Cardinal McCarrick Retiring as Washington's Archbishop

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who's retiring as Washington's archbishop, speaks with Renee Montagne. He served as archbishop for five years, forging a reputation as a centrist mediator. He is credited with bridging the gap between partisans on issues surrounding abortion rights, sexual abuse by priests and immigration.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

From NPR News, it's MORNING EDITION. I'm Steve Inskeep with Renee Montagne.

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has taken on controversy in Washington with a spirit of compromise.

Cardinal THEODORE MCCARRICK (Archbishop of Washington): There's a great line from the old fathers of the church, (foreign language spoken), in the middle is virtue. And that, you know, some people are going to say, oh, that's mediocrity. It's not. It's really courage to be able to stay in the middle and to resist the extremes.

INSKEEP: McCarrick retires from the Washington Archdiocese this summer.

Renee asked him about his moderate voice in a high-profile pulpit.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

We sat down in his office in the archdiocese headquarters here in Washington, D.C., next to a framed photograph of Cardinal McCarrick on the day he was installed as archbishop.

In the photo he's wearing a white vestment and receiving the tall shepherd's staff known as a crozier, symbolizing the bishop leading his flock.

This archdiocese, which includes the Capitol and the White House, the Supreme Court, does it give you a certain responsibility?

Cardinal MCCARRICK: Oh, it certainly does. The archbishop of Washington really ought to be able to talk to everybody. You know, if the archbishop is a little on the left, he's not going to be able to talk to the right. If he's a little on the right, he's not going to be able to talk t the left. They won't trust him.

MONTAGNE: I want to discuss with you your role in the 2004 Presidential election. The Democratic candidate, Senator John Kerry, he was a - he is a Catholic, and he is a supporter of abortion rights. And the issue in that campaign was whether a politician who was Catholic could support abortion rights and be served communion.

Tell us the moment that you first realized that you would be drawn into the debate.

Cardinal MCCARRICK: Oh, I think the moment you become a bishop you know that. I think my job in those moments is to make sure that I'm teaching what the church teaches. And I have to say, well, now why are you doing this? And don't you know this? And shouldn't you consider this? And I think that's where dialogue comes in.

And I think before you react so strongly and say you're a sinner, you can't receive communion, I think you have to really see what's in a person's heart. There is nothing really black and white, you know, because we're dealing with human beings and we're all such complex people.

MONTAGNE: Another very disturbing issue: priests and sexual abuse.

Cardinal MCCARRICK: Yes, indeed.

MONTAGNE: Where would the middle way, or the moderate position be there?

Cardinal MCCARRICK: I guess there, that the middle way would be that man cannot exercise ministry, because he's dangerous. Number two, we really have to make sure that we are organizing the most perfect child protection program, so that this will never happen again. The moderate position, I guess, would be that you don't take a man out and kill him.

MONTAGNE: Put him on the street.

Cardinal MCCARRICK: That you say, okay, we cannot let you continue to serve in this way, but, you know, I'm not going to let you become a homeless person.

MONTAGNE: When Pope Benedict XVI was chosen, there were a lot of people who were worried and disappointed because he had the reputation, as Cardinal Ratzinger, as being quite a tough defender of the faith. You, in Rome, were one of the people who spoke out to say that this was the best choice. Did you know something that a lot of the world didn't know? Or is the fact that Pope Benedict has been...

Cardinal MCCARRICK: Very moderate.

MONTAGNE: ...moderate? Does that speak more to the job, if you will?

Cardinal MCCARRICK: I think you're right on all counts. I think the job of a priest always forces you to the middle. I, can I tell you my story? There's, I tell this story so often, I apologize for saying...

MONTAGNE: No…

Cardinal MCCARRICK: John Paul II, visiting the Cathedral in Newark, he knows that he's at the door of the church. He's looking down the altar. It had been worked out that after he had gone down - finished the church service - he would go into the sacristy and not come back. So he couldn't do down one side and back the other, as sometimes he would be able to do.

So he looks and he stops for a moment, and then he puts himself right in the middle and he walks down the aisle, right in the middle. And people on the left, people on the right, can grab his hand. For me, that is the symbol of where the church has to be.

We've got to be in the middle so that we don't let the left or the right get lost.

MONTAGNE: Cardinal McCarrick, thank you very much for speaking with us.

Cardinal MCCARRICK: Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity.

MONTAGNE: Cardinal McCarrick will still be a voting member of the College of Cardinals past his retirement. His replacement has already been named: Bishop Donald Wuerl of Pittsburgh.

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