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Clerical Dishonesty is Not Pretty

I was born in 1977 to young parents, and I grew up in a house full of vinyl albums from the preceding two decades and a box full of cassettes. When I wasn’t listening to the Beatles’ Greatest Hits or Chicago or the Doobie Brothers, I was practically memorizing the comedy routines of Bill Cosby or Steve Martin.

On his album, Comedy is Not Pretty, a young Martin has an absurd standup bit called “You can be a millionaire and never pay taxes.” You can listen to it here:

For those who can’t listen, the bit goes like this:

You can be a millionaire…and never pay taxes!

You can have one million dollars…and never pay taxes!

You say, “Steve, how can I be a millionaire and never pay taxes?”

First: get a million dollars.

Now…you say, “Steve, what do I say to the tax man when he comes to my door and says, ‘You…have never paid taxes’?”

Two simple words. Two simple words in the English language: “I forgot.”

How many times do we let ourselves get into terrible situations because we don’t say “I forgot”? Let’s say you’re on trial for armed robbery. You say to the judge, “I forgot armed robbery was illegal.”

So why am I talking about this little bit of comedic nostalgia?

Because it was all I could think of when I read this headline from Michelle Boorstein’s Washington Post article on Cardinal Wuerl’s now-shattered pretense that he didn’t know about allegations that McCarrick was harassing and/or abusing seminarians:

Cardinal Wuerl apologizes to priests, McCarrick victim, says he forgot he knew about harassment allegations

Yeah. He went there. Here’s more:

D.C.’s embattled Catholic leader, Donald Wuerl, under fire in recent days for untruthful statements regarding what he knew about the alleged sexual misconduct of his predecessor, Theodore McCarrick, apologized late Tuesday, saying he forgot he knew about the allegations and that it was “never the intention to provide false information.”

Wuerl apologized to former priest Robert Ciolek in the evening and then sent a letter to the priests of the archdiocese, where Wuerl is the acting administrator. Pope Francis received Wuerl’s retirement as archbishop earlier than expected last fall as the cardinal was being pummeled by criticism over his handling of abuse cases when he was the Pittsburgh bishop, and also by suspicions that he was not being fully honest about what he knew of the McCarrick scandal.

In the letter, Wuerl said he forgot he was told in 2004 about Ciolek’s complaint against McCarrick. Wuerl in 2004 then took the complaint to the Vatican.

The ex-priest, in testimony then to the Pittsburgh Diocese’s Review Board, had said McCarrick pressured seminarians to sleep in double beds with him, requested and gave the subordinate unwanted back rubs and caused Ciolek trauma because he knew that Ciolek had been abused by clergy as a teen.

When Ciolek first went public last week with evidence that Wuerl had been untruthful since the scandal erupted last summer, Wuerl’s office issued a statement saying he had only been trying to protect Ciolek’s confidentiality. Then in a Saturday letter to the archdiocese’s priests, Wuerl repeated his claim that he was protecting confidentiality and said he had denied knowledge only as it pertained to allegations that McCarrick had abused children.

In the Tuesday night letter, Wuerl repeated versions of those defenses but said it didn’t matter.

When Steve Martin suggested saying “I forgot” as a way of getting out of trouble, it was part of an entire comedy routine filled with surreal, ridiculous humor. It was the kind of thing that was so stupid, you couldn’t help but laugh.

Wuerl, on the other hand, is demonstrating the kind of stupidity that isn’t very funny anymore.

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