In August 2018, during a difficult visit to Ireland, Pope Francis faced one of the lowest points of his pontificate. The trip came at the end of what had by then become known as the “summer of shame,” as a new wave of the sexual abuse crisis rocked the Catholic world.
On Tuesday, Nov. 10, the Holy See will release a long-awaited report on the investigation into one of the figures at the center of that crisis, the now-disgraced former U.S. Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick.
The report’s release comes days before the U.S. bishops gather virtually on Nov. 16 and 17 for their annual autumn meeting.
“On Tuesday, 10th November 2020, at 2 p.m. (Rome time), the Holy See will publish the report on the Holy See’s institutional knowledge and decision-making process related to former Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick (from 1930 to 2017), prepared by the Secretariat of State by mandate of the Pope,” Vatican officials said.
On Tuesday, Nov. 10, the Holy See will release a long-awaited report on the investigation into the now-disgraced former U.S. Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick.
In June 2018, a review board of the Archdiocese of New York found credible accusations that then-Cardinal McCarrick had sexually abused a 16-year-old altar boy in the 1970s. Soon after, whistleblowers and survivors went public with stories of Mr. McCarrick (who was laicized by Pope Francis in February 2019) sexually abusing young boys, including the first child he baptized, and forcing seminarians who had been invited to his beach house in New Jersey to share his bed.
The revelations came as a shock to the U.S. church. Mr. McCarrick had been a respected American prelate: amiable, charismatic and an effective fundraiser. (Full disclosure: Cardinal McCarrick was a longtime friend of this magazine and delivered the homily at our centennial celebration in 2009.) After the abuse allegations were found credible in June, he was removed from public ministry; the next month, as more stories emerged, he became the first person asked to resign from the College of Cardinals over sexual abuse allegations.
Compounding that sense of shock, in July a Pennsylvania grand jury released a 1,400-page report detailing 70 years of clerical sexual abuse in that state. Among the more harrowing details included in the report was a description of pedophile priests marking children for abuse by giving them gold crosses to wear.
In the early hours of the morning on Pope Francis’ last day in Ireland, a bombshell letter was published in several American news outlets known for being critical of Pope Francis. The letter, penned by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the former papal ambassador to the United States, with help from the Italian journalist and Francis critic Marco Tosatti, accused a number of high-ranking Vatican officials, including the pope, of knowing about Mr. McCarrick’s abuse of seminarians and choosing to ignore it.
Archbishop Viganò claimed that Pope Benedict XVI had placed punitive sanctions on Mr. McCarrick in 2009 or 2010 after learning about his misconduct. According to the sanctions, the former nuncio wrote, Mr. McCarrick would be required to move out of the seminary where he was living and could no longer celebrate public Masses or participate in public events. Instead, he would be relegated to “a life of prayer and penance.”
Archbishop Viganò wrote that Mr. McCarrick told him he had met with the pope and would soon travel to China. Archbishop Viganò interpreted this to mean that Pope Francis had either lifted or chosen to ignore Pope Benedict’s sanctions. Archbishop Viganò said that he warned Pope Francis about Mr. McCarrick two days later in an informal meeting but that the pope did not appear to take action against Mr. McCarrick until the news emerged that he had abused a minor.
The archbishop called for Francis to resign.
On his return flight from Ireland the day the letter was published, Pope Francis demurred from commenting on the accusations, telling reporters, “Read the statement carefully and make your own judgment.... I will not say a single word on this.”
Many of Archbishop Viganò’s claims have already been cast into doubt by reporters. For example, Mr. McCarrick kept up a well-documented public schedule of travel and high-profile events during the years he was allegedly sanctioned, meaning that the sanctions either never existed in the way that Archbishop Viganò described them or that officials, including Pope Benedict XVI and Archbishop Viganò himself, ignored them. Additionally, Mr. McCarrick moved out of the seminary a year before Archbishop Viganò claimed he was ordered to.
In October 2018, on the pope’s orders, the Vatican began an investigation into the rise of Cardinal McCarrick.
In October 2018, on the pope’s orders, the Vatican began an investigation into the rise of Cardinal McCarrick, which was expected to address Archbishop Viganò’s accusations and serve as the Vatican’s final response to the archbishop. (The archbishop, for his part, has been “in hiding” since publishing the letter, living in an undisclosed location and regularly publishing conspiracy-laden missives in news outlets that are sympathetic to him.)
The report is rumored to be several hundred pages long. An excerpt will be given to reporters an hour before the official publication time.
Several questions raised in the wake of Archbishop Viganò’s letter remain unanswered and are expected to be covered in the report.
The most important question is who knew how much about former Cardinal McCarrick’s sexual abuse of children and seminarians? Some documented complaints have already been published, including those that were made at the diocesan level, to the pope’s ambassador in Washington, D.C., and to Pope Benedict XVI. But this report is expected to paint a fuller picture of how deep the knowledge about Mr. McCarrick’s misconduct was in the Vatican. Archbishop Viganò named almost 20 bishops who, he said, likely knew about Mr. McCarrick’s abuse and covered it up.
It remains unknown how much Pope Francis knew about McCarrick in the five years between Francis’ election as pope and his removing the former cardinal from ministry.
The next logical question to ask is whether anyone who knew about Mr. McCarrick’s behavior was involved in decisions about promoting him and whether they might face punishment.
Finally, there remains the question of how much Pope Francis knew about the case of former Cardinal McCarrick. Archbishop Viganò claims he told the pope about Mr. McCarrick’s abuse of seminarians and that the pope chose to lift sanctions on then-Cardinal McCarrick anyway. The specifics of the sanctions remain unknown for now, but it is true that Mr. McCarrick kept up a schedule of high-profile appearances under both Benedict XVI and Francis until Francis removed Mr. McCarrick from ministry after he was credibly accused of abusing a minor. Francis also later accepted Mr. McCarrick’s resignation from the College of Cardinals and removed him from the priesthood.
But it remains unknown how much Pope Francis knew about Mr. McCarrick in the five years between Francis’ election as pope and his removing Mr. McCarrick from ministry.
Material from Catholic News Service was used in this report.
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