Baha'i News -- Washington archbishop to help the church in its hour of crisis This article appeared in the Dominion Post Newspaper on April 28, 2002.

Washington archbishop to help the church in its hour of crisis

AP Photo

The Archbishop of Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick mixes happy hour and religion by discussing "Bringing Spirituality Into a Busy Life" at Lulu's Club in Washington in this March 13 photo. McCarrick is expected to assume a key role in the weeks ahead as the Roman Catholic Church attempts to turn the tentative steps of Rome into a policy protecting children from sexually predatory priests.


Associated Press


They offered Archbishop Theodore McCarrick a feast and he chose a tuna sandwich. They offered him suburban comfort and he chose the city, despite the risk of having his car stolen again.

Even now, McCarrick carries his own luggage. He's taking on some of his church's baggage, too.

In this sorry time for the Roman Catholic Church, it hasn't been easy for church leaders to find someone to speak for them with the grace and unassuming wit for which many priests are known. They've found one in the archbishop of Washington.

Although a junior member of the College of Cardinals, McCarrick was front and center in Rome when cardinals were summoned to work out a response to the sex abuse scandal.

He was the one who most often filled the TV screens back home, offering straight talk and humility -- although not the solutions sought by childhood victims of molestation.

''People relate to his humanity as much as to his position,'' said Chester Gillis, chairman of the Georgetown University theology department. ''There's a certain comfort being with him, a kind of familiarity, that's very inviting.''

In the weeks ahead, McCarrick will be a leading broker in the effort to turn the tentative steps of Rome into a policy protecting children from sexually predatory priests.

Those who have journeyed with him, spiritually and around the globe, say if anyone can help heal the church he can.

They speak of his quiet persuasion, his infectious enthusiasm and his storied common touch. McCarrick also has a way of commiserating with people inches from their face.

''I hate to use a term like regular Joe -- there was too much intelligence and wit,'' said Firuz Kazemzadeh, a religious scholar and Bahai adviser who served with him on the U.S. government's Commission on International Religious Freedom.

''But there were no pretensions, no airs to him. He is sincere and emphatic and at the same time never belligerent ... and these are qualities that make for a good peacemaker.''

A kind of one-man charm school, McCarrick zooms from parish to parish on weekends, packing churches, a pace that has hardly slowed despite his age, 71.

He opted for a quick sandwich after a weekday mass at Holy Rosary Church, to the chagrin of Rev. Charles Zanoni's housekeeper. ''I said to him, 'Your Eminence, we would have made you a meal -- you would have had to go to bed afterward,''' Zanoni said. ''He laughed and said he had a full day's schedule ahead of him.''

As Newark, N.J., archbishop, McCarrick earned respect for living in gritty downtown environs instead of the leafy suburbs, even though his car was snatched. He led bishops nationwide in ordaining priests.

After settling initially on the Washington city limits, he's moving downtown again, to the top floor of an old high school used now for church quarters and English classes for Hispanics.

McCarrick has built a reputation as a bridge among faiths with a particular concern about human rights and deprivation abroad.

Wedded to Catholic doctrine, he said the church's troubles are an occasion to reaffirm the value of priestly celibacy. But he also appeared to argue for a tougher line against priests who violate children than was chosen in Rome.

On a trip to Saudi Arabia with others on the religious freedom commission, McCarrick won permission to go about his business wearing his clerical collar. That exhibition of religious diversity is rarely seen in the Islamic kingdom.

Other delegates, from varied religions, had vowed to stick with him if Saudi Arabia wouldn't let him in dressed for his faith.

''He himself didn't make a big issue out of it; his concern was more for the people we were going there to learn about,'' said Laila Al-Marayati of Los Angeles, another delegate and a founder of the Muslim Women's Council.

A native of New York, McCarrick came to Washington in January 2001 after serving as archbishop in Newark and before that in Metuchen, N.J.

Fluent in five languages and a dabbler in others, he spoke in 10 languages at his installation. For the diplomatic corps, he spoke conventional French; for Haitian immigrants, Creole.

But that splashy debut may have been overshadowed by his night at Lulu's in downtown Washington.

Revelers at the bar found themselves listening to a bishop on a barstool talking about the joys of knowing Jesus. He'd come as part of the Theology on Tap outreach program.

''You have to go where the people are,'' McCarrick said through the din of the crowd and the haze of smoke. ''Many of these people are probably saints. If I were holier, I might be able to tell you which.''

Rabbi David Saperstein, former commission chairman who also went to the Middle East with McCarrick, said he has discussed the sexual scandal with him since early on.

''Time and again his primary concern, his instinctive concern, was the victims,'' Saperstein said. That helps make him ''a wonderful spokesperson in the midst of a crisis that brings so many people pain.''

Al-Marayati agreed but added, ''If the message isn't what people want to hear, it doesn't matter who the messenger is.''

©Copyright 2002, Dominion Post

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