Former cardinal Theodore McCarrick. CNS photo/Bob Roller

Glen Argan: Conscience changes world for the better

  • November 21, 2020

Rosa Parks, a poor, humble black woman, sparked the civil rights movement when she refused to relinquish her seat on a bus to a white person in Birmingham, Ala., in 1955. Moses, another introvert, was led by God to go to the Egyptian pharaoh and seek his people’s freedom. Lech Walesa, an electrician, organized illegal protests in the Gdansk, Poland, shipyard throughout the 1970s. He was arrested numerous times, fired from several jobs and placed under constant surveillance. His efforts bore fruit in the Solidarity trade union which led to the collapse of Eastern European communism.

All those people suffered rejection because they were true to consciences rooted in a desire for truth and justice.

Today, victims of clergy sexual abuse have exposed clericalism in the Catholic Church as a culture which protected perpetrators and turned a blind eye to the sufferings they caused.

While not primarily based on money, clericalism is a form of power. Material perks grow greater the further one climbs in the hierarchy. There is an in-group and numerous out-groups. Laity, women in particular, have minimal influence and are excluded from the highest levels. Scripture and Church doctrine are used to protect the power of the in-group. Canon law gives bishops and pastors control over their domains. The in-group has no accountability to outside bodies, including the lay and religious who are the overwhelming majority of Church members.

In that light, the defrocking of Theodore McCarrick, once the cardinal archbishop of Washington, D.C., and the subsequent investigation and report on the coverup of his decades of sexually abusing minors and adults is a landmark event. It has named Church officials, including Pope St. John Paul, who played a role in the coverup. Once there was no transparency; now, there is some. The report will be a precedent difficult to ignore in future scandals.

The report on McCarrick will not end clericalism. Clericalism is entrenched and has too many tendrils running through the Church for it to be easily vanquished. There is still no one, other than the Pope, to which upper-level Church officials are accountable. But something has begun.

Regarding this month’s U.S. presidential election, the most important number to know is 3.1 billion. That is the number of dollars spent by the organizations trying to elect Joe Biden and Donald Trump.

Most of the money was spent in a small number of states. Vast amounts were poured into the few states where the eventual winner was in doubt until or even after election day.

While millions of voters contributed financially, the bulk of the money came from a relatively small number of donors — individuals and corporations — who possess great wealth. Their wealth gives them an outsized ability to fund and influence political power. The richest one per cent of the American population control $30 trillion of assets while the poorest 50 per cent have more debts than assets.

The story of the election is not one dimensional. Another factor were whistle-blowers in the Trump administration, people who put their jobs and reputations on the line to expose injustices.

Ordinary people do have the ability to influence the conglomerations of power. What they have is the power to shame. Telling the truth amidst a sea of lies or witnessing to an injustice which most fail to admit exists can shame the powerful. Mass movements may emerge to work for truth and justice.

Thousands of victims of clergy sexual abuse have been irreparably harmed. This is a source of shame to the Church, especially those with oversight. This scandal has no rosy side. But the power of conscience which relies on knowledge of justice and truth cannot be eradicated. It is the only human power which endures.

As ordinary people, we should know that our consciences can change the world for the better. Conscience has power which far outstrips those of money or self-serving establishments.

(Argan is co-facilitating an Advent retreat available on Zoom on the evenings of Dec. 10 and 17. Register at

Comments (0)

There are no comments posted here yet

Leave your comments

  1. Posting comment as a guest. Sign up or login to your account.
Attachments (0 / 3)
Share Your Location

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible, which has become acutely important amid the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.