The "McCarrick Test" and its implications for the papacy



The intervention of CNN's Delia Gallagher at the Vatican Press Conference last Friday has been circulated widely on social media. There were other good, challenging questions asked during the summit, notably by Sandro Magister, Philip Pullella, Inés San Martín, and Diane Montagna, but Gallagher's seemed to me the most devastating (at 2'10" in the above video). She recalled the meeting of US Cardinals in Rome in 2002 concerning child abuse and pointed out that the reassuring face of the crisis at that time, promising that there would be zero tolerance and an end to cover-up, was Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, whom we now know to have been an abuser himself, and who has recently been dismissed from the clerical state as a result. Gallagher asked Cardinals Cupich and O'Malley how the Cardinals were now holding each other accountable and how they would assure the American people that what happened then is now going to change.

Referring to this question, Matthew Bunson in the National Catholic Register, in an analysis of the Abuse Summit refers to "Passing the McCarrick Test", and points out that
[...] after any speech that proposed new procedures and norms, reporters and Catholic faithful could ask: will this prevent a new McCarrick?"
A fair-minded person could hardly criticise Delia Gallagher for asking the question that she did, or Matthew Bunson for identifying the "McCarrick Test." They do seem to get to the heart of why many Catholics are questioning the value of the “Protection of Minors in the Church” Meeting since there does not appear to be any clear reassurance that the proposed measures will deal with the problem. The McCarrick case is an extreme one - but it has happened.

The reference to a "McCarrick Test" got me thinking about a further, and even more unthinkable possibility. In the end, a Cardinal can be disciplined by the Pope, but the Pope himself cannot be judged by any tribunal in the Church. Both the 1917 and the 1983 codes of Canon Law include the ancient principle Prima sedes a nemine iudicatur - the first see is judged by nobody.

That may be true in theory as regards any legal mechanism within the Church, but the problem is that nowadays, there are plenty of possible judges who will not be inclined to take any notice of canon law or a venerable Catholic principle. It is vitally important that the first see - in the person of its occupant - must show himself to be above reproach if accused of covering up for anyone who has committed crimes against minors.

The questions left unanswered at the Press Conference during the recent summit urgently need to be addressed. In the daily prayers which we dutifully offer for the Holy Father, we might include the intention that he act for the good of the universal Church in being transparent about Cardinal McCarrick and the various other cases that have caused concern.

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