CHICAGO -- Less than one month from the age of mandatory retirement for Catholic bishops, Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick said he hopes to leave a legacy of kindness after his 28 years as a bishop in New York, Metuchen and Newark, N.J., and Washington.
"Every priest needs to be kind," he said. "Every bishop needs to be kind... If I try to be kind, that's the most important thing. Get the bad people made good, get the good people made better. That's my legacy."
The cardinal must send a retirement letter to Pope Benedict XVI on July 7, his 75th birthday. Whether the pope immediately accepts the letter depends on the importance of the diocese, whether the current bishop is crucial to unfinished business there, the health of the current bishop and whether the pope may have someone else lined up for the job.
"I am energetic enough [to stay]," the cardinal said, "but I have a lot of things I could do in retirement. I want to get myself ready to go home [to heaven], you know? [Retirement] would give me more time to do that."
It would also give him more time to go fishing, he said, especially in New Jersey, where he lived for 23 years. However, John Paul II, near the end of his reign, extended several cardinals' terms well past retirement age. Benedict XVI could follow suit.
"If he wants me to continue, I'm open to that, too," the cardinal said. "Whatever. I'm easy, I really am. I learned years ago you always do what the Lord tells you to do. ... Whatever the Lord tells me through the Holy Father, I am open to whatever he wants."
He is especially proud, he added, of his "sons;" 12 priests he personally ordained as bishops who were with the cardinal at the semi-annual meeting of U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) at the Fairmont Hotel here.
"Two of them did really well today," he said, referring to two bishops who were elected to head committees or spoke during floor debate.
U.S. bishops at the meeting yesterday voted for some changes to their 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, then voted to implement the revised version for five years. They also decided to retain a one-strike policy in the charter that ousts priests and deacons from office for a single act of sexual abuse against a minor.
Retired Metuchen Bishop Edward T. Hughes protested, saying many priests are "anxious and uncertain" about the one-strike rule, "believing an accusation is tantamount to being judged guilty."
"I am not suggesting all our priests are angry," he added, "but they are concerned about their own future and ministry."
Bishops also agreed to spend up to $1.5 million from a $20 million endowment fund to partly fund a massive study on the causes of priestly sexual abuse. The USCCB hopes to raise the remainder of the cost of the study, slated to cost between $3 million and $5 million, from private foundations.
When some of the bishops expressed concern about the cost of the study, a lineup of bishops reminded the body the USCCB had promised in 2002 the study would be funded somehow, no matter the cost.
One reason, said Boston Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley, is the findings will show that priests are not any more liable to abuse children than are other men in the general population. "We have a terrible image of the priesthood," he said, "that somehow priests have a greater propensity to pedophilia. I don't believe that."
Bishops also inserted a new clause yesterday into their 84-page "Program of Priestly Formation" on requirements for men entering the priesthood to say they must have abstained from sex for at least two years. Earlier versions had no set time of abstinence.
Also, the bishops made their ad hoc committee for sexual abuse permanent, thus changing its name to the Standing Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People. A USCCB standing committee carries more weight than an ad hoc committee.