Open Letter to the United States Conference of Bishops

To the Most Reverend Members of the USCCB,

I am a concerned Catholic professional with degrees in both civil and canon law.  I am also a wife, a mother of three and a pro-life and anti-surrogacy activist. Consistent with the teachings of the Church, I have sponsored immigrants and assisted illegal entrants in attaining citizenship.  My husband and I are active parishioners in San Francisco, California and Park City, Utah.  We have raised our children in the Church and weathered with the Church the shocking exposure of suppressed incidents of sexual abuse against children by some of our clergy. 

I have been faithful and involved.

The recent exposure of the sexual abuse by and lifestyle of Cardinal “Uncle Ted” McCarrick opens old wounds of betrayal by the clergy and a new, far more serious chapter in the moral authority of the Episcopal conference. The credibility and viability of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is now in question.

Those of us who have followed the Conference’s response to the 2002 Boston Globe expose found reassurance in the employment of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice to study, first, the scope of the sexual abuse and, subsequently, the causes and context of that abuse. We also embraced the USCCB’s 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People as a sincere statement of action and as a watershed moment creating transparency and cooperation with the laity to prevent any further abuse and scandal. Through contributions of time, talent and money, the laity stood side-by-side with the USCCB and our dioceses to expose, heal and compensate the gross sexual wrongdoing of clergy. We stood upon promises from our shepherds that reporting, exposure, and sexual safety were the new norms; admissions of wrong-doing and recompense and healing for victims, the new spiritual language; and zero tolerance of clerical predatory behavior, the uncompromised standard of all bishops.

Yet, here we awake again to scandalous headlines: “American Cardinal Accused of Sexually Abusing Minor Is Removed From Ministry”  (NYT); “Man Says Cardinal McCarrick, His ‘Uncle Ted,’ Sexually Abused Him for Years”  (NYT)); “Cardinal McCarrick, former archbishop of Washington, accused of sexual abuse and removed from ministry” (WashPost).  Allegations now include sexual molestation of minors as well as sexual predatory behavior with young seminarians and priests.

More, media disclosures insist that the predatory behaviors of Cardinal McCarrick have been well known for decades. This from religion writer Julia Duin: “Numerous journalists – and Catholics – knew that McCarrick has been accused of this sort of thing for decades and that he cultivated male seminarians for sexual purposes for years.“ The American Conservative writer Rod Dreher makes similar assertions in his article “Cardinal McCarrick: Everybody Knew.”

Remember how, after Harvey Weinstein was busted as a serial sexual abuser, it emerged that a whole lot of people knew this about Weinstein, but never said anything about it? The same thing is true about Cardinal Theodore McCarrick . . . I had never heard that McCarrick abused minors, but I heard from many sources that he would go after seminarians. He had a habit of inviting them to his beach house and always inviting one more young man than there was bed space for. The unlucky mark had to bunk with the Archbishop, who loved to snuggle.

Allegations that Cardinal McCarrick’s inappropriate, predatory sexual behaviors were well known in journalistic and certain clerical circles raise a critical issue: Were the members of the USCCB aware of either these allegations against or the actual behaviors of Cardinal McCarrick’s? As the USCCB undertook the task of re-establishing credibility with the public and moral authority with the communal body after years of ignoring, misunderstanding and mishandling credible allegations of clerical abuse of children, was there knowledge that one of their own – then Archbishop McCarrick – should have been in the database of offenders, not sitting in the room? 

As a lawyer, feminist and mother, I am reminded immediately, like Mr. Dreher, of Harvey Weinstein’s predatory behaviors and Hollywood’s blind eye. Has the USCCB behaved any differently than our civil celebrities who dared not cause public shame to one of their own? 

I go further than Mr. Dreher, though, and reflect with alarm and dread on the conspiracy of silence that enabled and protected Jerry Sandusky of Penn State through his years of sexual predation. Is it possible that our Apostles of Christ disregarded known fact or allegations against “one of their own” even as they promised the laity that the USCCB would take every action necessary to provide a sexually safe environment for our young people?

While the USCCB is not a disciplinary body with respect to individual members, nor does it displace the primary relationship of each bishop with the Holy Pontiff, the conference functions as a primary community for the bishops. Its purpose is to foster “the communion of fraternal charity and zeal for the universal mission entrusted to the Apostles” and allow the bishops to “[pool] their abilities and their wills for the common good and for the welfare of the individual churches.” (Christus Dominus, 36). 

The USCCB is not a union, a professional organization or a coaching staff. By canon law, it is committed “to promote the greater good which the Church offers mankind, especially through the forms and methods of the apostolate fittingly adapted to the circumstances of time and place, according to the norm of law.” (c. 447) This current scandal, along with pointed allegations in the press that Cardinal McCarrick’s predatory behavior was known to at least some of his fellow bishops (see Dreher, “Cardinal McCarrick: Everybody Knew”) raises legitimate concern that the USCCB, like Hollywood and the Penn State coaching staff, has enabled at least one of its members to engage in decades of sexually predatory behavior. 

This scandal will not pass. It will not blow over. It is not a footnote to the sexual abuse crisis. Even as I write, I dread the headlines in the days ahead. How many more hurting, damaged victims of Cardinal McCarrick will finally be able to come forward? How many other bishops have engaged in similar predatory behavior or turned their backs on victims complaining of inappropriate sexual behavior by fellow bishops? 

With this shameful exposure of Cardinal McCarrick’s history, the USCCB enters a new, ominous chapter. The bishops must confront serious questions about the role and credibility of the Conference itself, it’s ability to provide moral correction and guidance for the Catholic laity, and, whether it functions in compliance with Canon Law “for the common good and for the welfare of the individual churches” or has metastasized into an opaque organization for the positioning and protection of bishops.  

I urge you toward disclosure, transparency, and communication. I urge you to commission a third study with a focus on how a sexually abusive bishop not only remained immune from the scrutiny that our priests underwent during the sexual abuse crisis but advanced in his Episcopacy. This study must detail what Cardinal McCarrick’s fellow bishops knew about both allegations and instances of sexual predation and what, if anything, the community of Bishops did to address the information. It must also fully and finally reveal the scope of sexual misconduct and allegations of misconduct by Cardinal McCarrick, as well as any other Bishop, detailing the Bishops’ own compliance with the standards imposed on all clergy in 2002.

I also urge the USCCB to promptly appoint a commission of laity to work with the USCCB on initiating this investigation and to formulate independent observations and recommendations regarding procedures for exposing, reporting and addressing sexual misconduct by our Bishops. It is critical to Catholics – who are called upon to encourage our sons toward the priesthood – to understand the scope of sexual predation, and its enabling, among our Bishops. The voice of the laity must be included and heard, for the voice of our Bishops has failed us. 

In Christ,

Marjorie Murphy Campbell