November 15, 2020
By John L. Allen Jr.
Over the last three years, sexual abuse charges against two high-profile and massively influential cardinals have rocked the Catholic Church, and now, seemingly, both stories have reached their conclusions. George Pell is a free man, while Theodore McCarrick is defrocked and exposed as a cunning manipulator able to hoodwink three papacies until his string finally ran out.
The McCarrick and Pell sagas contain two unavoidable truths about the clerical abuse scandals, and they must always be held together: Every accusation of abuse has to be taken seriously, but the mere fact of an allegation doesn’t make it true.
To put the point differently, McCarrick illustrates the risks of clericalism in blinding an entire system to clear warning signs and sincere attempts to blow the whistle; Pell illustrates the risks of anti-clericalism in allowing implausible charges to go to trial and cost a man 400 days behind bars before being finally dismissed.
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