21 November 2020, The Tablet

McCarrick: what happened?

Editors Note

McCarrick: what happened?

“For a person like me who has been a Mass-going Catholic for a lifetime, the end has come. I am heading off in a lifeboat, away from a corrupt institution that looks to its own interests rather than those of the people it was called to serve.” This week’s Letters make deeply troubling reading. They make it clear that in the wake of the latest independent report into the Church's response to child sexual abuse, Catholics are no longer prepared to allow the good name of the Church – their Church – to be dragged through the mud. This must stop. As we say in our leader this week, the victims and survivors of clerical sexual abuse are central to this, for their frequently disgraceful treatment was the product of their disempowerment at the hands of a hierarchical system. It is time, as Pope Francis says, to invert the pyramid. Cynics will say that no body with power ever gives it up without a struggle. But that struggle is now on.

Online, Catherine Pepinster reports that an abuse survivor is to sue the diocese of Westminster, including its archbishop, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, for personal injury because of the way she was treated when she asked to have access to her own safeguarding files; Catherine also explores some of the issues raised by IICSA’s report with Ruth Gledhill in a podcast. Why did the Church pay so much attention to its reputation and to the support of the priests who abused children and so little to their victims? Why does abuse seem to have peaked in the 1980s and then tapered off? If the Church is to learn the lessons of the abuse crisis, writes Clifford Longley, it must investigate some of the unanswered questions raised by IICSA’s report. 

Systemic flaws rather than “bad apples” were also at the heart of the rise of the disgraced former Cardinal McCarrick. While the finger of blame is being pointed at Pope John Paul II and his closest advisors, Frédéric Martel argues that it is dishonesty and hypocrisy about homosexuality that has led to the culture of cover-up which has extended so catastrophically to the sphere of abuse of minors. As Christopher Lamb writes in View from Rome, Pope Francis often talks about a mother, who nurtures and guides, and is fiercely protective of her children. The Church’s failure in the McCarrick case was a monumental betrayal of its own vocation. For more background and insights into the dispiriting McCarrick story, check out Chris’ podcast with Ruth Gledhill.

Also online, Fredrick Nzwili reports that Catholic Bishops in Ethiopia are urging a ceasefire in the semi-autonomous region of Tigray, where intense fighting is leading to hundreds of deaths. Tom Heneghan reports that in cities across France last weekend Catholics protested against a government ban on public religious services, with Church leaders divided on how to proceed; and Sarah Mac Donald reports on the response of Church leaders to Ireland’s lockdown Mass ban.

On Tuesday evening, visitors found the routes to the website jammed with traffic, drawn by the headline “Pope tells Christians to break rules” at the top of Ruth Gledhill’s account of Pope Francis’ address on Sunday, where he preached on the Parable of the Talents: the lesson is, he said: take risks, break the rules. And in another new podcast, Elena Curti talks about some of the buildings featured in her new book, Fifty Catholic Churches to See Before You Die: “After visiting my favourites, I hope that you will want to go out and discover some of your own,” Elena tells Ruth. 

In the magazine, Patrick Watt argues that if we are to restore a broken world to wholeness and justice after the pandemic, governments and development agencies must recognise that religion is part of the solution, not part of the problem. Evelyn Waugh read Helena – his short novel about the quest of Constantine’s mother to find the True Cross – aloud to his children before bedtime. It is, as Sara Haslam writes, the least well-known of his novels – and the one he always insisted was his best. Catherine de Francheville, who founded the first retreat house for women, met setbacks with faithfulness, flexibility and creativity: Victoria Biggs sees her as a spiritual model for turbulent and uncertain times. 

In Arts, Lucy Lethbridge is enthralled by an epic new documentary that tells the minute-by-minute story of the night Notre-Dame cathedral caught fire; D.J. Taylor hears a BBC World Service radio documentary from Minnesota with four Catholic women disagreeing with great courtesy over who should be the next President of the United States; Mark Lawson relishes an online play that brings together everything theatre-makers have learnt about the artistic possibilities of digital techniques during the pandemic; and Alexandra Coghlan reviews Stile Antico’s authoritative but slightly stiff video series on Renaissance polyphony. 

In Books Nicholas Vincent acclaims a new biography of Edward the Confessor, “neither saint nor sinner, but a good man obliged to live in evil days”; Sue Gaisford delights in Charlotte Moore’s anthology of rich, unexpected and approachable poems and lyrics; Pamela Beasant is haunted, chilled and enchanted by Robin Robertson’s “handbook for invoking spirits”; James Moran is gripped by a bracing, bold and brilliant collection of short stories by Kevin Barry; and Lucy Lethbridge crops up again, applauding Selina Hastings’ rivetingly entertaining biography of Sybille Bedford. 

Although she admits to being tone-deaf, Sara Maitland is finding that she very much misses the singing at Mass. Christopher Howse was put off bidding £800 for a fifteenth-century book when he noticed in the catalogue that it had been washed, as old books sometimes are; he also isn’t sure that Rugby School should be selling books, washed or unwashed. 

In the morning Mgr Mario Grech served breakfast at a hostel for the homeless and helped clear away the dishes. On his way back to the Augustinian headquarters in Rome where he lives somebody recognised him in the street and congratulated him. As Fr Paul Graham OSA tells Word from the Cloisters, this was the first time he heard that Pope Francis had announced that he would be made a cardinal. 

Rabbi Norman Soloman first met Jonathan Sacks in the late 1970s, when he was still a “bright young star”.  Though his time as Chief Rabbi was marked  by tensions between his personal convictions and the demands of office, Sacks brought Jewish ethics to the centre of the debate about the future of a multicultural liberal democracy.

N. O’Phile’s tipple of the week is Madeira, which the first President of the United States, George Washington, ordered in huge quantities; finally, Jonathan Tulloch writes his column while enjoying the sight of a sparrowhawk ten yards from his desk. Readers depressed and shamed by some of this week’s news might be consoled by this glimpse of Eden. 


Brendan Walsh

Brendan Walsh
Editor of The Tablet

Get Instant Access
Subscribe to The Tablet for just £7.99

Subscribe today to take advantage of our introductory offers and enjoy 30 days' access for just £7.99