An Unpleasant Task

Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington

February 28, 2002

The following is Cardinal McCarrick’s weekly column, Thinking of You, which appears in the February 28 edition of the Catholic Standard newspaper:

There are certain things you don’t want to write about. They are too sad or too sordid or so strange that they give you an uncomfortable feeling right in the pit of your stomach. One of these is pedophilia or child abuse. It seems that so many people are writing about this topic in the media these days that another column would be unnecessary, but the letters I get from some of you in my Archdiocesan family indicate that there are enough folks who would want me to talk about it too.

What shall I say? A few weeks ago I was on a live news program on TV and the second question I got was about child abuse. The question caught me by surprise since I was supposed to be discussing another topic, but it did give me a chance to say what I felt from my heart. Hurting a child or a young person through sexual or physical abuse is always despicable and to be condemned whoever the offender is, but when the perpetrator is someone who is trusted by the child because of his role or his profession, the wrong that is done is multiplied and is all the more horrendous. My heart breaks at the suffering this causes the children and their families and I want to add my own deep apologies for any and every crime of this kind by a priest or a minister of religion here or anywhere.

It is good for us to keep an historical perspective since many of the cases now in the media are from past decades. Fifty years ago it was probably considered by most people to be a grave moral fault but one that an individual could correct. Similarly, in the medical profession many also believed that this problem could be corrected. Later on, the psychiatrists and other mental health experts began to understand that it was really more serious than that. It was also a deep-seated psychological illness that could only be controlled by lengthy hospitalization and more comprehensive psychological treatment.

Society and the medical and legal systems of our country began to see that the risks of repeated offenses were greater than previously thought and therefore a more stringent policy had to be followed. Probably some offenders can be helped by intense therapy, but now we know that it is too great a risk to take a chance with the mental or physical health of our young people and, even more to the point, with their relationship with a God who only wants their good. Once a clear case has been made, an offending individual should never be placed in a position of trust with children ever again.

I think there are three important points that I ought to make. First of all, I want to assure you that the Archdiocese of Washington has one of the most comprehensive and stringent procedures to guard against child sexual abuse of any agency, religious or secular, in the country. Elsewhere in today’s Catholic Standard you can find an article that points this out in detail. That should give a real sense of security to our people. Secondly, I want to talk to you about the priests who serve in this Archdiocese. You know them as well or better than I do. Think about them, for a moment. They are good, solid, hard-working men who love God and who love you. In the past fourteen months I have come to love them and respect them and you can be as proud of them as I am. Finally, it is important to put this problem, as horrible as it is, into context. Experts say that there is no evidence that priests are more likely to engage in sexual misconduct against minors than men in other professions.

Of course, the fact that even one priest might have this problem is already a source of sadness for us all. I promise you that the stringent policies already in place at the time of my predecessor, Cardinal Hickey, will be scrupulously followed in this Archdiocese of Washington and I ask you to join me in prayer for the victims of this crime, for their families, and also for the sick and tragic men who have caused all this pain.

May the terrible scars of the children who have suffered – and who now in their adult life still feel the pain and the loss of trust – be made to heal by the love of their families and by the prayers of our community of faith. I hesitated to write you on this, dear friends, because we seem to run into these stories wherever we turn, but hearing from some of you and thinking of you all, I thought I should share my own sad thoughts with you.

Susan Gibbs
Office of Communications
[email protected]