I was traveling back from England earlier this week and just before boarding the plane, posted a snarky tweet about the Cardinal McCarrick case. Such a complicated hair trigger case should not have been dealt with in a tweet–snarky, sensible or otherwise. I regretted it immediately, but was stuck up in the air and deleted it as soon as I was on the ground. Apologies to all I whom I offended. Its ever so easy to tweet first and think later.
So what are we to think about this case? First there are the facts: the salacious rumors about “Uncle Ted” were floating about for decades, but nobody dared go to print. Rod Dreher tells the story here and here. Warning: these articles are not for the squeamish.
What exactly happened? We don’t know all the facts, but it seems that McCarrick would take groups of seminarians off to a beach house and one of the would end up in his bed, and McCarrick (in his underwear) would become affectionate and cuddle the young man. On another occasion he grabbed the genitals of a teenager when he was being fitted for a cassock as an altar server.
What was this exactly? It wasn’t rape or sodomy. In fact, apart from one case which might be sexual assault, it wasn’t illegal. It was what might be called gay sex games.
We must acknowledge a simple fact: McCarrick was sexually attracted to young men. His inclinations and behavior were homosexual in nature. His behaviors also indicated a profound immaturity.
So what was going on? Its complicated, and if I explain things, do not imagine that I am either making excuses or diminishing what was done.
I believe McCarrick didn’t think he was doing anything wrong. He still doesn’t. Witness his statement. He hasn’t admitted wrong doing. He hasn’t apologized for his actions (he gave the non-apology of apologizing if someone was offended) This isn’t public repentance. Its public relations.
Why? Again. He didn’t think he was doing anything wrong. As far as he was concerned what was happening was just the sort of sex games that boys get up to on camping trips or in boarding schools. No big deal.
Or so he thought. In my opinion he was blind to the seriousness of what he was doing. If we knew all the facts we’d probably discover that an older boy had drawn McCarrick into sex games when he was a boy. Our first sexual experience usually helps to cement a tendency and behavior pattern, and McCarrick got stuck at that adolescent stage of emotional and sexual development.
People deny that these sex games are either sinful or damaging, but the little boy who is drawn into those sex games often goes back to repeat them in a compulsive manner–even when he is a grown man. The genesis of the homosexual condition is very complex, but this is often one of the contributing factors to a certain type of homosexual inclination.
These men would seem to be stuck in an adolescent phase of sexual development. They were still playing sex games with other boys even though they should have grown out of it long ago.
The next question is, “Why was it covered up?” You need to get into the head of the other clergy. Many of them are in the same stunted psycho-sexual condition. They also didn’t think McCarrick did anything so terribly wrong. He and the boys were just horsing around right?
And so an immature gay subculture developed in the church–a culture of men who were profoundly immature–continuing in adolescent sex games and knowing that others were engaged in gay games but choosing to look the other way. In their eyes it was no big deal. Maybe an eye roll, but then a shrug of the shoulders. “You know these things happen in all male cultures like boarding school and prison and the celibate priesthood. Nothing to see. Let’s move on.”
The demands of celibacy (and a Catholic presupposition that sex was dirty) also contributed to a suppression of emotional and sexual development. That whole aspect of the human person was put in the freezer, and when it popped out for a visit it was quickly locked away again. They turned away from the gay games, like they turned away from the illegitimate children of priests and any other kind of sexual scandal. That sort of thing wasn’t supposed to happen. Lock it back in the freezer.
What we are dealing with therefore, is a profound emotional and sexual immaturity. It is part of the gay subculture, but we don’t imagine for a minute that it is limited to the gay subculture. There are many heterosexual men who continue to behave like sexually charged teenagers–sleeping around, addicted to porn and basically being irresponsible little boys–treating their genitals like toys and their sexual partners as playmates.
Geesh. Hugh Hefner actually called his magazine “Playboy” and the bunnies “Playmates” but that’s another sordid story.
Now we’re getting down to the real problem: Call it the Peter Pan Syndrome if you like–lost boys living in Never Neverland who refuse to grow up–little narcissists falling in love with themselves in the form of other boys. If they are heterosexual they fall in love with some gorgeous babe who looks good on their arm and boosts their teenaged boy self esteem.
Furthermore, the sexual revolution with its hedonistic self indulgence has enabled a huge segment of the male population to remain in an emotional-psycho sexual Never Neverland where they never never grow up. Contraception and abortion and homosexuality are all about sex without responsibility and whenever the Peter Pans are faced with responsibility what do they do? They fly away.
This Peter Pan syndrome is a very deep wound in our culture and it is the root cause of the present crisis in masculinity.
Unfortunately there is too much in the church which allows the Peter Pans to flourish. Peter Pans are spoiled brats and when we give them everything on a platter it only indulges and enables their proclivity and inability to grow up and take responsibility for themselves.
Remember: the McCarricks of this world are not only enabled and excused by their fellow clergy–they are also enabled and excused by the lay people. Lay people do this by putting us priests on a pedestal, and there’s little the Peter Pans love more than being on that pedestal. Why do the faithful put their priests on the pedestals? Because its a very easy way to feel religious and good about yourself. Its so much easier to worship Father Fabulous than God, and when the faithful do that they enable and encourage the Peter Pan priests.
Remember, I’m not excusing McCarrick, but I think its all a lot more complicated than simply saying, “The man’s a sexual predator and a beast.” Please also understand that I am not attacking the vast majority of our priests who do work hard, strive to know themselves and struggle with these issues–often without support and guidance from the hierarchy or a good spiritual director.
Finally, there is this: another scary thing is now going on, and that is the scapegoating of the Peter Pan priest. We’re all concerned, worried and upset by the sexual sin in the church, the abundance of porn addiction, the pressure of the militant gays and all the rest. Furthermore, there are an awful lot of us who are also trapped in the Peter Pan syndrome, and instead of facing the problem we project onto the Peter Pan priest and crucify him.
In other words, while rightly denouncing McCarrick and other Peter Pan priests, we should be aware of the more profound problems and the deeper darkness and keep a sense of proportion and make sure we seek justice, not revenge, and that most of all we pray for mercy and healing for ourselves and all who struggle to “grow up into the full manhood of God in Christ Jesus.”