Theodore Edgar Cardinal McCarrick Theodore Edgar Cardinal McCarrick
Archbishop of Washington, D.C., USA
Cardinal Priest of Santi Nereo e Achilleo
Jul 07, 1930
Feb 21, 2001
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English Retired D.C. cardinal sees hope despite challenges
Oct 06, 2006
In the early 1960s, the future Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was a young priest earning a doctorate in sociology at the Catholic University of America. Some societal trends from that decade still resonate in the country and in the church nearly five decades later, Washington's retired archbishop said at a conference on "The Catholic Church in America: 2006."

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Catholic Standard, 10/3/2006) - Cardinal McCarrick traced a decline in American Catholics living out and understanding their faith to the "ethos of the 1960s, which we have not yet overcome." In that era, he said, people adopted an attitude of being "open to everything," and people "opted out" of traditional morals and ideas about family life, society and their faith.

"What happened when we all started to 'opt out,'? We became a contraceptive society," the cardinal said. That mindset, he said, has had terrible effects on marriages and family life and led to many having an abortion mentality on life issues.

And that ethos, Cardinal McCarrick said, has led people to lose a sense of commitment, to marriage, to God, to the priesthood and religious life, and to workplace ethics.


Washington's archbishop emeritus was a keynote speaker at the conference, organized by Catholic University's Life Cycle Institute, which analyzes current issues from the perspective of Catholic social teachings. Panels at the two-day conference also examined Catholic identity, parish life today, new movements in the church and the church's presence in public life.

Stephen Schneck, the institute's director, introduced Cardinal McCarrick, and praised him for being an "outspoken and courageous voice" on issues like abortion, immigration, outreach to the poor around the world, and human rights. The cardinal, formerly CUA's chancellor, also played a key role in encouraging Congress to pass legislation improving educational opportunities for children in the nation's capital.

Cardinal McCarrick said the nation's nearly 70 million Catholics seem to fall in one of four groups: those who know and follow church teaching, those who do not understand the faith, "cafeteria" Catholics who choose what to follow, and inactive Catholics who have decided not to belong to the church at this time.

The cardinal said the greatest challenge facing the church is helping people know and follow the faith, at a time when most Catholics in polls don't understand key teachings like the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

The retired prelate said that the 1960s mindset of questioning traditional morals affected people's attitudes toward the Second Vatican Council, which was unfolding in the Catholic church at the same time. "The church was saying all the right things, and the vast majority of (Catholics) were not reading them," he said of the council documents.


And he faulted some "in Catholic education, people we counted on to tell us what the Second Vatican Council was all about, (who instead) told us what they wanted it to be about." That resulted in a "crisis in higher education... (and) many Catholic institutions lost the core values of what we were about," he said, also noting that a period of dissent from church teaching followed the council.

Cardinal McCarrick said that too often, Catholic schools and religious education programs declined in the decades that followed the council, "becoming touchy-feely rather than (about) doctrine, matter and form." And fewer young people chose to pursue vocations. "(They were) not getting the impetus of what Catholic life should be, a life of service and a life of sacrifice."

A decline in pastoral practice, in Mass attendance, in vocations and in people understanding and following the faith have occurred in the Catholic Church, as morals have weakened in society as a whole, the cardinal said, noting the church also had to deal with the affects of the "sex scandal of the clergy."

"We ended up being tied into the knot of the '60s, which affects our morality, our family life, our marriages, and how we deal with each other," he said.

Acknowledging he was painting a "bleak picture," the cardinal said, "it's important we see the difficulties the church faces today."


But in the second half of his lecture, Cardinal McCarrick addressed signs of hope he sees in the Catholic church in the United States today. "There's so much hope in the Second Vatican Council. This really brought in the age of the laity," he said. Cardinal McCarrick said that the laity have taken on more responsibility, from serving on Pontifical Councils to leading archdiocesan offices to staffing parishes and serving on parish councils and financial advisory boards.

The late Pope John Paul II with his canonizations "made so clear that lay people are called to holiness," the cardinal said, noting that a large bas relief in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington depicts "The Universal Call to Holiness."

That artwork reminds everyone they are called to be a saint, Cardinal McCarrick said, and "it is that holiness which gives me hope for the future." And he noted that God gave the world saintly people like Mother Teresa and John Paul II as a reminder to people that they can be holy in their everyday lives. That point, he said, was echoed by Pope Benedict XVI in his first encyclical, "God is Love," when the pontiff wrote: "A Christian knows when it is time to speak of God and when it is better to say nothing and let love alone speak."

And the cardinal said that the Second Vatican Council's call to ecumenism has enriched the Catholic church. "We have learned to look beyond ourselves... I have learned from rabbis, and I've even learned from imams," he said.

The new United States Catholic Catechism for Adults issued by the nation's bishops is another sign of hope for the church, he said, noting that there seems to be "a new frontier in Catholic education" to help people learn what the church really teaches.


Cardinal McCarrick also praised the growing popularity of movements in the church like the Neocatechumenal Way, Focolare and Communion and Liberation. "These movements are bringing life to parishes and life to the church," he said. "The movements have also given us a new openness to life, to family life and vocations."

The cardinal, who offered the opening prayer at a large immigrants' rights rally on the National Mall earlier this year, said the growing Hispanic presence in the Catholic Church in the United States "is another sign of hope," as those newcomers offer an inspiring witness to the importance of faith and families in their lives.

Ultimately, Cardinal McCarrick said he has great hope for the Catholic church, today and in the future. "The Lord is the Lord, the church is his, it belongs to him. He is still working powerfully in the world. All these dark forebodings give way to the light of Christ." And problems that might seem to difficult to solve can be, relying on God's grace and love, the cardinal said.

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This story was made available to Catholic Online by permission of the Catholic Standard (, official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington, DC.
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