Meet the Press

Tim Russert with Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and Robert Bennett
February 29, 2004

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MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: Devastating charges. More than 4,000 Catholic priests sexually abused more than 10,000 children. The Catholic hierarchy severely chastised:


MR. ROBERT BENNETT: As a nation, we should hold our heads in shame. Much blame on, unfortunately, at least as to the church, must be placed on the higher-ups. There is simply no question about it.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: With us, the research committee chairman of the Bishops National Review Board, Robert Bennett, and the archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Bennett and McCarrick on the crisis in the Catholic Church only on MEET THE PRESS.

. . . [Brief segment on the news from Haiti edited out.]

With us now, the archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and the principal author of the new report analyzing the causes of sexual abuse by Catholic priests, attorney Bob Bennett.

Welcome both.

CARD. THEODORE McCARRICK: Thank you very much.

MR. BENNETT: Thank you, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Bennett, in your mind, what is the most important thing in this document?

MR. BENNETT: I think there are two things, that bishops have to know their priests, and, secondly, that governance has got to be worked on by the bishops because I think many of these problems were failures of appropriate governance.

MR. RUSSERT: Ten thousand children abused by 4,300 priests. How could that have happened?

MR. BENNETT: Well, I think as the report shows, it's a very complex nuance problem, but in a nutshell, sometime back, the church took in seminarians and later ordained them as priests, men who were sexually dysfunctional and were psychologically immature. There was a lack of proper formation of them, helping them to live with the requirements of celibacy and spirituality. And then finally, when incidents occurred, they were not dealt with appropriately and finally I think there was such lack of communication between the bishops, that they did not realize as a group the epidemic proportions of this crisis.

MR. RUSSERT: Cardinal McCarrick, let me read from some of the report and then give you a chance to respond: "While there are many ways to view the current crisis, as a crisis of priestly identify or a crisis of episcopal leadership, the Board believes that the over-riding paradigm that characterizes the crisis is one of sinfulness. The actions of priests who sexually abused minors were grievously sinful. The inaction of those bishops who failed to protect their people from predators was also grievously sinful. Somehow, the `smoke of Satan' was allowed to enter the Church, and as a result, the Church itself has been deeply wounded. Its ability to speak clearly and credibly on moral issues has been seriously impaired."

Do you disagree with any of that?

CARD. McCARRICK: Well, I think basically it is a good summary of what happened in the past. Basically, it demonstrates that the church is made of saints and sinners and sometimes the sinners find their way into the clergy. And, well, since we're all sinners, we can see how that can happen. I think the point that the report makes about the lack of seminary supervision, the lack of seminary screening in those days is true. Perhaps, we didn't know at that time exactly how you had to screen, how you had to test. Now, we do. I think it is important to consider that so many of these, the vast majority of these happened by men ordained before we began to do this screening, before we began to look at this, but basically not to excuse. It is a question of holiness and of sinfulness. And this is what has happened.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe there's a special place in hell for men who represent Christ on Earth and abuse their flock?

CARD. McCARRICK: Well, whether there's a special place in hell or not, there is certainly a special, terrible judgment on someone who would abuse the trust that a priest must have, that a priest does have. And that's all part of our religion, that the priest is supposed to be father and brother and friend and guide. And if that is destroyed, and if it's destroyed with young people, with children, it becomes all the more horrible.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me read another section of the report: "Most fundamentally, some bishops in the United States did not appreciate the gravity of the problem of sexual abuse of minors by clergy. Until recently, these bishops all too often treated victims of clerical sexual abuse as adversaries and threats to the well-being of the church, not as injured parishioners in need of healing. Far too frequently, they treated predator priests as misdirected individuals in need of psychological treatment or a simple change in environment, rather than as criminal offenders to be removed from ministry and reported to civil authorities for possible prosecution and appropriate punishment. These approaches did not solve any problem but rather served to exacerbate them."

Mr. Bennett, that sounds like a cover-up.

MR. BENNETT: Well, I think that's a fair statement. It certainly doesn't apply to all bishops now. I mean, there were many who were voices in the wilderness. But, you know, cover-up takes on a lot of different, harsh meanings. There was such a fear of bringing scandal to the church that I think the irony is is that they planted the seeds long ago for the scandal that we are now facing. I think too many bishops, certainly not all, acted more like risk-assessment managers of an insurance company. They listened too often to lawyers who were saying, you know, "Gee, if you meet the victim, if you talk to the victim, if you say you're sorry to the victim, that could hurt you from a liability perspective."

In short, Tim, too many bishops did not act like pastors and shepherds of their flock. We're very fortunate here in Washington to have a true pastor and shepherd as our leader in Cardinal McCarrick. But that was a big failing with many, many bishops--not all, but many.

MR. RUSSERT: The laity across the country has suggested over the last few days that the 10,000 priests be named, so that they know whether or not those priests are in their parishes and counseled or taught their children, or if they left the priesthood, they could now be counselors or coaches in some other capacity. Should these priests be named publicly?

MR. BENNETT: I think the answer to that is yes. Now, if a priest is deceased or if the allegations against the priest are not--have no merit to them, then that--I don't think that should be the case. But otherwise, I think--look, this is the time for openness and transparency. But as sure as we are talking about this problem today, there is some diocesan lawyer telling his bishop, "Don't release the names because it will just engender more lawsuits." And it's my view and the view of the board that bishops are pastors and shepherds of their flock and they will never get this problem behind them unless they make disclosures, such as you ask in your question.

MR. RUSSERT: Cardinal, will these priests be named?

CARD. McCARRICK: Well, obviously--three things about that. First of all, in Washington, the names are out, because we have always in the last 10 years and more--my predecessor, Cardinal Hickey, who was a great pastor and a great man to do the right thing, always when these things happened, the civil authorities were named--were informed, the media got to know it. Those names appeared in the press. So those names are out.

I think one point that Bob makes is a valid one, though. Some are dead, and I think we sort of feel that they're not going to be any danger in the future. And they don't have a chance to defend themselves. So the ones who have passed away, I don't think we do name. But basically, I think in this diocese we've done that. Now, I can't...

MR. RUSSERT: Should it be done nationally?

CARD. McCARRICK: Well, it's hard for me to say because I don't know the circumstances in every diocese. I think, for us in Washington, it was important to do, but some bishops may have other considerations that are very valid, and because of that, they may feel that the allegations may be suspect or something like that, and therefore they don't want to do it. I leave it at that. We've done it here, but I'm loath to say that throughout the whole United States every situation is like mine.

MR. RUSSERT: What about bishops who simply reassign predators or tried to cover it up? Now, we know there has been 4,000 priests, 10,000 children, only one bishop has resigned. Should more bishops resign?

CARD. McCARRICK: Well, let me go back and say three things. Number one, very often, as Bob indicated, bishops took the word of the psychological community, bishops took the word of psychiatrists, of the therapeutic institutions. And the therapeutic institutions said to a bishop--this is not in the last 10 years, but many years ago--said, "This man is OK. You can put him back." The bishop says, "Well, OK, if he's OK, I'll put him back." And that was a terrible mistake. We didn't know it because we took that word. And then often the--in later times, when bishops have had this kind of a situation, they haven't known what to do. Now, we know what to do. Now, we have made it so clear.

I said to you a couple years ago that I was not happy with the one strike and you're out. But our people wanted that. And we had to listen. The Catholic community of the United States said, "No, this has to be what you do." And we've done it. So that now--from now on, this is what we do. And I think as we look to the future, the church in the United States has done an extraordinarily difficult, painful work, but we've done it. And, please, God, children are going to be safe from now on.

MR. BENNETT: Tim, could I mention one thing the cardinal just said. This report, as you noted, is very critical. But the bishops did get together, did create the board, and did do the study. Child sexual abuse is a national health problem outside the church. Most of it we believe occurs in the family setting. It is a national crisis. And I hope through programs like yours people will do what the church had the courage to do: study the problem and reveal the results.

MR. RUSSERT: Based on your study, however, do you believe that other Catholic bishops should resign?

MR. BENNETT: You know, our board did not take an individual bishop with that view in mind. But I think the answer to the question is yes, that there are bishops who totally failed as pastors and as shepherds of their flocks.

MR. RUSSERT: The laity is organizing and speaking out. This is the Voice of the Faithful, a group that started in Boston. It has now spread around the country. A full-page ad in today's New York Times: "Our trust has been violated but not our faith." And, Cardinal McCarrick, what they ask for is for the pope, John Paul II, to meet with the delegations of victims and survivors of sexual abuse to begin the reconciliation. Would that be a good idea?

CARD. McCARRICK: Well, I think--of the--let me talk about meeting. This is an interesting group that was started in Boston because they felt the pain of what they had gone through. Throughout the United States, we have archdiocesan pastoral councils. Every parish has a pastoral council. We're talking to our lay people constantly. And the victims are talking to our lay people constantly. To see the Holy Father--the Holy Father knows what's happened. The Holy Father spoke to the cardinals two years ago and made that very strong statement. There is no place in the Catholic priesthood for any priest who would harm a child. Now, that--he knows where we're talking to.

MR. RUSSERT: But symbolically for him to meet victims would send a message that the Vatican gets it.

CARD. McCARRICK: Well, it's certainly an idea. Of course, the Holy Father has so many problems from all over the world that he handles. Would it be good for him to do this? Well, I'm sure if the Holy Father were--had the opportunity, he would love to do something like this. He would want to. You see him with children, and how much he loves children, how much this has upset him, how much this has hurt him, that his own brothers in the priesthood were not doing what he would want us all to do.

MR. RUSSERT: The concern amongst the laity, the Voice of the Faithful and others, is that whether or not the Vatican really does recognize the seriousness of this. Joseph Cardinal Ratziger, the "prefect of the Vatican's doctrinal congregation, said"--in 2002 that the--"media coverage of U.S. clerical sex abuse"--"distorted and was an `intentional' effort to"--distort--"the church. `In the United States, there's constant news on this topic, but less than 1 percent of priests are guilty of acts of this type. ...The constant presence of these news items does not correspond to the objectivity of the information or the statistical objectivity of the facts.'"

We now learn that Cardinal Ratzinger was wrong, dead wrong, that it was at least four times that. And then this report on Monday from the Vatican. "A draft report released by scientists commissioned by the Vatican harshly criticized as potentially dangerous the U.S. Catholic Church's policy of removing priests from the ministry for committing one act of child abuse. The report...recommend"--"the so-called zero-tolerance policy be reconsidered."

It said the "public opinion had put the church under pressure to move with `destructive severity.'"

"`Although until now, the phenomenon of abuse was not always taken seriously enough, at present there is a tendency to overreact and rob accused priests of even legitimate support.'"

Will the Catholic bishops say to the Vatican, "Excuse us, we believe zero tolerance, one strike and you are out, and leave us alone"?

CARD. McCARRICK: Tim, the Vatican has already approved the norms and the charter which we voted on. That's a very strict interpretation. It's a very strict rule for us. We're required to do that now. The Holy See knows that and the Holy See has accepted that. So that where we are now is where we should be. It's a tough road, but we have to make sure that our people know that we're serious. We have to know--we have to make sure that our people know that we're turning the page with them.

MR. RUSSERT: If credible allegations are made about a priest now in 2004, you will be--you will report it to...

CARD. McCARRICK: Immediately.

MR. RUSSERT: The authorities?

CARD. McCARRICK: Immediately.

MR. RUSSERT: Remove from ministry?

CARD. McCARRICK: Immediately. Yeah.

MR. BENNETT: Tim, following up on something you asked the cardinal. And I don't know what the future will bring. But Ann Burke, the chairman of our board, and Bill Burley, the head of communications, and I went to the Vatican and met with several of the hierarchy, including a two-hour meeting with Cardinal Ratzinger. And he is quite concerned, and he was very responsive to us. I hope that continues in the future.

Secondly, zero tolerance, Tim, is a very difficult issue because do you treat the penetration of a child the same way you treat something else? And, you know, you do have to have individualized justice in situations. The problem is that the bishops have so lost credibility throughout this crisis that the public and the laity just don't trust them to exercise their discretion carefully or correctly. And I do think that we have to be sure we understand what we mean by zero tolerance and over the next few years to see that it's a concept that is applied fairly and with equal justice to all of those as to whom it's applied to.

MR. RUSSERT: Nearly 20 years ago, a young priest, a canon lawyer named Thomas Doyle, wrote a report, a warning to the bishops in effect, which said, "We have a crisis upon us with sexual abuse, and if we don't do something about it, we're going to pay probably a billion dollars in terms of outpayments and settlements." He was eerily prescient and largely ignored.

He now has responded to this report with this statement: "The hardest questions provoked by these studies are the very questions that the church's governmental structure and clerical elite refuse to face. These are the questions that will not go away no matter how much effort the papacy and the bishops fight to keep them hidden.

"These questions cut to the heart of the matter and they are about two fundamental issues: the governmental structure of the Catholic Church and the obsession of its incumbents with their power and the relevance and authenticity of mandatory celibacy. Until these questions are honestly faced, these studies and any others that may follow remain far from complete."

Cardinal, will the church now be more open, more receptive to input from the laity? And, two, will the church rethink celibacy and allow married priests to serve or perhaps even women or married women to serve as priests?

CARD. McCARRICK: Well, that's a multi-sided question. Let me begin by saying I'm not sure I agree with everything that Father Doyle says, obviously. In fact, I am sure that I agree that the church has not-- is not this totally monolithic structure that he portrays it to be. It seems to me that since the Second Vatican Council, we have so many structures in the church. We have archdiocesan pastoral councils. I mentioned before we have pastoral councils in every parish in the world. Archdiocesan finance councils that we involve the laypeople. The National Review Board, which was so important in our coming to a solution to this, a resolution of this problem. We immediately turned to laypeople, so that I don't think that what he is portraying is true in the church today. So that's number one.

MR. RUSSERT: Celibacy?

CARD. McCARRICK: Celibacy--you know, I think--Mr. Bennett will be able to say to you, as he says in the report, celibacy is not the issue. Celibacy has to be lived properly. Celibacy has to be accepted generously. Celibacy has to be formed in the seminary in a man's heart, in a man's personality. But when celibacy is lived properly, is lived generously, is lived spiritually, with--in the presence of the Lord, it is a great and beautiful gift. And to knock it out because of 4 percent of your priests over 53 or 54 years would seem to me to be throwing out the baby with the bath water.

MR. BENNETT: Well, I think celibacy has to be studied for different reasons because I agree with the cardinal that it's a great gift of some but it is an albatross to other. It causes--some men are not prepared for it. It's loneliness, alcoholism, the crossing of boundaries. But I don't think it's fair to say that celibacy is a cause of this crisis. I concluded that if a man is going to breach his commitment to celibacy, if he's homosexually oriented, he's going to find an adult mate. If he's heterosexually oriented, he's going to find the appropriate mate. But I do think it's something that has to be looked at, focused upon and studied. I mean, celibacy is no more a cause of this problem and doing away with it than you would say because of divorce you do away with marriage. But it's something that you have to work on, you have to train priests to honor.

Now, celibacy is a more legitimately discussed issue in a different context. We learned as part of our study that there were many more instances of priests having adult relationships in violation of their commitment to celibacy which did not involve children. There I think celibacy is much more directly related to a behavior situation than the molestation of children.

CARD. McCARRICK: If I may just piggyback on that. What Bob is saying I think is so true. Celibacy has to be accepted generously and it has to be accepted by those who are screened psychologically and who indicate after that screening that they truly are able to live a celibate life. This has been the problem in the past. Celibacy itself is not the problem. The acceptance of celibacy by people who aren't able to handle it, that's where the problem is.

MR. BENNETT: One bishop told us when they were talking about celibacy and sex as it relates to celibacy, they talked in Latin and everything else was in English, which says a lot I think.

MR. RUSSERT: Before we go, Cardinal, what would you say to young Catholic parents with children who are afraid to allow their children to be in the company of a priest?

CARD. McCARRICK: I would say to them that the church has now given them the right to be confident in their priest, that the church has now through the suffering of the last few years has now seen the need to do what it probably should have done years ago, make sure that the training of priests was done properly. Make sure that the formation was done properly. Make sure that only those who can handle the priesthood are going to be part of it. The church, I believe, has now done that.

And I say to them, to our young families, love your priests. Know that they are there for you. Know that they have given their lives for only the cause of taking care of the people of God. And realize that the church continues to do all the great things that it's done before. We continue to feed the hungry. We continue to take care of the poor. We continue to educate hundreds of thousands of people. We continue to call our people to holiness even while this is going on. Let them be proud of the church and let them be confident that it's not going to hurt them.

MR. RUSSERT: We thank you for joining us with your views, Cardinal McCarrick, Bob Bennett, and we'll be covering this story I'm sure for some time to come.

MR. BENNETT: Thank you, Tim.


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