United States Conference
of Catholic Bishops
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, President
3211 Fourth Street NE
Washington DC 20017
202-541-3000 @USCCB

Dear Cardinal DiNardo and US Bishops,

Thank you for your recently-released statement addressing the revelations concerning both Archbishop Theodore McCarrick and the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report.

Many American Catholics are grateful to read that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is committed to investigating, reporting on, and resolving questions and circumstances surrounding both issues. We ask that you please shine a hard light on the matter of Archbishop McCarrick. A truly objective, thorough, and forensic examination of his story is essential, and as you “develop a concrete plan for accomplishing these goals” in time for your November meeting, we will pray that the Holy Spirit guides you into wise discernment and courageous action, that you may truly begin to address the cesspit in which our Church seems mired.

From where we layfolk are sitting, here is what we see: Theodore McCarrick’s entire clerical career was fraught with dishonesty, psycho-sexual misconduct, human objectification and abuses against the bodies, minds, and spirits of young Catholics, in particular seminarians — young men who began their studies in faith and hope only to find themselves preyed upon, abused, and threatened with social exclusion or fraternal isolation when resistant. There is now also a credible accusation of what would be criminal abuse. Through it all, McCarrick rose through the ranks of the church with the support of influential churchmen, until becoming himself (and remaining) a key influencer in the Church. We need to know: How did that happen?

That is a major question we want answered; we suspect that if you pull that string, the whole fabric of corruption will begin to come apart, as it must if our afflicted church is to be restored to health.

Know this: We appreciate that getting to the bottom of McCarrick’s story may actually cost you something, may anger some powerful people, may require more of you than you have yet imagined. But if you pursue this investigation faithfully, fearlessly, truthfully, and thoroughly, you will have the prayerful support of the laity — the currently extremely angry, betrayed-feeling laity who at this moment are inclined to doubt you, and perhaps the Church itself, though never Christ.

We want to believe in the sincerity of your stated intentions, and when we see commensurate action behind your words, action rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ rather than self-protection, we will have your backs, because we are Church, and we want to see our Eucharistic and Sacramental church thrive, not shrivel. We need priests, and bishops, you need us.

One additional thought: While it is heartening to see the USCCB acknowledge that lay input will be an important part of all of this going forward, the scope of lay involvement, as outlined in your statement, is entirely too narrow. You write, “Lay people bring expertise in areas of investigation, law enforcement, psychology, and other relevant disciplines, and their presence reinforces our commitment to the first criterion of independence.”

It is true that lay people within these disciplines are important to the process you’re about to begin, but sirs — with all due respect — if you believe you will satisfy the demand for lay involvement by inviting only those with credentials in specific areas of expertise but do not include some people from the pews, the ordinary folks who worship and volunteer and tithe and try to raise their children in this church, you will invite failure to your objectives. Lay participation in future proceedings must include Catholic parents who have no other claim to being in the mix except to say, “This is our church and as fully as we suffer for her sins out of love for her, so must we be included in its processes as we seek to protect her.”

It would be good to see the Conference establish protocols for the inclusion of ordinary layfolk in every diocese who will — among other things — participate in examinations of clerical or parish misconduct, and in the screening, formation and pastoral training of our seminarians. If they are to be good shepherds in the future, their formation must put them into regular contact with the sheep they will serve.

There is much work to do. As with your statement, this is a cursory outreach to let you know what we’re thinking. In the name of Christ Jesus, please hear us.

Image: Saint Thecla prayer, Public Domain