Wuerl is an egregious case. But he isn’t alone in failing to treat this disaster — the appalling abuse, the cover-ups, or even the anguish it is causing the Catholic faithful — with the gravity it deserves. In my own parish, in Alexandria, Virginia, where many in the pews have had contacts with McCarrick over the years, I have heard no priest mention any of these things at Sunday Mass. Our bishop, Michael Burbidge, included only the most elliptical reference to them in a recent homily: “There are moments in life where we seem to need God’s consolation and reassurance more than ever. And in light of some unsettling times in our church and recent revelations, it certainly seems to be one of those moments.”
Unsettling times? Some bishops have been forthright about the rot in the church. I suspect there are Catholic priests and bishops who fear that such talk will shake people’s faith. But it is the rot itself that is doing that, and it is a poor faith that imagines that Jesus needs our dishonesty or our silence.
Something else is impeding the reckoning that must come: church politics. During the first wave of the abuse scandal in 2002, conservative Catholics sometimes dragged their feet in recognizing the evidence. They blamed the enemies of the church for sensationalizing it; in some cases they knew and thought well of the abusers. This time it is liberal Catholics who are more prone to this reaction. Because they considered Wuerl and (especially) McCarrick to be their allies, some of them are insisting on ferreting out the critics’ alleged motives rather than maintaining a focus on the victims, and on preventing future victims.