Wednesday, Aug 15, 2018

Wednesday, Aug 15, 2018

The Briefing

August 15, 2018

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

It’s Wednesday, August 15, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

New, expanding wave of sexual abuse allegations rocks Roman Catholic Church

The grand jury report is absolutely unprecedented. It came from the state of Pennsylvania, and it has to do with an ongoing investigation into allegations of child sexual abuse among Roman Catholic priests, covered up by the Roman Catholic hierarchy there in six dioceses in the state of Pennsylvania.

The report was handed down yesterday as Laurie Goodstein and Sharon Otterman report for the New York Times, “Bishops and other leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in Pennsylvania covered up child sexual abuse by more than 300 priests over a period of 70 years, persuading victims not to report the abuse and law enforcement not to investigate it, according to a searing report issued by a grand jury on Tuesday.” The reporters go on to tell us, “The report, which covered six of the state’s eight Catholic dioceses and found more than 1000 identifiable victims, is the broadest examination yet by a government agency in the United States of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.”

The report went on to say, there are likely thousands more victims whose records were lost or who were too afraid to come forward. The actual grand jury finding is now accessible to the public, and it is not only unprecedented, it is absolutely undeniably horrifying. The details are shocking, but the magnitude, the number simply almost defy the imagination. We’re talking about only six dioceses within one state, we’re talking about 70 years with 300 priests involved and over 1000 victims with thousands more thought to be yet unidentified. But what is larger in the grand jury report is what amounts to a massive cover-up on the part of many in the leadership of the church in those regions.

That’s the lead in the major article on this story that appears in today’s edition of the Washington Post. Michelle Boorstein and Gary Gately write: “More than 300 Catholic priests across Pennsylvania sexually abused children over seven decades, protected by a hierarchy of church leaders who covered it up, according to a sweeping grand jury report released yesterday.” The post continues: “The investigation, one of the broadest inquiries into church sex abuse in U.S. history, identified 1,000 children who were victims.” As the grand jury report said, not only were children abused, but “the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades.”

Perhaps in anticipation of the release of this report from the Pennsylvania grand jury, another major article appeared earlier in the week at the Washington Post. It’s by Chico Harlan, the headline was: Why the Vatican continues to struggle with sex abuse scandals. Harlan’s article begins: “With revelation after revelation, a new wave of sexual abuse scandals is rocking the Roman Catholic Church and presenting Pope Francis with the greatest crisis of his papacy. In Chile, prosecutors have raided church offices, seized documents and accused leaders of a coverup. In Australia, top church figures are facing detention and trials. And in the United States, after the resignation of a cardinal, questions are swirling about a hierarchy that looked the other way and protected him for years.”

The next paragraph is particularly crucial. “The church has had more than three decades, since notable abuse cases first became public, to safeguard victims, and itself, against such system failures. And yet in the past five years,” writes the post, “many Catholics have looked to Francis” that means Pope Francis “as a figure who could modernize the church and help it regain its credibility.” But the post says: “Francis’s track record in handling abuse is mixed, something some outsiders attribute to his learning curve or shortcomings and others chalk up to resistance from a notoriously change-averse institution.”

But putting this just into the context of the last several weeks, we have to understand that the Roman Catholic Church in the United States, and for that matter, worldwide, is still reeling from the announcement that came at the end of July that one of the cardinal archbishops of the church had resigned as a cardinal in the face of an expanding sex abuse scandal. As the New York Times reported on 29th of July: “Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the former Archbishop of Washington, from the college of cardinals ordering him to a life of prayer and penance after allegations that the cardinal sexually abused minors and adult seminarians over the course of decades. That was announced the previous Saturday by the Vatican.”

The New York Times went on to say: “Acting swiftly to contain a widening sex abuse scandal at the highest levels of the Roman Catholic Church, the pope officially suspended the cardinal from the exercise of any public ministry after receiving his resignation letter Friday evening.”

Reporting that same day for the Washington Post, Washington after all had been the diocese where Cardinal McCarrick had been Archbishop for many years. Julie Zauzmer and Chico Harlan reminded us that the resignation of this cardinal was the very first resignation of any cardinal in history in the face of sexual abuse allegations, and he became the first cardinal to resign for any reason worldwide since 1927.

Cardinal McCarrick had been one of the most famous faces of Roman Catholicism in the United States. He was well known, for example, for participating in the funeral masses for the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy and also more recently for Beau Biden, the son of the former Vice President of the United States, Joseph Biden.

Back on the 16th of July, the New York Times had reported through Laurie Goodstein and Sharon Otterman: the fact that Cardinal McCarrick had been removed from ministry after the Archdiocese of New York “deemed credible” an accusation that he had molested a 16-year-old altar boy nearly 50 years ago. But then the reporters wrote this: “Cardinal McCarrick, now 88, who declined to comment for this article said in a statement last month that he had no recollection of the abuse. He is the highest-ranking Catholic official in the United States to be removed for sexual abuse of a minor.” But in the most important section of the paper’s article, we read this: “But while the church responded quickly to the allegation that Cardinal McCarrick had abused a child, some church officials knew for decades that the cardinal had been accused of sexually harassing and inappropriately touching adults, according to interviews and documents obtained by The New York Times.”

The team of investigators for the New York Times then went through that evidence and documentation demonstrating the fact that it had to be known by any number of people within the Roman Catholic Church that the future Cardinal McCarrick had been accused of this kind of behavior, and not just once but rather repeatedly. The documentation went back to when McCarrick was the Bishop of Metuchen, New Jersey before being elevated to be the Cardinal Archbishop of Washington DC.

In a very interesting section of the New York Times article, we read this: “One possible reason the allegations did not impede Cardinal McCarrick’s ascent is that unwanted touching of an adult by a bishop or superior is not explicitly stated as a crime under the church’s canon law.” That fact seems rather hard to believe, but it is apparently true.

Perhaps the most surprising, shocking, disappointing issue in all of this is the point made by the Washington Post in that front-page article that ran just a few days ago. The Roman Catholic Church first knew about widespread allegations of priestly child sexual abuse three decades ago. How is it that just now, 30 years later, there is this new, seemingly massive wave of allegation? How is it that just now in the year 2018 the evidence which had to be known to Catholic officials finally caught up with the now former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick? The scandal continues, however, and it continues to expand. No doubt, there are millions of heartbroken Roman Catholics at this news. Not only heartbroken but outraged, and the outrage is right and righteous.

Furthermore, all of us should be outraged. Outraged not only that the abuse happened, but that the cover-up was so systemic. It is noteworthy, if humbling, to understand that it took an official grand jury in Pennsylvania to even get to the point of the evidence that was released in the report yesterday. One of the lessons here is that in the face of this kind of pattern, some kind of independent credible investigation is necessary in order to ascertain the truth. One of the most insightful reflections on the expanding scandal came in the Wall Street Journal by William McGurn in an article entitled: When the Cardinal Sins. The subhead: McCarrick is like the friar who helped set off the Reformation by selling indulgences.

Well, that tells us something, all the sudden in the year 2018, almost 501 years after Martin Luther nailed those 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle church, Johannes Tetzel, the man who in one sense incited it all appears in the Wall Street Journal. McGurn makes the argument that a half millennium ago it was corruption in the church that became the spark that lit the Reformation, producing Protestantism. But McGurn notes, these days that spark is likely to produce materialism or secularism, but in any event, he has a very interesting historical argument to make.

Speaking of McCarrick, McGurn writes: “In this sense the bishop may resemble the hapless Johann Tetzel, a 16th century German Dominican friar whose name has become synonymous with the corrupt sale of indulgences. Though the reality is more complicated,” he says, “a once-popular ditty captures how he is remembered: ‘As soon as a coin in the coffer rings/the soul from purgatory springs.’ To put it another way,” said McGurn, “without Tetzel as an embodiment of the Catholic Church’s corruption (and without the help of a relatively new invention called the printing press), those 95 theses Martin Luther nailed to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church might have remained an academic dispute.”

Later McGurn asked the question: So where does Archbishop McCarrick fit in? He writes: On its own, the tale is sick and tawdry and sadly familiar: A priest who molests boys becomes a bishop who takes advantage of seminarians and who then goes on to be awarded a cardinal’s hat by a hierarchy looking the other way. He concludes his article: “The Reformation left a cleavage that persists to this day. And it is foolish to think the exposure of one of America’s highest-profile prelates nearly two decades after we were told the abuse problem had been dealt with can be treated as just another case of sexual misbehavior. As Rome deals with Theodore McCarrick,” he writes, “it would do well to remember Johann Tetzel.”

Of course, one of the reasons why the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Pennsylvania, as elsewhere, was able for so long to cover up these allegations and documented cases of abuse is because after all the Roman Catholic Church is built upon a hierarchy. Explanations of the scandal and its persistence must at least deal with certain questions of Roman Catholic theology, the existence and authority of what is called canon law, the culture of seminarian and priestly life, and furthermore, the entire sacramental system and the magisterial authority claimed by the Roman Catholic Church.

Part II

Lessons from Willow Creek: What we must learn from the mishandling of sexual misconduct allegations at one of America’s largest protestant churches

But before leaving this general theme, we have to note that there has also been a humiliation to evangelical Protestantism, or at least what the media and American popular culture would identify with American evangelicalism. Just in the last several days, there has been a series of resignations at the Willow Creek community church in suburban Chicago, Illinois. Once again, the New York Times broke much of the story again on the front page of the print edition. This time, it was Monday, August 6th. The reporter was again Laurie Goodstein.

The headline of this article: A Superstar Pastor, Now Accused of Harassment. The epicenter of the scandal was not New Jersey, New York, or Washington, but suburban Chicago, where in South Barrington, Illinois the Willow Creek Church and its larger movement known as the Willow Creek Association had served its leading models of the so-called Seeker Sensitive Movement. Bill Hybels was the celebrity pastor at the center of that movement, and before long, many churches across the nation had begun to adopt both his mannerisms and the Willow Creek method.

The Seeker Sensitive Model, as it was known, came with an implicit, sometimes explicit criticism of traditional confessional Protestantism. That charge was that traditional Protestantism was wrong in beginning with the gospel and the Scripture, beginning with the truth claims of Christianity, and the essential nature of the Christian message.

The argument was that, in order to move forward in this post-Christian very modern age, the church would have to shift to beginning with lost people with unchurched people, asking them about their perceived needs, directing the church first towards the rather clear fulfillment of and recognition of those perceived needs and then suggesting that along the way more content of the gospel and the biblical Christianity could be brought in. Of course, the chief criticism of the Seeker Sensitive Movement is that it got the entire logic of the New Testament backwards, and furthermore, the documented evidence over the decades is that that infusion of greater depth and deeper gospel never happened. Willow Creek saw itself as the center of this new movement, and Bill Hybels was undeniably the organizational and charismatic center of the church.

Earlier this year, there was a highly publicized announcement that Hybels would be retiring at the end of the year, but just a few weeks after that announcement was made when there was also an announced transition to a new female senior pastor, senior minister, and then a man who would be the teaching pastor, there came the announcement that the church had been rocked by allegations of sexual abuse and harassment against Bill Hybels. More specifically, different forms of sexual harassment that had at least been known to some people on the senior team and in the elder board at the church.

Months ago, the church announced that it had undertaken through its elders an investigative process, but very quickly that investigation lost credibility. Then more recently, these new allegations emerged, very specific new allegations, and this led at least in part to the announcement, a stunning announcement made by the teaching pastor of the church just a few days ago that he was resigning because he could no longer continue in the role in good conscience, given the way the church had dealt with the allegations against Hybels.

Just a few days after that, the senior pastor and the entire elder board also announced a comprehensive resignation. Once again, shame and embarrassment and reproach came upon the name of Christ in a scandal that was broadcast all over the national media, with of course international ramifications.

Over the course of the last several months and years, spreading into decades, but particularly more recently, there have been other scandals that have come against evangelical congregations, denominations, institutions, and missions agencies. As all of these scandals demonstrate, the issue, the challenge for the church is not only upholding a clear biblical morality, a clear understanding of ministry and the ethical, the moral boundaries of the ministry, but it is also making certain there is adequate accountability and beyond that there is the immediate instinct and intuition to make public the fact that any kind of allegation of this nature is going to be investigated credibly and the truth will be dealt with, honestly.

In the case of Willow Creek, a couple of other reflections, most importantly one that is theological. Willow Creek began to define its ministry very early on, over against much of traditional evangelicalism by the advocacy of egalitarianism. The argument that women should not be barred from the pulpit and instead there should be the inclusion of women and men on equal terms in the ministry team, and that would include amongst teaching elders. Defenders of egalitarianism will no doubt protest, drawing attention to the fact that that kind of ministry team puts men and women in a very close proximate working relationship. But there’s more than that, at least some at Willow Creek openly ridiculed what was then more well known as the Billy Graham rule, the rule that had been well known given the Modesto agreement early determined in the ministry of Billy Graham that he and his team would never be alone with a woman who is not their wife or close relative.

The accusation was that that rule was outdated, and furthermore, it was unfair to women who would thus be shut out of a close working relationship with some men that would be necessary to their advancement career wise. This is the same argument we’ve heard from so many in Hollywood. It’s the same argument that was used against the sitting Vice President of the United States, Mike Pence, when it became known that he followed the same rule and it was judged by the cultural elites to be absolutely unthinkable and unworkable in modern Washington. By the way, the vice president still publicly and privately holds to that rule. There is certainly more to this story, but there is not less to the story in understanding that the allegations made in this case could not have been credible had the leadership of the church followed this rule. Obviously, very big issues to consider and to learn here.

Part III

It tells us something about human nature that human beings will gamble on just about anything, including opera

Finally, we turn to an article that recently appeared in the Wall Street Journal on a very different issue, also with a moral lesson. The article appeared just a few days ago by Reuven Brenner. It was headlined: Legal Gambling Can Be Good for Sports—and Even for Opera. Brenner who teaches at Canada’s McGill University makes the very interesting argument, it certainly got my attention, that legalizing certain forms of gambling can effectively clean up morally and ethically the underlying behavior or activity. The underlying activity in this case, if you’ve been following the headlines, is sports betting. Of course, at this point it’s sports betting related to professional sports leagues but eventually by logic extending to collegiate sports as well.

Brenner at first appears to get right to the point. He writes: “The leagues may be better off as a result.” He means of legalizing gambling. “Sports,” he writes “wouldn’t be as popular without betting. Spectators get more involved when they back their opinions with money. Many football and tennis games are boring, one-sided affairs that nonbetting fans wouldn’t bother to watch. But bettors stay and wager on the next game, the next set, so the audiences are bigger and the TV rights are worth more.” He says that some of the leagues fear corruption, but gambling even though currently illegal, is a $150 billion a year enterprise. He says, legalizing it and regulating it, taxing it, would clean it up.

After he makes that argument, and there’s an argument in which he says that currently illegal betting means that bookies who detect corruption won’t go to the police, his answer is legalize it and then regulate it, and that will clean up the underlying activity and the gambling. But he appears to take back a good bit of his argument when just a few sentences later he writes, and I quote, “Then again, legalization has its own hazards. High betting taxes,” he says, “can breed corruption. Illinois taxes casino profits at 50%, and Italy imposes an 8.5% levy on the ‘handle,’ that is all money bet rather than net profits. That,” he says, “creates an incentive for bookies to fix games, grab as much money as they can, and exit the business before the tax can be collected.”

Here’s the part of his argument that’s likely to get the attention of many government leaders: “When sports betting is illegal, neither bookies nor winners pay taxes. Leagues that succeed in sustaining the perception that games are honest get the best of both worlds, the large market and attendant broadcast revenues, without the taint of corruption.”

Later in his article, and this explains the headline, Brenner goes back to 18th and 19th century Italy where some level of gambling was allowed on operas. Don’t ask me exactly how that worked, but Brenner argues that once that experiment was over, the opera became largely dependent upon state subsidy, and in his words, since then the art form has stagnated.

Well, I’m a fan of opera, but I’m not a fan of gambling, and no one who understands the Christian biblical worldview can be, but it is incredibly interesting to see the Wall Street Journal run this opinion piece in which it is suggested quite seriously and straightforwardly that legalizing and regulating gambling will clean up the entire enterprise, or at least it has a greater chance to do so than leaving gambling illegal.

There’s something very sad about this entire argument, but even sadder is the fact that there will be no shortage of gambling industries and some in government who will seize upon this argument in order to expand gambling even further. But it also tells us something revealing about human nature and the very nature of sin that evidently human beings will gamble or wager on anything, even opera.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

For more information, go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to For information on Boyce College, just go to

I’ll be preaching tonight at Bellevue Baptist Church in suburban Memphis, Tennessee. The service is at 6:30, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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