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.”

8 thoughts on “Dear Cardinal McCarrick

  1. Hmmmmmmm…considering the noted postscript, one could say that the resolution that the SBC passed in June 2002, “to discipline those guilty of any sexual abuse…” was disregarded by those in “bishop-like” positions in the SBC (Frank Page comes to mind among others). Perhaps these leaders of the SBC also considered themselves “exempt” from the rules they made for the masses…
    I suspect that same arrogance is rampant in SBC leadership looking at so many such cases that have been exposed since that resolution was passed. And Patterson’s attitude toward females (specifically rape victims (break her down)) certainly was promulgated by him and his earnest disciples.
    Connections to this Ronnie Floyd should be soon forthcoming from the faithful researcher of archives… interesting that the Floyd letter was found in the James Merritt files…

  2. It struck me that Rev. Floyd had to go clear back to 1985 to find something to brag about. It also strikes me that he seemed to be juxtaposing The RCC and the SBC in their zeal to find and punish abuse. It also strikes me that there is no real reason to write the letter Finally, WRT the RCC and the SBC, this affirms the truth of the old adage: “When all is said and done, there’s usually a whole lot more said , than done.”

  3. The best I can make of this letter is that Floyd sees some sort of parallel between SBC members saying “enough is enough” to liberalism and RCC members saying “enough is enough” to clergy sexual abuse. And that both the SBC and RCC happen to be finding their resolve and making their stand in Dallas.

    But it’s a weird letter. (1) Why can’t Floyd bring himself to name “the issues [the church] has been facing for a few months?” It smacks of being uncomfortable with the topic(s) of sexual abuse and clergy misconduct and/or of minimizing them. And why would he say it’s been facing them for only a few months? Even in 2002, this was a more longstanding problem than that, right? (2) Why no mention of being grieved for the victims of clergy sexual abuse? Why no mention of praying for them? Seems odd to mention only being grieved for and praying for McCarrick. (3) It almost sounds like Floyd is connecting sexual abuse by clergy to liberalism. Surely Floyd doesn’t mean that if the RCC would return conservative theology and politics like the SBC then they would eliminate clergy sexual abuse, right? (4) I can’t remember the highlights of that Criswell sermon. And ideas about what Floyd thought would resonate with McCarrick?

    Also, this article was interesting reading in light of your blog post:

  4. Based on the relative social and ecumenical inequality between the sender and the recipient, and considering the overall obsequious tone of its author, I think the purpose of the letter was an ambitious SBC pastor’s cringeworthy attempt to befriend a prominent RCC cardinal and bolster his Rolodex.

    I can imagine, as the letter made its journey through the postal system, its author smiled with eager anticipation at its delivery. He daydreamed how much his missive would so impress the famous cardinal that the cardinal would dispatch his chief of staff to track down the pastor and bring him to meet the cardinal for lunch at The Monocle Restaurant in Washington DC. There, over rare steaks, the pastor would deliver such profound advice about how the RCC could handle their sex abuse problem that the bishop would marvel at the wondrous treasure he had found, hidden in the hills of Arkansas. Then it could be said by the pastor about the cardinal, “I was eating with my old friend Cardinal McCarrick, and he was telling me thus and such.” What a day of rejoicing that would be!

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