I Didn't Know About McCarrick -- Why It's Plausible

September 1, 2018

Observers outside the church cocoon -- even a couple bishops within -- have been guffawing at the idea that the cardinal archbishop of Washington, DC did not know about the proclivities and antics of and legal actions against his predecessor, Theodore McCarrick. Their incredulousness is aggravated by the reality that every well-read Catholic and observer of the Catholic scene, including this writer, knew about McCarrick and his badass beachhouse as far back as the early 2000s.

But there's a question I would ask the scoffers: Have you ever worked for the church?

"With all due respect, Your Excellencies," I would query those couple of bishops, "Do you have any idea how profoundly dysfunctional your Catholic church is? From the lowliest parish to the diocese to the Vatican?"

Employers in my varied career have included a couple Catholic institutions. There are two things I would choose starving to death over ever doing again: 1) telephone solicitation and 2) working for any organization of the Catholic church.

No establishment is perfect, but compared to the well-managed private-enterprise businesses I've worked for, Catholic outfits are deep chasms of incompetence. As a church volunteer, I've witnessed even more cluelessness and spinelessness. I think it's a fair induction to conclude that Catholic institutions are highly dysfunctional. From what I've heard, those of other Christian faiths are as well.


First of all, the priests and religious (brothers and nuns) who make up much of the leadership and workforce of Catholic institutions are not suited to the task. They enter religious life, nowadays, right after college. There are still some who are goaded into vocations when they are adolescents. That should really horrify you.

These folks are immature, underdeveloped. They go from youth into religious life with no experience of the "real world." I think the term "real world" is appropriate. It's the world of most of us, where we have to work, succeed and overcome challenges to live, where our youthful delusions, especially about people, are burned away by the caustic acid of experience, where our schooling in right and wrong continues, where sex and the catalog of human shortcomings are shoved in our faces.

Priests, bishops or sisters can fail miserably in their roles and as people, yet they are still priests, bishops and sisters with three squares a day and roofs over their heads (maybe even slate roofs in Northwest Washington, DC). In spite of all the news about rumpy-pumpy in the rectory, they really are sheltered from a lot of life.

I've known some awful priests. Most priests I meet evoke this reaction: pffft! I do not expect much from them other than the sacraments.

A common factor among the really great priests I have known was that they were much more than priests. Some were great scholars. Others were successful at careers as laymen before they were ordained or they were led through extraordinary experiences in their vocations. One very effective pastor that I know was a prisoner in his communist homeland. Others did military service.

One example is the late New Orleans Archbishop Philip M. Hannan. As a young chaplain in World War II, Hannan was among the first Americans into Auschwitz. Thereafter, unlike so many of his brother clergymen, Hannan never had any delusions about human beings. He knew that there are bad guys, how very evil the bad guys can be and what great folly it is to be a peacenik. At 92, Hannan rode out Hurricane Katrina all alone, protecting the archdiocesan TV station from looters.

Little bits of men

When an archbishop says: I didn't know about X, it could mean that he was told about X, but that he was unable to process the information.

Because of their deficient formation as human beings, these priests and religious who run and staff the Catholic church really are profoundly naive. They are truly Evelyn Waugh's "little bits of men," Flannery O'Connor's "wingless chickens." As are a lot of laypeople.

I found my Catholic employers' naivete sickening and incredible. However it was very real. It's plausible that there is molestation going on all around priests or bishops and they are so clueless and immature, they don't even recognize it.

I know it's hard to believe, but a lot of these ordained ministers may not even know what sodomy is. Do you, do your fellow Catholics, do your neighbors and most people know what sodomy is? And if you know what sodomy is, do you talk about it?

In Fr. Nicola's Philosophy class at Georgetown Prep, we briefly covered "improper implantation of the improper organ." I had a somewhat crude coworker who categorized certain individuals as "fudgepackers." I often wonder if SSA would be so OK if more people actually knew what it entails.

And if someone told you that A is sodomizing B, even if you know what sodomy is, how would you react?

In 2001 I worked for a Catholic organization that was served by the Brentwood, DC post office. Brentwood is where two postal employees died after being sickened in the post 9/11 anthrax attacks.

My employer had been getting dusty trays of mail from the Brentwood post office before the attacks were discovered. I can still see the clouds of dust that puffed from those plastic trays when they were set down.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl

Copyright 2018 by Neal J. Conway

There was real fear that we, like those postal workers, could be infected. We were even given packs of Ciprofloxacin. In October 2001, getting a little lung congestion struck fear into the heart.

It was interesting to watch the behavior of the wet-noodle priest and the Meyers-Briggs nun who ran the place. They said absolutely nothing, never mentioned a word, nor even led a prayer, about the attack. Employees noticed that, during those weeks of fear, the two kept their office doors shut more often than usual.

How do you think such characters would handle molestation and violations of celibacy? Another time I will tell you a story about how they did.

Wingless chickens

Given this paralysis and silence in the face of a problem, when an archbishop says: I didn't know about X, it could mean that he really, really, really was not informed about X.

Could a homosexual cabal develop in the church without anyone noticing? Absolutely.

Working for Catholic institutions made me aware of how the Catholic church is constantly beset by people trying to take advantage of it, trying to swindle it, trying to get something out of it for nothing. And often succeeding. They include the panhandler who knocks on the rectory door with a hard luck story, the usher who pockets collection money, the scoutmaster who embezzles the parish troop's funds, the big donor who is lauded at the banquet, but who makes more money selling to the church than he donates, the priest who is, in effect, being paid to be a bum.

I met some wonderful folks at those Catholic places, but I also met plenty of bums, both lay and religious. Bums are safe because naive leaders who have never worked in that real world don't know what a good days' work or a good job is. Or they are bums themselves.

Or they just don't care. When asked how many people work at the Vatican, Pope John XXIII joked, "About half." He thought it was funny and didn't do anything about it. My wry observation is that Catholic institution employees cram three hours of work into an eight-hour day.

I had one lay coworker who spent his workday managing his personal business ventures while the project he "directed" went from making money for the organization to losing it. But the executive-director-Meyers-Briggs nun liked the guy because he drove a Mercedes and brought donuts and coffee for us every morning.

The IT contractors were a married couple of incompetents who lost more data than they managed and sold the non-profit on $100k database software that did not work. They, too, got a lot of mileage simply from chatting up the Meyers-Briggs nun and inviting the general manager over for dinner.

Another married couple, both long-time employees in administration, were the nicest crooks you'd ever want to meet. They are of beloved memory. Over decades the pair stole enough money to afford a house in a wealthy neighborhood and a beach house as well. They offered to pick up a $1000.00 car-repair bill for me with institution money. I declined.

A personnel manager who claimed to be a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer but who did not know how to save a Word doc, expressed interest in buying my childhood coin collection valued at $150.00. I gave her the collection to inspect. I never saw my coins again. Nor did I ever see the $150.00. I did nothing about it. She was the personnel manager. My paycheck was worth more than $150.00. I knew that if I complained, the wet-noodle priest and Meyers-Briggs nun would give me blank looks and do nothing. Because they were wingless chickens, little bits of men.

The naivete is slathered over with the sickening-sweet icing of "the church of nice" wherein no one wants to be the heavy. Even if incompetence and thievery are recognized, the impulse is to forgive and forget rather than fire and fix.

So yes, under naive and immature leadership, priests and laity can get away with unimaginable stuff in the Catholic church while the leaders are simply not capable of recognizing it or of doing anything about it.

My purpose here is not to excuse anyone who pleads ignorance, but urge those who jeer and point fingers to ask themselves, "What would most human beings in similar situations do? What would I do if the personnel manager stole my coin collection?"

Likely honest answer: nothing.

You may have also noticed that the Catholic church not only does nothing about molesters, it does nothing about anything else. There is a problem in the church that I think is much bigger than a homosexual cabal and a heretical pope. I will address it in other essays filed under Catholic Matters. It is called feminization. It will probably require a Vatican council to fix.

For Further Reading

The Celebrity Priest and Cardinal McCarrick

About Neal J. Conway