To the Most Reverend Members of the USCCB,

I write respectfully in follow up to my July 23, 2018, Open Letter to the USCCB regarding the Cardinal McCarrick Scandal.

You are preparing to meet in Baltimore November 12-14. This meeting comes in the turbulent wake of formerly-Cardinal McCarrick’s removal from the College of Cardinals and public ministry; the lurid revelations of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report; and the shocking exchange between former US Nuncio Archbishop Carlo Marie Viganó and our Holy Father.

This meeting convenes as your first organized gathering following what’s been dubbed our “Catholic summer of shame,” a period of torrential lamentation and suffering for victims of sexual abuse and faithful laity and clerics. You convene amidst deepening secular investigation (both media and judicial) of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States with its associated expense and burden and embarrassment. 

The outraged response has reached you from the full range of Catholic orientation, including the most theologically “liberal” to the most ferociously “conservative” corners of the American church.

The burden upon you is heavy. 

As you enter your meeting, you are aware the USCCB lacks credibility with the faithful. While calls for “transparency” predominate, the unifying theme – of victims, faithful followers and secular authorities is this: Tell the Truth.  

There is TRUTH about who knew what when regarding formerly-Cardinal McCarrick’s ignominious career; but this truth must be sought, compiled and released. 

November 12-14 represents a critical moment for the United States Catholic Church. 

Will you decide to pursue the investigation, reporting, and disclosure of the TRUTH regarding the former Cardinal’s rise to power and immunity to consequences for sexual predation, or will you decide to deny the TRUTH to the laity (and yourselves) with delays, excuses or half-hearted measures?  

Here I summarize briefly what I have learned and heard through an online discussion group I manage of approximately 600 faithful, engaged, heart-broken Catholics, The Catherine Commission. The group formed on August 3, 2018, and is dedicated as follows.

Catherine Commission – a Truth Project. St. Catherine of Sienna, pray for us. Help us to heal the deep wounds in our Church and cleanse us from all iniquities. We pray that you will guide us, in love, charity, and diligence, to go where the light of Truth takes us, in the name of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. May His Church be restored by Truth.

I commend to you the following three lay expectations regarding your efforts to restore Episcopal credibility and advance healing for the suffering of McCarrick’s victims and the laity and your priests and religious. Failure to meet these expectations will deepen disappointment, division, and disharmony within our community. Embracing these expectations as your own will draw us together in purpose.

  1. Lay-led accounting of the rise of the former Cardinal, Rev. Theodore E. McCarrick (Who has not been laicized though he has been removed from public ministry.)

The overwhelming expectation of American Catholics is that you will initiate a thorough, lay-led investigation of McCarrick.

The laity has received precious few facts explaining how the most powerful hierarchical figure of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States has ended up fallen from grace, ousted from the College of Cardinals, subject to unspecified canonical proceedings, confined to a friary in Kansas, and – in contradiction to his entire history within our Church community – completely removed from the public landscape of the domestic and international Church. 

News, mostly secular, tells us that he grossly abused at least one minor; sexually targeted, harassed and abused seminarians and young priests, and provoked at least two significant civil settlements for sexual harassment, one in Metuchen NJ and one in Newark NJ. 

McCarrick himself is SILENT. Members of the USCCB have been largely SILENT as to “who knew what when.” Our Holy Father commends SILENCE as a response. 

Only the former United States Nuncio Archbishop Viganó, has “broken rank” with detailed, assertions about “who knew what when.” Many of you have acknowledged the Archbishop’s good character and reputation. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo observed, “The questions raised deserve answers that are conclusive and based on evidence. Without those answers, innocent men may be tainted by false accusation and the guilty may be left to repeat sins of the past.” 

Many bishops have agreed that a complete investigation of formerly-Cardinal McCarrick’s rise to power is needed – and that only with such an investigation can steps then be taken to heal the harms of McCarrick’s predatory and abusive behaviors, prevent further malfeasance by bishops and restore the credibility of the Episcopal body. 

As Bishop Robert Barron wrote:

Their task should be to determine how Archbishop McCarrick managed, despite his widespread reputation for iniquity, to rise through the ranks of the hierarchy and to continue, in his retirement years, to function as a roving ambassador for the Church and to have a disproportionate influence on the appointment of bishops. They should ask the ecclesial version of Sen. Howard Baker’s famous questions: “What did the responsible parties know and when did they know it?” Only after these matters are settled will we know what the next steps ought to be.

Comments to Bishop Barron’s article, like comments at The Catherine Commission, overwhelming support a complete “who knew what when” lay-led investigation.  The Church’s current National Review Board has pleaded for a similar, though broader, investigation.  

 The National Review Board firmly believes, as has been expressed by several bishops in recent days, that the episcopacy needs to be held accountable for these past actions, and in the future, for being complicit, either directly or indirectly, in the sexual abuse of the vulnerable. Holding bishops accountable will require an independent review into the actions of the bishop when an allegation comes to light. The only way to ensure the independence of such a review is to entrust this to the laity, as recently suggested by Cardinal DiNardo.

Respected lay organizations like Legatus and Catholic intellectuals like Christopher Tollefsen have publicly announced that they are withholding contributions to the Church until there are answers. Prominent Catholic journal First Things published Mr. Tollefsen’s statement as an “invitation” for fellow Catholics to follow suit. 

Based on a survey of its readers, America Magazine reached the following conclusion as of November 2, 2018:

[M]any respondents told America that they had reduced their financial contributions to the Catholic Church in the wake of the sexual abuse crisis. Fifty-seven percent of respondents said they had lowered the amount they gave to their bishop’s appeal, while 47 percent said they had reduced donations to their parishes.

As you enter your meeting in Baltimore, it is fair to say that the United States Catholic community is crying out for truth. We expect you to initiate a lay-led investigation of formerly-Cardinal McCarrick, including how he attained the highest position of respect and authority in the American Catholic Church despite a history of sexual abuse of minors, official diocesan settlement of civil lawsuits against him for sexual harassment and widespread, and credible evidence of ongoing sexual harassment and abuse of seminarians and young priests. 

  1. Including and Answering the Women of the Church 

The overwhelming expectation of American Catholic women is that you will include and answer women in a thorough lay-led investigation of McCarrick.

In response to the scandalous behaviors of formerly-Cardinal McCarrick, scores of thousands of faithful Catholic women have pleaded to be heard.  

These pleas come from prominent Catholic women well-regarded and well-known to you. They include Illinois Supreme Court Justice Ann Burke, scholarly blogger Elizabeth Scalia, and moral theologian and seminary professor Dr. Janet Smith. Our lay female leadership is of one mind in support of investigation and accountability. They are also united in their pained confusion how are our male leadership – which is supposed to model fatherhood itself – has failed to protect our children and left seminarians and young priests vulnerable prey for clerical homosexual targeting. 

Female dismay runs widespread throughout the church.

On August 30, 2018, another prominent, faithful Catholic lay leader, Mary Rice Hasson of the Catholic Women’s Forum, organized an online Letter to Pope Francis from Catholic Women, posting the letter for review and signature. As you enter your November meeting, over 47,000 women have signed this charitable, humble letter begging for answers whether the Holy Father and “highly placed cardinals” turned “a blind eye to former Cardinal McCarrick’s egregious behavior” while “promoting this predator as a global spokesman and spiritual leader.” The letter embraced Cardinal Daniel D. DiNardo’s recognition that questions regarding McCarrick “deserve answers that are conclusive and based on evidence.”

To date, there has been no public response from any member of the hierarchy of our Church to this genuinely faithful plea – this despite the fundamental role women play in the Church and the Catholic mother’s unique role in deciding whether to support and encourage our sons in discerning vocations. 

We, the women of the Church, are deeply disturbed that we might support a son’s entry into a seminary where he is “noticed” and targeted for the sort of sexual predation practiced by McCarrick. If the former Cardinal was a lone wolf, we need to know this. We need to know how he managed to target, groom and abuse young men for his sexual stimulation and pleasure. We need to know the truth.  

The SILENCE in response to these concerns and pleas deafens and dulls the senses of faithful women. It is hardly surprising that the secular media is drawing upon women whistleblowers, such as Jennifer Haselberger of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Siobhan O’Connor of the Buffalo diocese and Helen Drinan of the Archdiocese of Boston. 

These women – all long-term faithful servants in diocesan positions of responsibility and exposure – each have gone public with various accusations of abuse cover-up, mishandling or simply gross insensitivity to the victims of clerical abuse. Each has gone public to express the frustration and indignation of women desperate to help and assist their shepherds but closed out from the critical formulation of proper responses to sex abuse allegations and findings.  

Please, Most Reverend Members of the USCCB, do not turn away from the voices of the women in your flock. Since my Open Letter to the USCCB Regarding the McCarrick Scandal on July 23, 2018, I’ve personally reached out to and offered to travel and talk to four individual bishops whose statements seemed open to laity input. Only one responded. 

I remain cautiously optimistic that you will reach out to women like Ann Burke, Elizabeth Scalia, Janet Smith, and Mary Rice Hasson as invaluable resources for you during this crisis. The time grows short, you must decide clearly and purposefully to fold into your discussions and deliberations the voices of the women in your flock. 

The time grows short.

  1. Establishing the USCCB as credibly functioning for its canonical purposes.

The damaged credibility of the USCCB is in your hands.

Will this Episcopal Conference function in this crisis “for the greater good which the Church offers mankind” or will it function to shield individuals and the Episcopal body from examination and disclosure of potentially embarrassing information contributing to the rise of formerly-Cardinal McCarrick? 

One would hope that the conference body itself recognizes the extent to which McCarrick sacrilegiously and deviously used the Episcopal conference to project and grandstand a series of blatant misrepresentations to the American Catholic laity. 

You need only recall the article published on April 23, 2002, Washington Post’s “Vatican’s Man of the Hour” as a reminder of the extent to which McCarrick used the sexual abuse crisis and you to launch himself with probable lies and false intentions. 

At last week’s meeting of the U.S. cardinals, McCarrick filled a leadership vacuum. Traditionally, the most influential voices in that group have been those of the most senior U.S. cardinal, currently Boston’s Cardinal Bernard F. Law, and the archbishop of New York, now Cardinal Edward M. Egan. But Law and Egan are embroiled in the sexual abuse scandal, facing criticism for failing to report priests’ misconduct to civil authorities and for shuttling the priests from one parish to another. Another prominent cardinal, Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, riled the Vatican just before the summit by calling for a reconsideration of mandatory celibacy for priests. By contrast, McCarrick does not question papal doctrine. He is a staunch defender of celibacy and the male-only priesthood. He is effusive in his praise of the pope. And he has not been tainted by the scandal.

If this does not upset you on a personal and spiritual level alone, you nevertheless must recognize the damage done by McCarrick to the conference body itself. 

The laity widely doubts that the USCCB in this prolonged crisis is functioning as a collegial body able to foster “the communion of fraternal charity and zeal for the universal mission entrusted to the Apostles.” Nor does the laity have any confidence that the USCCB in this crisis allows 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 darkest perception is that the bishops of the USCCB are all complicit in McCarrick’s crimes and delicts and use the Conference to cover up that complicity. More hopeful laity prayerfully awaits the outcome of your November meeting for evidence of the USCCB restoring its canonical functions through truth and correction. 

What will you do to set the USCCB on a path in communion with your flock? How will you address the abuses of McCarrick against the Episcopal Conference itself and convince the laity that the body is lead by and comprised of faithful shepherds? 

A primary and necessary first step is to stay true to the plan proposed August 16, 2018.  

The Executive Committee has established three goals: (1) an investigation into the questions surrounding Archbishop McCarrick; (2) an opening of new and confidential channels for reporting complaints against bishops; and (3) advocacy for more effective resolution of future complaints. These goals will be pursued according to three criteria: proper independence, sufficient authority, and substantial leadership by the laity.

Backtracking on these goals and criteria by, e.g., limiting the investigation of formerly-Cardinal McCarrick to select diocesan files or refusing to give lay leadership autonomy in the execution of the goals or excluding women from participation, will be ill-received by the laity so anxious for your leadership to be restored.

Worse, the disappointment from a failure to follow and strengthen the original plan will inflame the darkest perception of the USCCB itself and further erode its role in holding together and restoring Church unity.

Be assured, Most Reverend Members of the USCCB, of the prayers, fasting, and vigilance that accompanies you into your meeting. The laity has heard the call of the Holy Father and the Episcopal body to prayer and fasting for forgiveness as a communal body. Projects like Lori Carter’s Wear Gray have ignited women throughout the United States in communion with you.

The Wear GRAY movement is the laity’s response to the widespread sexual crimes and corruption affecting our Catholic Church. The movement unites all in prayer, fasting, and penance in union with Jesus’ heart. We ask all cardinals, bishops, and priests to humbly offer reparation for the sins of the Church and to act immediately to bring all guilty to justice while supporting the victims and many diligent faithful priests and religious. In Nineveh, the people proclaimed a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. The king and his princes then followed the example of the people, and they returned to God (Jonah 3:1-10).

We unite our prayers to the suffering of all sexual abuse victims and strive to support you in the heavy labor ahead. Just as we pray and repent and suffer together, we must also seek, find and expose the truth together. 

Our unity is at stake. 

St. Catherine of Siena, Pray for Us.