Cardinal Theodore McCarrick
l by Rick DelVecchio
(January 12, Washington DC, Sri Lanka Guardian) Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who retired in 2006 as archbishop of Washington, D.C., took time to meet with Catholic San Francisco during a visit to the archdiocese in November, where he gave an Advent talk at St. Rita Church in Fairfax. Here are excerpts from the conversation. The questions have been edited for clarity and the answers for space.
Catholic San Francisco: The bishops of New York were just in Rome for their “ad limina” visit and spoke with the pope about the “grave challenges” facing the church. How did we get from a place where there seemed to be a healthier relationship on the role of the faith in public life to one we’re almost at war, pushing back, highly defensive?
Cardinal McCarrick: Certainly a number of things happened. Every time there’s a recession there’s less money and there’s always some who say it has to go to the secular world. And then of course in the 1960s all authority was attacked. All authority had to defend itself and some was not able to. It was unexpected. (Pope) John XXIII saw it coming. The situation affected not only church vs. state or state vs. church. There is a hardening. We have to realize we are living in an antiauthoritarian world. That’s part of the background of why we’re having trouble. In a certain sense it is, almost horribly to say, the logical conclusion of the anti-life movement in our country. If human life does not become as important, then families do not become as important. You see as a generation that’s opposed to life, except for the minorities in our country. We find a situation where life is not that valuable and where values that provide what we consider the dignity of life are no longer present. The values now are everybody does what they want to do rather than the common good, where we all must work together to build a family, build a nation, build a world. That’s what we all have to face. The bishops who have responsibilities in dioceses, this is what they’re giving voice to.
CSF: What is your observation about the relationship between the episcopate and the laity and how they can work together in their different roles to restore the values that are embodied in the common good?
Cardinal McCarrick: There is no one America. I do not accept your distinction between the people and the episcopacy. There has always been a body on the right and a body on the left who are not happy with the center. Life is like that. I see many problems. I don’t interpret the word “grave” as you do. It has other connotations. There are serious difficulties, sure. We’ve had them before, we’ll have them again. I’m not naive, but I don’t see this as being a time of total crisis.
I was in the Diocese of San Jose over the weekend and was really very impressed by the faith of the people. It was standing room only. Very, very crowded churches. I’ve been in other places in the country and the world where the churches are not filled or they are filled with older people, not with the young. Certainly one of the great problems is to hold on to our young people without the methodology we had before, which is the Catholic schools. When I was a kid 70 percent of youngsters went to Catholic schools. We have to recover some way of holding these youngsters close to the Lord and giving them an opportunity of growing in their love of God and growing in their understanding that we are not made as individuals; we don’t save our souls as individuals, we save our souls as part of a community.
Many young people need to find that the church reaches out, that the church takes care of the poor, that the church wants justice, that the church wants to be a promoter of peace and harmony in the world, justice in the world. They want to do it themselves. We have to open the door and let them see, “Hey, you can do it here. You can do it better as part of the church.” Then we can begin to develop strength in this church of today.
CSF: Is part of the challenge to turn up the volume on the church’s message?
Cardinal McCarrick: You put your finger on something very important. I’m teaching what I believe as a Catholic priest – special dreams, special hopes. We mustn’t be afraid to talk to the press. We mustn’t be afraid to talk to the politicians, to the rich and the poor. We have our programs – four books in the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
CSF: Sometimes Catholics get upset over how other Catholics practice their faith and want a bishop to step in. How do you manage that pastorally?
Cardinal McCarrick: If you are going to say that you are not going to be involved with anyone who is not 100 percent on your side, you’ll have almost no one to deal with. In a lot of ways you leave these decisions to an individual and their confessor. You can’t say because a man or a woman did “x” they take themselves out of the church. If you did that you wouldn’t be talking to anybody, and the pope wouldn’t be talking to anybody, and Jesus wouldn’t have been talking to anybody. There’s a certain understanding of where the Lord is and where we are. He preaches the Gospel of love, and if we stop loving people we are in terrible trouble.
Rick DelVecchio is editor of Catholic San Francisco.