By Rev. Michael X., J.C.L.
As one reads again and again the testimony of the heroic whistleblower Abp. Carlo Maria Viganò in search of the truth, peering back into the eyes of the canonist is the monster that truly was Cdl. Theodore McCarrick.
New analysis of the former Vatican ambassador's statement reveals that the archbishop-emeritus of Washington, D.C. was not only a serial predator of young boys and vulnerable seminarians, but also a criminal who, in canon law, unbelievable as it might seem, incurred the censure of latae sententiae or "automatic" excommunication multiple times on multiple different criminal counts over a lifetime of debauchery and duplicity. Rare are the fiends in history who can claim both the title of cardinal and excommunicate the way McCarrick can.
Buried within the testimony is the evidence in support of this sobering canonical analysis: a list of specific capita accusationis or criminal counts that have been drawn up by its author, a doctor in canon and civil law. When taken together with the findings announced this past June by the archdiocese of New York and subsequent revelations of child and adult victims, the horror of what we know is likely unmatched by the turpitude of what we don't.
First, multiple alleged victims have asserted that McCarrick, at least since 1969, committed the canonical crime of sexual abuse against both pre-pubescent and post-pubescent minors. This would be in violation of canon 2359, § 2 of the Code of Canon Law of 1917 (CIC 1917), art. 72 of the instruction Crimen Sollicitationis of 1962 and can. 1395, § 2 of the Code of Canon Law of 1983 (CIC 1983).
The Church officially calls such vile conduct against nature and innocent boys the crimen pessimum, or "foulest crime." The punishment for such crimes is not "automatic" or latae sententiae upon commission of the crime, but ferendae sententiae or "imposed" by sentencing after due process has been afforded to the accused.
Second, although sexual abuse of minors is counted by the Church as being among the "foulest" crimes capable of being committed by man, an infinitely worse offense is officially taught by the Church to be that of sacrilege committed against the sacred species, or Most Holy Eucharist. It is infinitely worse because the crime is committed directly against Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, whom the Church teaches is made really and substantially present within the Eucharist upon consecration within or outside of Holy Mass being celebrated.
According to Abp. Viganò, one of the crimes of McCarrick that he denounced to his superiors through official channels is "sacrilegious celebration of the Eucharist with the same priests after committing such acts" (Testimony, pg. 2). Canon 1367 CIC 1983 provides:
A person who throws away the consecrated species or takes or retains them for a sacrilegious purpose incurs a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See; moreover, a cleric can be punished with another penalty, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state.
According to a response to a dubium issued by the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts in 1999, abicere ("to throw away") is not to be interpreted as including "only the act of projecting," but also "any action voluntarily and gravely disrespectful of the Sacred Species" (cf. Response, June 4, 1999, AAS 91 (1999), 918).
Consequently, Abp. Viganò's allegation that McCarrick committed "sacrilegious celebration of the Eucharist" upon having committed acts of sodomy with sacred priests raises the specter that he in fact incurred excommunication latae sententiae reserved to the Apostolic See, because excommunication is automatically incurred for the commission of this canonical delict (Art. 3, § 1, 1° of the Normae de gravioribus delictis (NGD), AAS CII, (2010), p. 421).
This is because the interpretation to be given to the term, "abicere" in this canon and norm is held to be broad, not strict. If by "sacrilegious celebration," Viganò meant that McCarrick consecrated the Most Holy Eucharist "for a sacrilegious end," then the former cardinal is also subject to prosecution for another crime under Art. 3, § 2 NGD for which ferendae sententiae dismissal from the clerical state and deposition are expressly provided as being possible.
Third, McCarrick is alleged to have committed the crime of "absolution of [his] accomplices in these depraved acts." This means that the former cardinal committed sexual sins against the Sixth Commandment of the Decalogue with culprits and then attempted to absolve those same culprits ("accomplices") from those sexual sins.
Canon 977 CIC provides that such absolution from sin, outside of the danger of death, is invalid. Canon 1378, § 1 states that a priest who acts against the proscription of can. 977 incurs latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See.
Fourth, it can be inferred reasonably that, since McCarrick is publicly denying having committed the above heinous crimes, for many years, he has heard the confessions of many penitents. From the moment he was automatically excommunicated for sacrilegious celebration of the Eucharist and/or for having attempted to absolve an accomplice in a sin against the Sixth Commandment, if McCarrick's excommunication(s) was not lifted beforehand, McCarrick would have additionally incurred the censure of suspension a divinis for merely hearing sacramental confessions of penitents.
In canon law, a criminal incurs a cumulation of censures of excommunication, suspension or interdict every time he commits a distinct crime to which an automatic (latae sententiae) censure is attached. For each of those censures, not just each of the mortal sins underlying them, a penitent must receive absolution under pain of being damned for all eternity bound by them. McCarrick, therefore, is not only a monster of sexual deviancy, but also a monster of a criminal who most likely has already been excommunicated and suspended a divinis multiple times for only God knows how many individual crimes.
As Pope St. Pius V wrote centuries ago regarding the horrid crimes against nature committed by clerics, "So that the contagion of such a grave offense may not advance with greater audacity by taking advantage of impunity, which is the greatest incitement to sin," the harshest punishment must be meted out to them.
Such is exactly the case with McCarrick. He should have been prosecuted and punished severely years ago for everything he has done. Condemnatory words ring hollow for so long as this monster walks the earth and receives not the punishment fitting his crimes. For Pope Francis, therefore, to have let McCarrick take advantage of his impunity for so many years is to have given him an incitement to his sins and become an accomplice to McCarrick's own.