Diocese of Orange Chancellor Pia de Solenni, on Cardinal McCarrick news

By Pia de Solenni     8/6/2018

Back in October, when Harvey Weinstein’s exploits [crimes] became public, those of us who have been supportive of the Catholic Church’s teachings on human sexuality were quick to think of the prophetic nature of Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae when he foretold the dire effects that contraception would have on the way that men treat women. 

As other prominent figures were exposed for their despicable manipulation of sex with women and men, we continued to be confirmed in our thinking. 

However, the June revelations of the credible allegations of sex abuse on the part of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick confirm what many have suspected for a long time. The Church has been uncomfortably silent on matters of sexuality, family, and marriage because some in her leadership do not live these teachings themselves. And it is very hard to teach something that one does not know and live. 

Obviously, celibate priests are not called to marriage or a life where contraception would even be a question. But their celibacy makes no sense unless one appreciates marriage. Marriage between a woman and a man points to the perfect union between Christ and his bride, the Church. Setting aside the exceptions for married priests, the theology of the Latin Church understands that the priest, called to be in persona Christi (in the person of Christ), enters into a supernatural type of nuptial vocation. Put simply, if he’s not continent- refraining from sexual activity- he’s cheating, just like any married person who acts unchastely and engages in sexual activity outside that person’s own marriage. 

In my experience, the priests and bishops who are comfortable talking about, defending, and promoting the Church’s teachings on sex and marriage are confident in their vocations. They understand that their vocation and the vocation of the married support each other and point to the reality that we are all called to an eternal relationship with God. 

I’m also confident that the celibacy of their relationship is hard work, just as marriage is hard work for the two spouses. I’m confident that they struggle, as married couples do. And I’m confident that they are willing to sacrifice, as married couples do, so that, in the words of St. Paul, they may “run so as to win.” All of the challenges here are worthwhile because overcoming them brings us closer to our ultimate desire, which is union with God. 

Apart from serious eschatological considerations, celibacy (not to mention, virginity and chastity) makes little sense. Which explains why those who have lost sight of the greatest prize find it extremely challenging, if not impossible, to live the vocation. 

Pope John XXIII wrote, “A soul adorned with the virtue of chastity cannot help loving others; for it has discovered the source and font of love – God.” 

When we lose sight of this source, the reality of God, then we become all too comfortable with using others as objects, even children and others we have been given to protect and love. And none of this can be accomplished without living chastity. It’s not about subduing love; it’s about allowing love to burn passionately and strongly. Anything that exists outside of chastity is a mockery of authentic love. 

Just a few days before the most recent round of headlines which helped to refocus attention on Cardinal McCarrick’s reported abuses, I was visiting with the editor of a national publication. We were both saddened, even distraught, that it seemed like the story was going nowhere. One credible allegation of abuse of a minor, two settlements with adults, and…nothing. 

Timing is everything. The groundswell came a few days before July 25, the 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae. I’ve no doubt that it will continue to unfold throughout this year. 

As more details emerge about this massive failure in chastity and egregious predation on the vulnerable within the flock, we will, hopefully, get beyond journalistic investigation and see some sort of due process with judicial investigation rather than the historical pattern of simply waiting for the culprit to die. Justice demands that what’s being said about the cardinal be verified, not left in the limbo of the never investigated, never proven, never corroborated. 

Though I am a theologian and a diocesan official, it’s not clear to me what a process should look like when a bishop has been accused of crimes, whether civil, ecclesial, or both. Canonists assure me that the tools exist in law. Bring ’em on. 

In these days, I’m hearing from a lot of lay people who are anxious to see change, even if they have to lead. In Church affairs, it is the ordained who are principally responsible for governance. I wonder: what sort of lay leadership would be effective today in bringing about real reform without harming the unity of our Mother the Church? 

Hear me out: We all know good priests and bishops. Either we have confidence in them or we don’t. I’d like to see them take the lead on the necessary reform. It will be more authentic if the reform comes from within and from those in charge. The laity may rightly express frustration, anger, and concern. The laity can be ready with good ideas. But we need our bishops and priests to lead now, otherwise they will lose what little credibility they have left. 

It’s a start that the original announcement in June came from Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, not the archdiocese or an archdiocesan office. Similarly, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston and advisor to Pope Francis, released a statement (the day before the anniversary of Humanae Vitae), stating, “These cases and others require more than apologies.” 

Church leadership has a lot to do in order to give more than apologies. 

Both inside and outside the Church, we are being bombarded by evidence that the virtues outlined in Humanae Vitae apply both to the laity and the clergy. Paul VI put forth an achievable ideal about human life and the love that makes life human. Ignoring that ideal gives us the spectre of McCarrick’s abuses and those of many others. 

The timing of these revelations alongside the commemoration of one of the most polemical papal writings in the history of the Church – which happens to be about love and sex – is more than a coincidence for me. God, in his gift of free will, has allowed us to be utterly stupid about the teachings of his Church. And now we have arrived at a place where those teachings must be lived and taught by the leadership of the Church in order for the Church to heal. Humanae Vitae is the lynchpin in the abuse crisis. 

In the end, I believe that there are no coincidences, only God’s providence. It is our choice how we respond.  


Note: Pia de Solenni, SThD, is the Chancellor of the Diocese of Orange and Theological Advisor to the Bishop. The opinions expressed here are her own. 




  1. Edward A. Hummel

    Vatican I clearly states that a man ordained to the priesthood receives both the power of Orders and the power of Jurisdiction. But Christ also told us to give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God, the things that are God’s. Where proper, let the civil trials begin.

  2. Rosemary Schneider

    I am LA woman and I remember when Humana. VItae encyclical came out! After listening to EWTN news on this report I agree with them on having a lazy board rather than the bishops respond because the bishops have now not that much credibility Saul the lady board would be able to go through the finances of all diocese to see where the money leads the payouts hopefully they don’t find any more priest or bishop or Religious having to pay out for their abuses so that’s my comment

  3. James B

    There is no need to wait for the “good bishops” to set up a committee. It would only take one good bishop to begin to restore the Church’s credibility. Practical steps need to be taken to weed-out those bishops who are personally compromised or subject to blackmail by what they have done, what they have seen, and what they have failed to report. I don’t know if Bishop Vann is a “good bishop” or not, but no one is stopping him from issuing the following statement:

    “I swear on pain of the loss of my immortal soul that during my tenure as a seminarian, priest and a bishop I have not engaged in sexual activity with another male even once; that I have never observed and failed to report any such activity by another seminarian, priest, or bishop; and that I am unaware of any credible evidence – including credible hearsay – that any past or present priests of this diocese, or any bishops of any diocese, have engaged in such activity that has not already been reported to the appropriate civil and ecclesiastical authorities. I further swear that I will not allow men with known homosexual inclinations to enter the seminary, to be ordained as priests or deacons, to serve as pastors, to hold any position of authority over others, or to have unsupervised access to individuals under the age of 21.”

    If Bishop Vann cannot publicly swear to this statement, he should immediately resign. If he can swear to it, he should – and he should publicly challenge every other bishop in the United States to follow his lead. I don’t doubt that there are some bishops who would falsely swear to this statement, but perhaps it is not too much to expect that most bishops still have enough faith to fear the loss of heaven and the pains of hell, and to make an honest accounting of their own fitness to serve as leaders of the Church.

  4. Mary

    The bishops and cardinals have had a chance to “lead” in their reform of clerical sexual abuse, since 2002, when they promulgated The Dallas Charter. They have failed to lead, leaving us orphans in need of a new plan. Let us break our denial, much as a dysfunctional family, and lock up the offenders in jail. Sexual predators can not be rehabilitated! There must be a “zero tolerance “ policy against such behaviors. Why, on earth, would we trust the very sexual abusers who are committing such atrocities, to “ come up with a plan.” More clericalism. Shame on you. If justice does not work for predatory sexual deviants, then the laity must withhold their money.

  5. Anne Carson

    Your insights are spot on! Bravo! Now if they would only be listened and adhered to by the hierarchy of the church.

  6. Robert

    I do not trust the bishops to investigate themselves. No way! While I am certain that some of the bishops are decent, holy men, I am equally certain that many others are either too frightened to speak up about their criminal confreres or that they themselves are members of the so-called lavender mafia. I have lost patience with the cowardice, the faithlessness, the sheer ineptitude of our so-called leaders. The malady of homosexual depravity is to be found not only across the United States, but in parts of South America, and astonishingly, the Vatican itself!

    It is time for a vast clean-out and a fresh, clean start.

    The bishops investigating themselves! Not on your life!

  7. The Rotondi family

    Dear Pia,
    Thank you so much for your article. We agree with you completely. In fact, for years we have been writing to bishops, cardinals and even popes because we saw the ugly reality all around us and try to make the difference. To to no avail , no one paid any attention to us. Pope Benedict was the only one that did promising to do his best. The rest is history. He really tried, but the winds were against him. Too much
    filth. The time is now for the laity and the good clergy to get together and do the Will of God. Finally!
    One thing we don’t understand. Women religious had a lot to do with encouraging sexual immorality by not living according to the teaching of the Church. So, why isn’t anybody looking into that. The Vatican started an Apostolic Visitation under Pope Benedict. What happened? They are very much part of the problem, yet no one talks about it. Why did the church let them get away with it. Please look into it. You might find part of the answer. Thank you for your effort. May Gos Bless you.

  8. Fr. Tom Bartolomeo

    I come late to this article and fully agree with Chancellor Pia de Solenni. Although I am retired (not my choice but another story and in good standing in my diocese) I have begun to do my part, alter Christus, in the retreats I offer and meetings with other like-minded priests and Catholics. I came to the priesthood ‘also late’ to his calling and was struck by the extreme secrecy of so many in the Church and so contrary to the “good news” Jesus taught and lived.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *