Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger sent the following letter to members of the clergy (vicars, priests, deacons, seminarians) after the resignation of Cardinal McCarrick over allegations of sexual abuse.
“A psalm-prayer reads: “Lord Jesus, you were rejected by your people, betrayed by the kiss of a friend, and deserted by your disciples. Give us the confidence that you had in the Father, and our salvation will be assured.”
Like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, many of our faithful are now feeling betrayed and abandoned by their spiritual fathers, especially the bishops. Perhaps you share this feeling, too. No doubt you have been and will be hearing from your people about how shaken and discouraged they are over public revelations of despicable behavior on the part of a very popular and charismatic Cardinal with priests and seminarians in his care.
In negative terms, and as clearly and directly as I can repeat our Church teaching, it is a grave sin to be “sexually active” outside of a real marriage covenant. A cardinal is not excused from what a layperson or another member of the clergy is not. A member of the clergy who pledges to live a celibate life must remain as chaste in his relationship with all whom he serves as spouses within a marriage. This is what our faith teaches and what we are held to in practice. There is no “third way.”
“Sexual activity” includes grooming and seduction – the kind of experience that one of our brothers tells of in a recent interview in America magazine that you may have seen. The psychological and spiritual destructiveness of such predatory behavior, really incestuous by a man who is held up as a spiritual father to a son in his care – even if not a minor – cannot be minimized or rationalized in any way.
Abuse of authority – in this case, with strong sexual overtones – with vulnerable persons is hardly less reprehensible than the sexual abuse of minors. It is my belief that the vast majority of clergy – priests, deacons and bishops alike – live or, at least, are striving to live holy and admirable lifestyles. I am ashamed of those of my brothers, such as the Cardinal, who do not and have not.
We should be grateful for all of those who have come forward to expose these patterns of sin in the lives of some – as well as the institutional sins of denial and suppression of those brave witnesses whose warnings went unheard or unheeded, so that some of the harm might have been prevented.
Let me be clear, however, in stating my firm conviction that this is, at heart, much more than a crisis of policies and procedures. We can – and I am confident that we will – strengthen the rules and regulations and sanctions against any trying to fly under the radar or to “get away with” such evil and destructive behaviors. But, at its heart, this is much more than a challenge of law enforcement; it is a profoundly spiritual crisis.
All of us who are ordained to preach what the Church teaches must practice what we preach and teach. We also need to uphold what our faith proclaims about the gift and beauty of human sexuality, fully lived in its essential conjugal meaning. A culture of virtue and chastity – in short, personal holiness – rooted in a trusting and committed relationship with Jesus Christ is the path toward healing and wholeness, even as we seek to drive the evil behaviors among us from the womb of the Church.