Losing My Religion: A Faithful, Lay Response To “Uncle Ted”

It’s hard to know what’s worse.  The recent revelations about Cardinal Theodore “Uncle Ted” McCarrick’s decades-long career as a homosexual predator or the scores of priests, bishops, and fellow cardinals who knew about his behavior but did nothing about it. Of course, none of this is helped by the sense that this is just the tip of the ecclesial iceberg.

This newest crisis has dealt a devastating blow to the Church. After being rightly subjected to a decade-long series of public beatings in the media due to the lurid revelations about clerical sexual abuse, it seemed that the Church was finally coming out of this dark period under Pope Francis. His charitable presence seemed to be convincing the world that maybe, just maybe, Catholic clergy still had the capacity to serve as an inspiration to people, instead of just the punchline to a long line of sick jokes.

But alas, it is not to be.  The institutional church has failed utterly. I doubt there was a Catholic in the pews on July 22 who did not think of the McCarrick scandal when the lector proclaimed the first reading from Jeremiah, Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture, says the LORD….You have scattered my sheep and driven them away.  You have not cared for them, but I will take care to punish your evil deeds.”

Of course it is not enough for lay people to point fingers and shake our heads. Instead of seeing this crisis as a reason to give up on our faith, I would like to suggest that we are being called to discover the rightful role of the baptized, lay priesthood to witness and challenge the institutional church to get its house in order.

1. Step Back

First, we have to step back and ask ourselves, “what do we believe in?”  If we have been going to Church because we believed we were going to find inspiring leaders to comfort us while we napped in our pews, the Holy Spirit has disabused us of this notion. We shouldn’t be surprised. God has been telling us this for millennia.  Psalm 146 says, “Put not your faith in princes.”

Instead, we need to remind ourselves that we go to church because we believe in Christ.  Because we, ourselves, are broken and in need of healing.  And because that healing can only come through both  transformational encounter with Christ in the Eucharist and a commitment to reform our lives in conformity to his Truth.

2. Step Up

Second, we need to step up and lead by example.  Despite the fact that many good, faithful priests and bishops exist, it is clear that their voices are being drowned out or ignored.  If the clergy can’t figure out how to effectively support each other in living their vocations to chastity then we need to show them how.

We just celebrated the 50th Anniversary of Humanae Vitae. It’s long past time we, the laity, heeded its message.  People like McCarrick don’t just appear out of thin air.  They are the product of a culture that does not believe that our sexuality requires an ongoing commitment to formation and healing in order to be expressed appropriately.  The fact is, any Catholic person who does not welcome the ongoing process of “ascent, purification, renunciation, and healing” (Deus Caritas Est #5) to which Humanae Vitae calls them is actively contributing to the culture that makes future McCarricks possible.  It’s time to for a faithful laity to step up and proclaim to the world that while human sexuality is a good an beautiful thing, it can only be expressed in ways that lead to health and human flourishing when it is united with God’s grace and our consistent effort to choose love over use on every level.

3. Make Noise

Having checked the credibility of our own witness, we have to activate our prophetic role. We must call our church leaders to live and proclaim the truth in their words and their lives.  Enough with letting committees led by lawyers lead the church.  We need prophets.

Likewise, if a man has not done the work necessary to be a healthy, godly Christian disciple when he presents himself to seminary then we shouldn’t ordain him. Let’s stop being afraid there won’t be enough warm bodies to fill cassocks if we dare demand both doctrinal fidelity and psychological maturity.  Yes, the combination is rare, but God has promised that he can raise up sons of Abraham out of stones (Mt 3:9) if necessary.  Surely, he can find us a few faithful priests.

In short, if we really want an end to the scandals, we have to reform the very homes charged with raising future, godly, healthy pastors and we have to demand that our clergy stop winking at church teaching both in their own lives and in their sermons.  And if they aren’t willing to live and proclaim Christ’s mission with all their heart, mind, soul and strength, they should be vigorously helped to seek a line of work better suited to their lack of ability.

Dr. Gregory Popcak


Dr. Gregory Popcak is the Executive Director of the Pastoral Solutions Institute, an organization dedicated to helping Catholics find faith-filled solutions to tough marriage, family, and personal problems.

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  • Gary

    Until ALL US bishops decisively act to appoint an outside board to investigate this growing scandal, no US Catholic should donate any money to any US diocese. Nothing will force needed change faster than reduction in the money supply of the bishops.

  • Patty

    People need to read and heed the Gospel message. The Way is repeated over and over: “Repent, be converted, and do penance.” I do not think our Good Savior will ever begin to deliver souls through a paradigm stated as: “The fact is, any Catholic person who does not welcome the ongoing process of “ascent, purification, renunciation, and healing” (Deus Caritas Est #5) to which Humanae Vitae calls them …..” We have forgotten that we are only small human creatures, and viably broken. As a Christian, I would never take the foregoing formula of ascent, purification, renunciation, and healing as a Way to Jesus’ Heaven where He alone allows in the soul. These types of writings have really screwed up the simplicity and order of the Gospel message. So, repent, be converted, and do penance! Jesus will let you know how you will be graded on the intellect of this, the memory of this, and the will of this Gospel message when He allows you into His Heaven. However well intended, we as Christians have been totally immersed in the way of the world and all these way off discourses have proven only to open the doors to a rationalism of sinfulness.

  • Westman

    It’s not just a problem in the US. Need strong leadership at the top willing to make the tough decisions to reform. The atmosphere of Rome itself might play a role too. Since ancient times It has always been a hotbed of homosexual activity and probably acts as a magnet for gay clergy. Maybe the Vatican should be moved. It’s happened before.

  • Florian

    Aug. 10th: I am striving more and more to live as a disciple of Christ and I am praying for all who have been harmed by this sexual abuse, especially good Priests who bear a heavy burden especially the newly ordained. Yes, the laity must stand up be heard, get involved, demand accountability for financial and sexual abuse by Bishops and Priests. Ask why some Bishops and Priests are permitted to use the money donated by parishioners for luxurious homes and cars and vacations, etc. Bishops who do live good and holy lives should confront Bishops who do not. Seminaries need to be thoroughly cleansed and purified and good and wholesome and holy Priests be appointed as formation directors. This mess of homosexual activity and abuse is embedded in the depths and in the heights of the Church. I pray that Pope Francis will send away even those in his own inner circle who are homosexual activists and those who do not accept the teachings of the Church, and those who have stolen the finances of the Church which were entrusted to them. All who ignored McCarrick or who knew what was going on with him and also in seminaries and Parishes and among other Bishops and Priests but said nothing should resign. But McCarrick should no longer be the center of the storm – to keep him there as a diversion so other sexual and financial abuses will not be investigated is only another form of moral depravity. Shepherds, man up and take your responsibility to clean house. Otherwise you will never ever regain the trust of your flock and many will go elsewhere. We pray for the Church, and for all who have been wounded by your sins – and the cover-ups. It would be good if you would yourselves offer public reparation for the sexual and financial abuses of the Shephers and the Priests. It is time, act now! … don’t wait until it’s too late and satan has completed his taking control of so many members of the Body of Christ. We pray for you and we need you to make things right – with us and with God.

  • Marta Moran


  • Tanya Wersinger

    i think the seminaries should have a good and wholesome exorcism, lots of holy water and blessed salt to go around and be reconsecrated to the most Holy Mother of God and her Immaculate all pure heart.

  • TobiasRaphael1

    Your last paragraph says it all, except I don’t know any occupation they would be suited for except solitary confinement in prison. With their lack of fidelity to the Gospel, they would harm others wherever they would go.

    We also have to beg Saint Joseph to make us into real men of God again and Our Lady to make women into real women of God… in order to become holy parents!

  • Adrian Johnson

    Legally impossible. American priests are not dual citizens of the USA and the Vatican that they can be stripped of American citizenship and exiled to the Eternal City. (There are very few, mostly Nuncios, who hold a Vatican passport) International law forbids revoking citizenship if it would make a person stateless.

  • Adrian Johnson

    More to the point is rooting out the Modernist faculty ( who usually hold tenure, which presents legal difficulties) in American and European seminaries.
    All seminarians should be re-interviewed to screen out the SSA ones before ordination to the diaconate.

  • Marta Moran

    With GOD all things are possible. Extraordinary times require extraordinary measures. How about Trump winning ELECTION?
    We the people did it
    with God’s guidance and help. We will do it again.