Ever since Rome decided to grab the mantle for itself in 1054 and mix politics with religion, patronage has played a role in the careers of priests, bishops, and cardinals. Of course, I am not naive to think politics and the lust for power was not present before the West broke from the East, but ever since that time, the lust is no longer lurking in the tall grass, it’s out in the open.
If you’re still reading, you may be thinking what’s wrong with McGuire? What is he talking about? Well, I’m getting around to talking about Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, a powerful cardinal and maker of princes who now stands accused of not only sexually abusing young men who wanted to be priests but underage boys who were too young to know what they wanted to do in life.
I am writing about this not because another Catholic cleric got caught. That’s not news. What is news is how a man like McCarrick, whom by all indications was known as the least celibate cleric around, could rise from priest to bishop, to archbishop, and finally to cardinal in Washington DC? The answer is political patronage. He had to have had friends in high places to move him up the ecclesiastical ladder. The seamier side of the church is set up and run much like the Italian Mafia. Capos and bosses are only made if they have powerful friends who bring them up through the ranks. It’s the same in the church.
Once McCarrick was in a position of power (and he was the moment he was ordained a bishop), he groomed young men whom he could mentor and place in powerful church positions. When the man pulling the strings is revealed as a pedophile and a serial ephebophile, the church has a huge problem. The NY Times and the Washington Post are started to ask good questions. They are starting to ask who knew about McCarrick and why didn’t they do something to prevent it? These questions are leading directly to the men whom McCarrick groomed in earlier decades. Names like Cardinal Joseph Tobin (Newark), Cardinal Blase Cupich (Chicago), and Cardinal Farrell (Vatican). If you don’t believe me, just look at Farrell’s coat of arms and read Rod Dreher’s post on it.
The Catholic priest abuse scandal has been characterized as systemic for a decade now. You want to know why? It’s because of situations like the McCarrick one. The politics of patronage produces like-minded leaders. When the rats climb to the top they produce more rats. Think I’m wrong? Listen to the silence from the Catholic bishops on the McCarrick story.