VICTORIA, Kansas—On a cloudy Sunday morning in August, Father John Schmeidler delivered a brisk homily at St. Fidelis Catholic Church on the virtue of trusting that God always has a plan. There were at least 200 people listening in the pews, almost 20 percent of this rural prairie town’s population: large families, young couples, elderly people, men in jeans and cowboy boots. There’s not a single other church in town. Even if we just do our simple daily duties, Father John told them that Sunday, “our God brings great things.”
Last fall, God brought to Victoria an unexpected visitor: Theodore McCarrick, once the most powerful Catholic priest in America. From 2001–06, at the height of his career, McCarrick served as the archbishop of Washington, D.C. He stepped down at the standard bishop retirement age of 75 but remained a prolific fundraiser and jet-setting Vatican macher. And McCarrick wasn’t just influential—he was famous. He was the priest whom Meet the Press called to discuss the abuse crisis, and he participated in the funerals of William Rehnquist, Beau Biden, Ted Kennedy, and Tim Russert.
In the summer of 2018, McCarrick also suddenly became the country’s most well-known accused perpetrator of clerical sexual abuse. In June of that year, the Vatican abruptly removed him from public ministry, citing a credible accusation of sexual misconduct against a teenage altar boy in the 1970s. (The statute of limitations for the crime he is accused of had expired.) McCarrick resigned as a cardinal, the first in history to do so over allegations of sexual abuse.* Meanwhile, it emerged that some in the church hierarchy had known for decades about some of the accusations, that at least two accusations had resulted in settlements, and that rumors about him were widespread in Catholic circles. When McCarrick was ousted from public ministry in June of 2018, he issued a statement saying he was innocent of the first accusation.