Inside the VaticanNovember 10, 2020
Then-Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington faces the press in the shadow of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican April 24, 2002. (CNS photo/Paolo Cocco, Reuters)

The Vatican has finally released its report on former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, a notorious abuser and the church’s highest-ranking prelate ever to resign over sexual abuse. 

Tomorrow on the “Inside the Vatican” podcast, America’s Vatican correspondent Gerard O’Connell and Colleen Dulle will have a deep dive into the report. Until then, here are some of the need-to-know details of this 445-page report. These come from the report’s executive summary.

First, according to the report, the Vatican did not receive any documented complaints about McCarrick’s abuse of minors or seminarians until 2000, when Pope John Paul II was considering promoting McCarrick to be archbishop and then cardinal of Washington, D.C. 

At that point, the Vatican received a series of complaints that were summarized in a letter from the archbishop of New York that was passed along to John Paul II. There was an allegation that McCarrick had abused minors, but the Vatican ignored it because it was made anonymously. They also received complaints about McCarrick abusing seminarians—which were ignored because they were made by a priest who himself had a record of sexual abuse, who was deemed unreliable. Finally, there was a complaint about McCarrick sharing a bed with seminarians. John Paul II sent four New Jersey bishops to investigate that, and three came back with incomplete or misleading reports that led the pope to think there was no evidence of sexual abuse.

All that, plus John Paul II’s friendship with McCarrick, led him to believe McCarrick was telling the truth when he denied the allegations. So the pope went ahead with the promotion.

Second, Pope Benedict (who was elected in 2005), according to the report, had heard about McCarrick sleeping with adult seminarians but assumed that any allegations had been vetted by John Paul II. He did not take any action until 2005, when more details emerged from a previous case about McCarrick sexually abusing seminarians. At that point, he advised McCarrick to retire after Easter 2006, which he did, and to lay low and travel less, which he didn’t do.

Next, when Francis became pope, he heard McCarrick had been told to lay low but, according to the report, didn’t know about McCarrick’s misconduct. He assumed that all the traveling McCarrick was doing was in line with Benedict’s instructions, and so he didn’t take any action against McCarrick until 2018, when a New York diocesan investigation found allegations that McCarrick had abused an altar boy credible. At that point, he removed McCarrick from ministry and later from the College of Cardinals and the priesthood.

All in all, the report seems to vindicate Francis and undermine Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, whose incendiary letter sparked the Vatican’s investigation into McCarrick.

Check back tomorrow for more on the key takeaways from the report and the questions that still remain.

[Read this next: Vatican report tracks McCarrick’s rise despite allegations of abuse and misconduct]

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