Here is Timothy Egan, a columnist writing in the New York Times:

If you’re going to strike at a pope, to paraphrase the line about taking down a king, you must kill him. Right-wing Catholics, those who think allowing gay members of the faith to worship with dignity is an affront to God, have just taken their best shot at Francis.

The attempted coup was disguised as an exposé by a conscience-stricken cleric, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò. He claims that the pope must resign because he knew about the sexual abuse of young seminarians by a disgraced cardinal and did not defrock the predator.

It’s a fair point, and one that demands a full response from Francis. But if you read Viganò’s full 11-page letter, you see what’s really driving him and his ultraconservative cabal — an abhorrence of gay Catholics and a desire to return to the Dark Ages.

Here is John Allen, a Catholic journalist writing at Crux:

In much short-hand media talk about the story, it’s been said that Viganò charged Francis with covering up “sex abuse” allegations. That can be misleading, and there’s an important distinction in the explanation as to why.

Generally when the term “sex abuse” is used, especially in the context of the Church’s scandals, it refers to abuse of a minor. In fact, the first suggestion that McCarrick was guilty of that crime came earlier this year, when the Archdiocese of New York informed him that it was investigating a claim by a former altar boy from decades ago.

What was at issue back in 2013, when Viganò claims he informed Francis about McCarrick, was sexual misconduct with young adult seminarians. While indefensible, such behavior does not constitute a crime under either civil or Church law, and there is no suggestion in Viganò’s statement that Francis covered up such a crime.

If it’s true Francis ignored those warnings, it would still raise serious questions. It’s not the same, however, as other senior prelates who have been accused of turning a blind eye to clergy who preyed on children.

Here is Cardinal Blase Cupich talking to NBC:

This is not about sex. It’s about power and clericalism. That’s what has to change in the life of the Church, and that’s what the pope is talking about.

But let’s also be clear that people who want to make this about sex, in terms of homosexuality and all the rest of it, are a diversion from the real issue that we need to attack in the life of the Church. And that is that there are some people who believe that they are both privileged and protected. That has- that wall has to come down.

Any institution, like the Church or other larger institution, that have that kind of insular protection for their members, always gets in trouble. I have told other people that I’ve talked to, who have asked me to come to talk about the issue from their own perspective of kind of a lay clerical culture in their industries, is that if you circle the wagons when you have an issue, you’re gonna end up circling the drain. And that’s what’s happening.

Here we have three people–a member of the elite media, a member of the Catholic media, and a leader in the Roman church–all doing their best to argue that the McCarrick scandal is about something other than sexual abuse.

So… are they right?

Here is how CNA describes Cardinal McCarrick’s behavior in one of their stories on the scandal:

So well-known was McCarrick’s reputation, the priest said, that when McCarrick would accompany Cooke to visit the seminary there was a standing joke that they had to “hide the handsome ones” before he arrived.

The same reputation reportedly followed the archbishop years later, when he served from 1986-2000 as Archbishop of Newark. One priest of the Archdiocese of Newark told CNA it was an uncomfortable experience when McCarrick came to visit the seminary.

The priest said that McCarrick would often place his hand on seminarians while talking with them, or on their thighs while seated near them.

“It was really unnerving. On the one hand you knew – knew – what was going on but you couldn’t believe it.”

Several other priests from Newark spoke to CNA about similar experiences.

One priest worked in close proximity to the archbishop in the archdiocesan chancery for a number of years. “There were the ‘nephews,’ for sure,” he said. “He had a type: tall, slim, intelligent  – but no smokers.”

Ingredients we have in the story from CNA:

  • a man in a position of spiritual authority
  • the spiritual authority making small but significant gestures toward adults that have an obvious sexual component
  • this attention appears to be entirely unasked for

That is sexual harassment.

Indeed, the recently retired Bill Hybels, founding pastor of Willow Creek Church in Chicago, has rightly been disgraced over engaging in virtually identical behavior:

An investigation by the Chicago Tribune examined those allegations and other claims of inappropriate behavior by Hybels, documented through interviews with current and former church members, elders and employees, as well as hundreds of emails and internal records.

The alleged behavior included suggestive comments, extended hugs, an unwanted kiss and invitations to hotel rooms. It also included an allegation of a prolonged consensual affair with a married woman who later said her claim about the affair was not true, the Tribune found.

So, the uncomfortable question: Why are so many people in positions of authority actively lying about the nature of McCarrick’s offenses, as if his relationships were entirely consensual in origin and not existing within a power structure deeply biased toward McCarrick? And by the way, if in the era of #MeToo you think McCarrick’s unasked for sexual advances stopped at ‘touching men on the thigh’ you’re dumber than Cardinal Cupich.

One of the lessons that one of the other signature events of our era has taught us, I hope, is how deeply the spirit of partisanship infects our republic. We have seen it in the mass capitulation and transformation of the GOP into a de facto white supremacist party. What Trump has demonstrated is that if you can link a person to an ideology, then all that ideology’s proponents will stick by that person no matter what. There is no horror they can commit that will cause their base to abandon them.

Trump was right–he could shoot a guy in the middle of Manhattan and his supporters won’t leave him. The corollary, in the world of progressive Catholicism seems to be similar: You can sexually harass someone 30 years your junior and who is directly under your spiritual authority. But if you’re a good party man, no one will care. In fact, they, like Trump’s dignity wraiths in the GOP, will even defend you.

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Posted by Jake Meador

Jake Meador is the editor-in-chief of Mere Orthodoxy. He is a 2010 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he studied English and History. He lives in Lincoln, NE with his wife Joie, their daughter Davy Joy, and sons Wendell, Austin, and Ambrose. Jake's writing has appeared in Commonweal, Christianity Today, Fare Forward, the University Bookman, Books & Culture, First Things, National Review, Front Porch Republic, and The Run of Play and he has written or contributed to several books, including "In Search of the Common Good," "What Are Christians For?" (both with InterVarsity Press), "A Protestant Christendom?" (with Davenant Press), and "Telling the Stories Right" (with the Front Porch Republic Press).