The revelations about Cardinal McCarrick continue to spark discussion, and in my case it has sparked a memory of a McCarrick type situation when I was in Anglican seminary.
On the staff was a retired bishop who, it was whispered, had left his diocese under a cloud. He’d had some problems in the “youth work” department.
This old bishop, who was a single man, would regularly invite the seminarians to his apartment after dinner for a congenial cup of coffee. Before departure, under the guise of avuncular spiritual direction, he would ask them prurient questions about their sex life and then offer to pray with them. He would be seated at his desk with the young man standing next to him. He’d pray, then place his hands on the guy’s backside. Something about an “Abrahamic blessing” in which you placed your hand “under the thigh.”
Obviously it was weird and for most guys not a little uncomfortable. Here’s a well respected old bishop asking questions about masturbation and touching your butt. It was never anything more than that, but it was unpleasant to say the least.
What was the response?
For most of the guys in college it was a bit of an inside joke. “Have you had coffee with the bishop yet?” Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. “Did you receive the Abrahamic blessing?”
We laughed it off, avoided the old guy and made excuses when he invited us for coffee.
I mention this because, in all the wringing of hands over McCarrick, we should also remember that this rather manly response–to laugh it off and dismiss the fellow as a randy old poof–was pretty typical. Most guys didn’t treat it as a big deal, and if you got yourself into a hissy fit over stuff like that you were too thin skinned or a bit of a snowflake.
To be in the clergy was to realize and accept that there were stinkers of all kinds in the church, and one’s job was to do the best you could with the gifts God had given you and “but for the grace of God there go I.”
As others have commented, you also realized that making a big deal of such things was not likely to get you anywhere. Might as well mind your own business, get on with the job and walk on.
Was that the right response? I don’t honestly know. These situations are always more complicated than they appear and this old bishop was creepy but he wasn’t criminal. Was there any point in making a big deal about it all?
I think this is also part of the response with McCarrick and other abusers in the church. The other clergy didn’t consider it all that serious. We’re all sinners, some fellas have a problem in the trouser department. The response was an eye roll, a tut tut and try to think the best–give them the benefit of the doubt and get over it.
I’m not justifying this response or excusing it–just saying it as it was.
Let me conclude by telling you about one of the seminarian’s responses to the old bishop.
I’ll call him John. He was a funny, eccentric young Englishman. He was good looking and sweet natured and came from one of the high up families in England.
The bishop invited John for coffee, and I don’t know if the bishop caressed his backside or not, but I know what John’s response was to all the tittering and gossip about the bishop.
He never joined in.
Neither did he write angry letters to or get into a self righteous huff.
During the winter the old bishop didn’t turn up one morning for breakfast. After breakfast I noticed that John prepared a tray and left the refectory. He was taking the tray up to the bishop’s apartment.
A few days later someone noticed a large number of empty sherry bottles in the trash can outside the bishop’s door. This caused more snickering. The old queen was bibulous and sipping sherry secretly.
I’ve always remembered those empty sherry bottles. They were sad symbols.
The fact is, John had been tidying up the apartment and discovered the lonely old man’s stash of empties and quietly disposed of them.
The bishop’s flu lasted for a good six or eight weeks, and John took a tray up after every meal. He arranged for the doctor to visit and never talked about it except to me.
John and I were ordained together a few years later, and after serving our curacies (being parochial vicars) John went out to the South Pacific to serve as a missionary. He got skin cancer from the hot sun out there, came back to England and died at the age of 32.
I want to be more like John.