With the imposition by the Vatican upon former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of the most severe penalty that can be imposed on a cleric – dismissal from the clerical state — Notre Dame issued a terse statement announcing that McCarrick’s honorary degree has been rescinded:
The Vatican has announced the conclusion of the adjudicatory process against former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, finding that he transgressed his vows, used his power to abuse both minors and adults and violated his sacred duty as a priest. In accord with University President Rev. John I. Jenkins’ statement of Aug. 2, 2018, the University of Notre Dame is rescinding the honorary degree conferred in 2008.
Thus, Notre Dame has finally fallen in line with Catholic University, Fordham, and its sister school the University of Portland.
McCarrick has inflicted inestimable harm on his victims and more damage to the Church and priests than anyone in recent history. Father Jenkins has declared Notre Dame “must act” in response to the sexual abuse crisis, but his refusal to do so at the first opportunity until there was no option, despite pleas from alumni (our petition has some 2,000 signatories), abuse survivors, and student government, has been a disservice to the University and all associated with it. The reasons he assigned were transparently infirm, and the solicitude shown McCarrick, the preeminent symbol of clerical sexual abuse, undermines Notre Dame’s credibility in dealing with this crisis.
Consider what happened — in particular Father Jenkins’s confounding explanations — and pray this episode may not augur continued passivity by Notre Dame’s leadership as this crisis moves to its next stages.
The Case Against McCarrick
We need not repeat our account in a prior bulletin of McCarrick’s misdeeds. The media has overflowed with reports of his predations. It is enough to note that the case against McCarrick began with the startling announcement that Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s archdiosesan review board had determined, with the Cardinal’s approval, that McCarrick had sexually abused an altar boy. That triggered an expanding list of allegations of sexual abuse of minors and seminarians and led Pope Francis to secure McCarrick’s resignation as Cardinal, to suspend him from public ministry, and to order him to a life of repentance and prayer.
Catholic University and Fordham promptly rescinded McCarrick’s honorary degrees. It was then up to Notre Dame.
Father Jenkins’s Decision
Father Jenkins declined to act. While the University acknowledged it “had no reason to question the review board’s findings,” it said McCarrick “maintains his innocence” and “a final decision will come only after a canonical trial in Rome.” Accordingly, the University said it would follow the precedent of the Bill Cosby case, where Notre Dame rescinded an honorary degree for the first time. There, “[T]his action was taken only after … a guilty verdict.” Here, “a final decision will come only after a canonical trial in Rome.” Accordingly, Notre Dame would “allow the [adjudicatory] process to reach a conclusion before taking action.”
The Cosby Misdirection
Father Jenkins’s reliance on the Cosby precedent is baffling. It called for rescission, not waiting on appellate review. Cosby was professing his innocence and pledging an appeal even as Notre Dame was rescinding his honorary degree. Indeed, that appeal is still ongoing. If Cosby had been treated as McCarrick was, he could still brandish his Notre Dame honorary degree.
In McCarrick’s case there was the judgment Father Jenkins “sees no reason to question,” not of a randomly selected jury, but of Cardinal Timothy Dolan and his archdiocesan review board — a board, as Dolan explained, composed of “a seasoned group of professionals including jurists, law enforcement experts, parents, psychologists, a priest, and a religious sister.”
Nor was McCarrick appealing. Rather, Cardinal Dolan reported, “while maintaining his innocence” “he has accepted the decision.” The Vatican trial, which surely McCarrick detested, was thrust upon him only recently and might never have occurred. Pope Francis had already imposed severe penalties on the basis of the New York proceeding.
In addition, as we reported earlier, there were new ever more appalling allegations and the unearthing of old ones, none of which McCarrick denied.
Father Jenkins’s “He’s not a Monster” Rationale
Father Jenkins offered a different, but equally weightless, explanation for his inaction in a Crux interview.
We quote liberally in case you can see something here that we do not. After declaring that people shouldn’t think people like McCarrick “monsters,” he continued:
[The tendency is] just to imagine that they are thoroughly corrupt people, but the problem is that it’s not true. It’s a part of their lives that is deeply problematic, but another part that is not. And that’s why it’s so hard to identify the problem, and sometimes, that person doesn’t seem to see the problem.
There’s a certain rationalization that goes on that allows them to compartmentalize their lives and that’s part of the challenge, a failure to confront reality. . ..There’s a sort of moral blindness in what we do, and that’s sometimes the greatest moral tragedy.”
Jenkins defined the prelates’ dual nature as illustrating “the mystery of human freedom and human failure.”
What is one to make of all this? Did Father Jenkins really mean to say that he cut McCarrick a break because McCarrick’s actions reflected “the mystery of human freedom and human failure” ? Or because he had been “morally blind”? Or hadn’t “confronted reality”?
No wonder his interview has been roundly criticized, to put it gently.
But later in a single sentence we may see at least part of what went on:
Jenkins also acknowledged that McCarrick did a lot of good for the Church and the university.
Indeed he did. As we observed in a prior bulletin, McCarrick’s relationship to Notre Dame was long and strong, beginning when, as a young president of the University of Puerto Rico, he participated in the Land O’Lakes conference led by Father Hesburgh and including his abstention from the denunciation by 83 cardinals, archbishops and bishops of Father Jenkins’s decision to honor President Obama.
In all of this, it is Father Jenkins’s comparatively benign treatment of McCarrick that is perplexing and disquieting. He is certainly an outlier in this.
Compare what he’s said with, for example, the clear-eyed appraisal of the metastatic effects of McCarrick’s sins by Stephen White in the estimable The Catholic Thing. McCarrick’s victims, White writes, “have suffered the most grievous, life-altering wounds”; his friends have been “betrayed” through “duplicity and lies”; his priests, for whom “ the fraternal and paternal bond that should be wholesome and edifying becomes, instead, a tool of sin and betrayal”; and finally, “the rest of us.”
[H]ow many millions of souls have suffered frustration, anger, betrayal, or doubt because of the sins and betrayal of just this one man? Even setting aside – if one can – the thousands of other instances of abuse we know have occurred, it is still possible to grasp the appalling magnitude of even one man’s sin.
Perhaps we will yet see Father Jenkins assuming a leadership role in this still festering McCarrick matter by seconding calls for an investigation to identify and hold accountable all who covered for McCarrick as he ascended the episcopal ranks. Perhaps. The conviction is widespread that such a cleansing is necessary to put this execrable episode to rest.
Let us hope the last word from Notre Dame will not be this thin whisper.