Opinion | Theodore McCarrick’s Human Sacrifices

And then the perennial question: Why? Mr. McCarrick was a legendary fund-raiser and a charming, avuncular presence — but those defenses exist in all kinds of contexts. Why does this particular sort of abuse and neglect keep happening in the Catholic Church specifically?

“I think a big part of that answer is the interlocking hierarchies — clergy over people, men over women,” said Kathleen Sprows Cummings, a Notre Dame professor of history and director of the university’s Gender, Sex, and Power Project, which aims to establish a history of the sex abuse crisis in the American Catholic Church. “There’s just a trust among Catholics that the people who are in charge are going to do what’s right. And that failed massively when it comes to sex abuse.”

Mr. McCarrick must have known he could rely on that Catholic instinct to trust — to have faith, in other words. “It’s not, oh my gosh, how did he rise up in spite of it?” Ms. Cummings told me. “It’s almost — it’s because of it.” His ascent and his alleged abuse seem to have been entwined: The same understanding of the faith and comfort with its adherents that seem to have made him a cunning predator also gave rise to his special facility with fund-raising and dazzled his complacent superiors.

In 1951, while a student at Fordham University, the promising young Mr. McCarrick published a feature in The Fordham Monthly, describing a spiritual journey to a Carthusian monastery in the Swiss Alps. He was entranced, in his telling, by the solitude and grandeur of the contemplative life. All of the Carthusians were individuals, he wrote, but they were all “real men, who see the world for the old deceiver she is, and leave her ambitions and her joys to bury themselves alive, as it were, in Him, Who is the greatest Joy and highest Ambition of all.”

In truth, Mr. McCarrick never saw the need to choose between devotion to God and worldly ambition. He pursued the two as one, and was rewarded with a luminous career in the Roman Catholic Church, where countless opportunities to halt his predations were overlooked, declined, outweighed by fleeting fixations.

If sacrifices had to be made in the course of serving the Lord, Mr. McCarrick and his many enablers made certain they were human ones.

Elizabeth Bruenig (@ebruenig) is an Opinion writer.

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