- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 18, 2002

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington said yesterday that his church's mission is more difficult after a year of sexual scandal, but he believes the worst has passed and that the crisis may be more over belief than morals.
"While all this is going on, we're still trying to be faithful to the teaching of the Gospel, we're still trying to reach out and call people to holiness, we're still trying to make a contribution to the society," Cardinal McCarrick said.
"The crisis, which hopefully we have just finished passing through, made [priestly] vocation seeking more difficult," he said at an interview with editors, columnists and reporters at The Washington Times.
The archdiocese has sent 15 candidates for the priesthood to seminary this year, its largest number since the 1980s. "I ask them why they are coming now with all this going on, and they say, 'It's not for the prestige,'" but because God has called.
In a wide-ranging conversation over a lunch of roast chicken and wild rice in the office of Wesley Pruden, the editor in chief of The Times, Cardinal McCarrick talked with enthusiasm about how the church's social services and parochial schools, which enroll two-thirds Protestants and others, are making a difference in the Washington diocese.
"We're continuing to do that because that's what we have to do," he said of archdiocesan ministries and charities. "Is it harder? Yes."
The cardinal said he is familiar with the debate over the root of the sexual-abuse problem in the church, which has involved a small number of pedophile priests and a larger number who are homosexual.
But he believes that a few cases have been sensationalized. "You are talking about fewer than 2 percent of our priests over the course of the last 50 years," he said. Reports of a homosexual subculture in seminaries are "a great concern" but also have been exaggerated.
"I'm sure that [a subculture] has existed in certain places at certain times with a certain number, but I think there's a tendency [to] say, 'Oh, there are three [homosexuals]. So it must be half the house.'"
Though a priest and pastor most of his life, Cardinal McCarrick also earned his doctorate in sociology. His experience working with numbers, surveys and data makes him skeptical that the abuse scandal adds up to "a major, major problem," he said.
Regarding certain criticisms of Catholic seminaries, he said: "Whether or not the seminary system was replete with theological dissidence and sexual problems, I certainly would not believe that this was ever the case in the United States."
More at issue for the nation's 60 million Catholics is confusion over authentic church teaching on faith and morals, including ideas about chastity, celibacy and fidelity for both the priests and the laity.
This confusion arose from liberal interpretations of the Second Vatican Council of 1962 to 1965, leading to cases where some seminary professors taught that priests would marry, or taught liberal sexual mores.
"With regard to [doctrinal] dissidence, that was a much greater problem than the sexual problem," Cardinal McCarrick said. "That did get into some seminaries." When he became a bishop in 1981, "I chose very carefully what seminaries I would send my men to."
After the U.S. bishops met in Dallas in June to address the crisis of abuse, 10 bishops called for an extraordinary American church council on the fidelity of the priesthood.
Cardinal McCarrick thinks focusing merely on priests amid so many other social, cultural and geopolitical problems of the day would be "narrow" and "unwise." The 13-member review board of lay Catholics, appointed by the U.S. bishops to monitor how they handled errant priests, must talk tough but must allow bishops time too clean up abuse accusations.
"It's a fine board," Cardinal McCarrick said. "But it's probably too soon to know if [some bishops] are dragging their feet" on disciplining accused priests. "In the next couple of months, we will see what the dioceses are doing."
The cardinal, who hosted a dinner for President Bush shortly after his inauguration, said pro-life and pro-family policies fare better in today's political atmosphere. "The U.S. has abandoned its vigorous anti-life positions" in foreign policy, and at home is "more supportive of the right to life and family values."
Some religious figures have perceived a new clash of civilizations between Islam and the West after the terrorist attacks of September 11, but the cardinal cautioned against regarding world as divided simply into good and evil.
"Wouldn't it be great if the world was so easy as to say the good guys are all on one side and the bad guys on the other?" said the cardinal, who for years was a foreign-affairs analyst for the U.S. bishops. Catholics may find common ground with Islam's pro-life values even while condemning its extremist forms. For example, he said, the church prevented Muslims from erecting a large mosque in Nazareth that would have overshadowed a Catholic church.
However, he said, Catholic bishops think the hawkish approach of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is unfair to Palestinians, some of whom are Christians.
The greatest problem with U.S. foreign policy, he said, is that the crasser side of American culture, such as Hollywood sex and commercialism, usually follows U.S. efforts to introduce democratic political forms in developing nations. "The tragedy of the world is, that's what we send [abroad] most," said Cardinal McCarrick, who spent his early priesthood serving in the Caribbean.
Since joining the College of Cardinals, he is among the 116 churchmen who are eligible to convene and vote for a successor to John Paul II, who began his pontificate in 1978 but grows increasingly frail.
Having met Pope John Paul II on his recent trips to Canada and Mexico, Cardinal McCarrick spoke of the pontiff's strength of mind and voice, but declined to speculate about what he and his colleagues in the college think about the election of the next pope.
"There are 116 people under church law who may not talk about it," he said, "and I am one of them."


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