Several years ago, when I was received into the Catholic Church, I thought I had come into the experience with my eyes fully open. The scandals of 2002 had already happened, and their details and significance were being truthfully unpacked by many Catholic commentators for all the world to see.
Because I had spent several years in leadership roles in evangelical-charismatic circles, I had seen certain ministers of the gospel foster an idolatrous relationship with what Aquinas described as the four common substitutes for God: wealth, pleasure, power, and honor. One pastor I rubbed shoulders with embezzled money from the local church he pastored. Another fell into a long-term adulterous affair. Still another returned to the drug and alcohol addictions that dominated his pre-Christian life. The vast majority, however, remained on the straight and narrow path, and, I trust, will receive their reward in the life to come.
Yet in the McCarrick scandal, with its subsequent fallout and whitewash, even someone like me, who is privy to the frailty and fallen condition of clergymen, was taken aback. Since the “summer of shame,” I had to admit to myself that I “came into this thing” with my eyes only half-open. Recently, I joked to myself that it would be a kind of public service to provide earnest people, especially converts and reverts, with a beginner’s guide to bad priests and prelates—not so much a guide about bad behavior, because those 40 acres have already been well plowed, but a guide about some of the underpinnings that lead to bad doctrine and practice. I use the word “some” because this is by no means an exhaustive treatment but only an introduction.