Dear Cardinal McCarrick

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The Archdiocese of Washington D.C. has had a difficult year. A senior official was arrested for defrauding the church of tens of thousands of dollars. The Cardinal Archbishop, Donald Wuerl, was forced into retirement following a Pennsylvania grand jury report that raised concerns about his handling of decades-old abuse cases.  And Wuerl’s predecessor, the charismatic and media-savvy Theodore McCarrick, was ejected from his palatial retirement home in Northwest D.C., stripped of his titles and clerical garb, and sent to live the remainder of his days in “penance and prayer” at a small Franciscan friary 250 miles west of Kansas City.

For years, there were growing concerns about McCarrick’s predatory behavior. One of our closest friends returned from making confession to Cardinal McCarrick several years ago with a horrifying tale of the priest’s prurient inquiries. The concerns many developed over the years were consistently reinforced as stunning details emerged about the immensely popular bishop’s sleeping arrangements at his vacation home on the Jersey Shore, among other scandals. When the dam broke, some said aloud what had long been spoken only in hushed corners of the Vatican: McCarrick was a corrupt priest. Not only had he actively concealed clergy sexual abuse, but he was himself a serial abuser.

The narrative was an about-face from the public image McCarrick had successfully curated in the earliest day of the abuse scandal. Back in 2002, Cardinal McCarrick was right at the forefront of the Conference of Catholic Bishop’s response plan. His popularity and ambition, coupled with his reputation as one of the church’s most aggressive fundraisers, ensured he would play a significant role in developing the so-called Dallas Charter that adopted a “zero-tolerance” policy for abusive priests.

But as it turned out, the policy had no teeth. In fact, the Conference of Catholic Bishops exempted themselves from its enforcement.  Now we know why.

Earlier this summer while researching at the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives in Nashville, news of McCarrick’s downfall was making the headlines. Perhaps that is why one letter, among many others that we continue to examine, caught our attention.

In the presidential papers of Atlanta-area pastor James Merritt, we found a carbon-copy of a May 24, 2002, letter from a prominent Arkansas pastor to Theodore McCarrick. The letter struck us as strange — if not grandiose — given that its author was neither an elected leader of the Southern Baptist Convention nor the president of one of its entities.

Curiously, the letter praises McCarrick for his “leadership on bringing final resolve to the Catholic Church and the issues it has been facing for a few months.”  It then directs McCarrick’s attention to the 1985 Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas, mentions W.A. Criswell, and commends to the D.C. prelate the legendary Texas expositor’s sermon from the annual pastor’s conference that same year.

We are still scratching our head over this one. Perhaps our readers can help us. Comments are welcome.

Postscript:  In June 2002, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a resolution concerning the Catholic abuse scandal.  That resolution states, in part, the convention’s commitment to “to discipline those guilty of any sexual abuse in obedience to Matthew 18:6-17 as well as to cooperate with civil authorities in the prosecution of those cases.”