McCarrick Sees Crisis of Faith, Not Morals; Says Scandals Burdened church.(PAGE ONE)

Article excerpt

Byline: Larry Witham, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington said yesterday that his church's mission is more difficult after a year of sexual scandal, but he believes the worst has passed and that the crisis may be more over belief than morals.

"While all this is going on, we're still trying to be faithful to the teaching of the Gospel, we're still trying to reach out and call people to holiness, we're still trying to make a contribution to the society," Cardinal McCarrick said.

"The crisis, which hopefully we have just finished passing through, made [priestly] vocation seeking more difficult," he said at an interview with editors, columnists and reporters at The Washington Times.

The archdiocese has sent 15 candidates for the priesthood to seminary this year, its largest number since the 1980s. "I ask them why they are coming now with all this going on, and they say, 'It's not for the prestige,'" but because God has called.

In a wide-ranging conversation over a lunch of roast chicken and wild rice in the office of Wesley Pruden, the editor in chief of The Times, Cardinal McCarrick talked with enthusiasm about how the church's social services and parochial schools, which enroll two-thirds Protestants and others, are making a difference in the Washington diocese.

"We're continuing to do that because that's what we have to do," he said of archdiocesan ministries and charities. "Is it harder? Yes."

The cardinal said he is familiar with the debate over the root of the sexual-abuse problem in the church, which has involved a small number of pedophile priests and a larger number who are homosexual.

But he believes that a few cases have been sensationalized. "You are talking about fewer than 2 percent of our priests over the course of the last 50 years," he said. Reports of a homosexual subculture in seminaries are "a great concern" but also have been exaggerated.

"I'm sure that [a subculture] has existed in certain places at certain times with a certain number, but I think there's a tendency [to] say, 'Oh, there are three [homosexuals]. So it must be half the house.'"

Though a priest and pastor most of his life, Cardinal McCarrick also earned his doctorate in sociology. His experience working with numbers, surveys and data makes him skeptical that the abuse scandal adds up to "a major, major problem," he said.

Regarding certain criticisms of Catholic seminaries, he said: "Whether or not the seminary system was replete with theological dissidence and sexual problems, I certainly would not believe that this was ever the case in the United States."

More at issue for the nation's 60 million Catholics is confusion over authentic church teaching on faith and morals, including ideas about chastity, celibacy and fidelity for both the priests and the laity.

This confusion arose from liberal interpretations of the Second Vatican Council of 1962 to 1965, leading to cases where some seminary professors taught that priests would marry, or taught liberal sexual mores.

"With regard to [doctrinal] dissidence, that was a much greater problem than the sexual problem," Cardinal McCarrick said. "That did get into some seminaries. …