McCarrick's Approachability, Civility Translated Into Popularity

By Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick's five-year tenure as archbishop of Washington was marked by prolific fundraising, a heightened profile overseas and a tone of civility often absent now in the realm of religion, experts and laypeople said yesterday.

They described the 75-year-old McCarrick, whose retirement was made official yesterday by the Vatican, as an unusually approachable leader, able to keep the archdiocese united through debates about immigration, clergy sexual abuse, school vouchers and the question of whether Catholic politicians who support abortion rights should be able to receive Communion.

"He was exceptionally well-suited to the diocese at a time of change," said John Kenneth White, a politics professor at Catholic University, who also noted McCarrick's outreach to the growing ethnic communities in the archdiocese, particularly Hispanics. "Our country is so deeply divided, and that includes the Catholic laity. And here was someone, in a time of scandal, that no matter which side they were on [they] could look up to and admire."

McCarrick, who will stay on until the June 22 handover to Archbishop-Designate Donald W. Wuerl, was known for his interest in foreign affairs and traveled frequently to such places as China and Central America. He also met with White House officials far more often than did his predecessor, the late Cardinal James A. Hickey, including a dinner he hosted for President Bush in January 2001, soon after McCarrick and Bush arrived in Washington.

"He had that Irish uncle personality. He was enormously popular," said George Weigel, a prominent Catholic theologian who did not agree with McCarrick's position allowing Communion for Catholic politicians who support abortion rights.

McCarrick led a three-year, $185 million archdiocese fundraising campaign at a time when many Catholics reported giving less to their parish and diocese because of the sexual abuse scandal. The campaign's success reflects that McCarrick "stands head and shoulders in a unique class when it comes to leaders in the church who are able to raise money," said Mike Meneer, spokesman for Catholic Community Services, the major social justice arm of the archdiocese.

The focus on the needy, including immigrants and the homeless, was a continuation of the work of Hickey, who served the archdiocese for 20 years and set up the region's most extensive nongovernmental network of social services.

Hickey was known for being shy, but McCarrick has been a media-friendly, sprightly personality.

"He was like the pizza man-- he was just as happy sitting there eating a pizza and talking to people as anything," said the Rev. Monsignor W. Louis Quinn, who has served under several Washington archbishops in his clergy career. He is currently assigned to Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Bethesda, where McCarrick had been scheduled to give Mass yesterday -- until the Vatican called.

His frequent public appearances gave energy to people such as Sister Cathy McConnell, head of the Hispanic ministry at St. Camillus Church in Silver Spring, where 100 nationalities are represented.

"You look to your spiritual leader to give you the green light, and he gave us all the security to go forward, that our evangelizing [to ethnic communities] was going in the right direction," she said yesterday at the church. "He managed to ask for and receive funds from people at a time when [Catholics] are thinking twice. They didn't withhold because he didn't withhold."

McCarrick also poured resources into recruiting men to the priesthood. On May 27, he will ordain 12 priests -- the largest class in Washington since the 1970s.

McCarrick, who before coming to Washington served as archbishop of Newark for 14 years, said he will divide his time after June between his home state of New Jersey and the Washington area, where he will continue to serve in the College of Cardinals and on the board of Catholic Relief Services.

Staff writers Alan Cooperman and Caryle Murphy contributed to this report.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company