Where Did All the Fathers Go?

By Jennifer Hartline Published on January 16, 2019

Since the disgusting revelations of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s predatory behavior exploded last summer, followed by the wholly unbearable grand jury report from Pennsylvania, I have seen it argued that we Catholics must remember that we see things differently now when it comes to sexual abuse. It was a whole ‘nother ballgame decades ago because they just didn’t know then what we know now.

A thread on Twitter last week by Catholic author Steve Millies illustrates:

To which I say: What absolute horsehockey! Are we really going to sit here and say that 30+ years ago the bishops just didn’t understand that a priest fondling the altar boys was wrong? We’re going to say that recognizing the sin of a grown man sexually molesting a boy or girl requires a “shift” that the Church just wasn’t capable of a few decades ago?

The Church — the people who have the moral law actually written down in precise and elaborate detail — didn’t understand that a priest breaking his vows of chastity, violating the body, mind, and soul of a child, forcing himself sexually on a minor or an adult under his spiritual authority was utterly evil?!? That’s our argument?

All we needed then, all we need now, is for the bishops to remember who they really are — fathers.

We don’t need a modern understanding of abuse to know that a man consecrated to Christ and His Church commits not only a serious crime but a grave sin if he breaks his priestly vows and especially if he sexually violates a child.

First and Foremost a Father

All we needed then, all we need now, is for the bishops to remember who they really are. That’s what has burned in my gut since this despicable scandal hit the fan. Save two or three rare exceptions, I haven’t seen any of the bishops act like a father. They act like administrators and bureaucrats. They seem to have forgotten that they are first, second, and last, Fr. Someone.

You know what a good father does when he finds out his child has been sexually abused by another man? Hopefully we can all imagine.

He doesn’t issue namby-pamby, lawyer-approved statements about how shocked and sad he is, that’s for sure. He sure as heck doesn’t send the abusive predator on his way to a new assignment and pay off the victims. He doesn’t cover up crimes and sins, and he doesn’t need psychology to explain to him that a man molesting or raping a child is a crime.

A good father doesn’t tell himself that this was just a mistake on the predator’s part, a behavioral fluke, an odd moment of weakness by an otherwise great man.

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Our prelates have behaved as though they believe it’s pretty typical for a man to molest a child, as though it’s something most every man does at one time in his life. Or at least it doesn’t really qualify as criminal activity or a very serious sin. Not even serious enough to, say, rip the collar from the guy’s throat and kick his lousy carcass to the street.

These men are spiritual fathers and they have a fatherly responsibility for the souls in their charge. That’s what makes their failure and corruption so despicable. A good father puts himself between the predator and his child. They sheltered and protected the predators.

Fathers’ Lies

It comes as no surprise to learn that Cardinal Wuerl has openly and repeatedly lied regarding his knowledge of McCarrick’s penchant for preying on seminarians. Wuerl wants us to be satisfied that he told the morsel of truth that was relevant to the moment, which was that he had no knowledge that McCarrick had abused a minor.

It’s not a modern psychological understanding of abuse we’ve been missing. Only the instincts and courage of good fathers.

Since nobody directly asked if McCarrick liked to get real cozy with seminarians, Wuerl kept that little tidbit to himself. So what if McCarrick liked to satisfy his erotic urges with unwilling young men over whom he had power? A little disordered lust here, a little abuse there, what’s the big deal? Sometimes a bishop “isn’t as faithful as he needs to be.” Gee, that’s too bad.

One spiritual father preyed upon his own sons. Another spiritual father lied for him and concealed for him. Then he turned to the camera and lied to the rest of us.

It’s not a modern psychological understanding of abuse we’ve been missing. Only the instincts and courage of good fathers.

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