only Francis gets any blame. Doing that is both safe and necessary, because he has no groupies to call him “the Great” or “Saint”, or to idealise him for being no longer being Pope. B16 undermines his successor, by not dying, because as long as he hangs on in the background he can function as The Man Who Should be King, Just As He Previously Was. Catholics at the end of their patience with ecclesiastical knavishness, arrogance, narcissism and lack of basic human decency need a punch-bag to take out their frustration on. Francis, very unfairly, is that punch-bag

Cardinal George is alleged to have said, “In two generations my successor will be martyred in a public square. The third generation will help rebuild our shattered civilization like the church has done so many times in the past.” No, not going to happen. Catholicism in the US will be dead by the third generation, and your successors are far more likely to be lynched for belonging to a gang of criminal conspirators presently referred to as Catholic bishops.

Real Popes make mistakes and act in questionable ways, as did JP2 & B16; but because Francis is now in the hot seat, and his every action is publicised, he shows how very fallible and incompetent Popes really are, while the blunders and incompetences of those two fade out of memory.

Popes cannot be expected to govern when their every utterance is subjected to instant and unremitting scrutiny, as his are. These days, every Catholic with access to the Web is an expert in all branches of theology, qualified to comment on the most abstruse & delicate points of moral, systematic, Biblical, pastoral, canonical, historical, philosophical, missiological & other branches of sacred learning. Regardless of what Rome may say, the Magisterium is not that of the bishops, and certainly not that of the Popes. True, it is not that of theologians either - it is that of the Internet.

Beverly Sottile-Malona
2 weeks 3 days ago

Francis would not be "the punching bag" if he had cleaned up the miscreants in the Curia to begin with. He had full knowledge of who they were and did very little, save to appoint some of them as his advisors. He reneged on the recommendation of his own appointed Pontifical Commission to set up a Vatican central body to investigate and act. Instead, he placed this back into the hands of the very local Bishops whom have failed miserably. Marie Collins recently challenged Pope Francis on this very point at a Dublin press conference last week. She is NO "internet expert" she is real and knowledgeable. If anybody has made Francis a "punching bag" it is Francis himself.

Joan Carroll
2 weeks 3 days ago

We need some catechesis on the fact that being a saint doesn't mean you never made a big mistake or committed a sin. Also, Ross Douthat is not treated equally in the title: Ross vs. Father. Why not "NY Times commentator Ross Douthat" or at least "Mr. Ross Douthat."

Beverly Sottile-Malona
2 weeks 3 days ago

I worked for a Diocese as one of three female department heads. I witnessed the "cover-ups" and who the Dioscesan Chancery officials were who covered up sexual abuse. Much of this was done by men who had everything to lose if they did not "cover up" our almost exclusive pederast predatory behavior. Although, Douthat mentioned that much of that behavior of cover up is over, which is partially true, I am from the Buffalo Diocese where the cover up continues. If it weren't for the secular media, with diocesan documents procured to prove this, three predators would have continued to this day. Bishop Malone has been called upon to resign, not by "conservatives" only, but by a joint voice of Catholics who will no longer tolerate predators being let loose and their crimes covered up.
This whole issue ought not be political. Politics of survival are involved among miscreant Cardinals and Bishops to save their positions of power from here to the Curia. These men cover up to protect their "own" and justify their own behavior and personal lives. I and many others who have worked within the belly of the church have witnessed this first hand. It is undeniable and indefensible.
All one has to do is listen to the stories of the victims period. Politics has no place here. They must receive justice and that involves much more than apology or money. It involves a demonstration of sincerity not mere words or more silence. Pope Francis has an obligation to "house clean". Yet he has surrounded himself with the very men who covered for McCarrick. What distresses me is that he had agreed to the Pontifical Commission's (appointed by him) recommendation to have a central focused operation to do this. He reneged and has put it back into the hands of local Bishops based on "cultural differences among countries". There is no Catholic population of people in the world who supports sexual abuse of minors/young adults or seminarians. Marie Collins, a survivor and member of the Pontifical Commission, made this point very well at a recent News Conference in Dublin.
I appreciated very much this exchange by Mr. Douthat and Fr. Malone.

sheila gray
2 weeks 2 days ago

Thank you for your analysis. I regret that no one is focusing on Survivors. As a survivor, as a real, innocent young person damaged and marginalized and disbelieved in one of your private Catholic schools in the late 1960’s, I say, “What in the Hell is wrong with all of you”? Who cares about all this? Not Survivors. We are in great danger now. Many, many victims and survivors are getting triggered all over the place, with nowhere to turn. I believe lives are in danger. Please stop all this bickering and focus for once on us. Survivors need help now. We need to empower ourselves to come together and dig deeply for the means and manners of how this happened. We need healing centers. We need all of you to grow up and put your focus on helping the individuals and families of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people throughout this country and the world who have suffered beyond measure at the hands of this Church.

TJ Rauch
2 weeks 2 days ago

Not to attack you, Beverly, but i don't understand this situation when you worked in the Diocese of Buffalo. Did you or any other laity who knew of these cover-ups call the cops or the child abuse hotline? I was a youth minister at the beginning of the Safe Environment protocols (began work in 2004) and we on staff were told in no uncertain terms that we were mandated reporters and we could be prosecuted if we failed to report suspicions of child abuse. We were given a child abuse hotline number and info on what to look for among the kids we worked with. It wasn't a question of Church protocols, it was the law. Saying nothing was not an option. I'm guessing you must have done something to uncover this abuse...what happened?

I also don't understand how it was that Vigano knew of these sexual assaults perpetrated by McCarrick for all these years and did pretty much nothing. If he didn't get what he felt would have been an appropriate reaction from Pope Francis, why didn't he go to the police? Or the press? If Pope Benedict knew all this, as Vigano claims, why would he have just imposed slap on the wrist restrictions? Um, sexual assault = call the cops, right?!

I also don't understand Fr. James Martin's article from a few weeks ago discussing McCarrick in which he said he'd heard rumors but nothing substantiated, and clarified he'd have of course done something if he'd had evidence. Doesn't a rumor like that demand some kind of investigation? Do you mean to say something as sick as "the Cardinal sexually assaults seminarians" can just be casually mentioned at the water cooler and shrugged off as a rumor? This is insane to me.

If you heard that your neighbor was a rapist, would you shrug it off as gossip, or do your best to find out what the hey was going on? If you knew he was a rapist, would you just tell the HOA president and then five years later gripe about how nothing was done?

See or hear something? DO something about it! No more letting the creeps get away with stuff because everyone wants to be nice and no one wants to "gossip" or "make trouble", or worse, because of cowardice.

Phillip Stone
1 week 5 days ago

Plenty of objectionable aspects to a lot of these comments.
Unless you live in Italy, you are not a Roman Catholic but an American or Australian or whatever Catholic.
The congregation of the baptised faithful of the North American continent is but one limb of the body and is not essential for the persistence into the future of the communion of saints having living faithful on earth.
It is coming close to the time for the successor to Peter as head on earth to move to Jerusalem and shepherd the flock from there, the Vatican in possibly too far gone to recover virtue and faith. The spirit of the Vatican state does no seem to be the Holy Spirit.

There is no crisis of sexual abuse - there is the unmasking of the chronic evil of maladministration, manifest starkly by the gravity of the sinfulness denied and covered-up this time in this particular sphere of human sexual depravity it was connected with. I would cite Macinkus and the Institute for Religious Works and Vatican Bank; "Ratlines" smuggling Nazi war criminals to South America using Vatican passports and transporting out Nazi gold to name a few previous others in my lifetime. Another stone in my shoe is the application of political labelling to any of the issues within the body of Christ.

There are two tendencies in human social nature, one is to give high priority to already established knowledge, methods, practices and customs which have been working, the conservative tendency and the impulse to explore, invent, test, investigate and innovate aimed at improvement and expansion, the progressive tendency.
This is roughly distributed 60/40 or 65/35 % in any sizable population and such tendency gives no justification for others to attach political origins to persons manifesting either preference.

Henry Brown
1 week 5 days ago

What is difficult to understand is why anyone in the Church who know
what Mccarrick was doing did not report him immediately.

How could such a man remain Bishop/ArchBishop and then Cardinal ?

If Fr. Martin heard such "rumours" and did not report them, then he
needs to step down as America's roaming ambassador.

Likewise anyone else at America, or any Bishop, Cardinal and Rector.

No one has the "right" to be a Bishop, Cardinal or Pope.

I don't know what Pope Francis knew and when he knew it but why
hasn't he laicised Mccarrick ?

Once this whole situation is clarified, I think the Pope, Cardinals
and Bishops should all resign and lead a life of penance and mortification as a sign that they failed as shepherds of Christ's flock.

Then new Bishops, approved of by the laity in their Diocese, should
be appointed and they can pick a new Pope who serves for 10 years.

I wish I had a whip of chords to drive out the Bishops who covered all
this up and gave money meant for the Poor as Hush-Money.

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