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Summary of Vatican’s report on former cardinal McCarrick


World Economic Forum ( Photo by Andy Mettler - (CC-BY-SA-2.0)

Kathleen N. Hattrup - published on 11/10/20

From Paul VI to Pope Francis, it's seen that investigations were incomplete, and that McCarrick's oaths of innocence were trusted.

The Vatican has on November 10 released the much-anticipated report on ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, looking into what factors enabled McCarrick to progress through various posts in the Church up to becoming the cardinal-archbishop of the nation’s capital, despite what has come to light about his history of abuse.

Below, we give a 10-point summary of the findings of the report. But first, here is a biographical sketch of McCarrick’s time in Church leadership.

Theodore McCarrick was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of New York in 1958. The first allegations about abuse, which became public in 2018, date back to his time as a priest.

As a priest, he worked at The Catholic University of America, the Catholic University of Puerto Rico, and in New York, including as secretary to Cardinal Terence Cooke from 1971 to 1977.

He became an auxiliary bishop of New York in 1977.

In 1981, he became bishop of Metuchen, New Jersey and five years later, archbishop of Newark, New Jersey. In 2001, he was made a cardinal and became archbishop of Washington. He retired from that post five years later as he had turned 75, which is the customary retirement age for bishops.

The initial reports of sexual abuse of a minor came out in New York in 2017; in June of 2018 he was suspended from ministry when the Archdiocese of New York said it had found the allegations credible, and the following month he resigned from the College of Cardinals. In February 2019, a canonical process found him guilty of sexual misconduct and he was laicized. You can see further background details here.

Preliminary ideas

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the pope’s Secretary of State, released a video introduction of the report, noting that it is “substantial text,” (it’s 447 pages) and making an invitation to “read the entire document and not to be misled into  believing that the truth can be found in one part rather than another. Only from the overall view and  knowledge, in its entirety, of what was reconstructed of the decision-making processes that  concerned the former Cardinal McCarrick, will it be possible to understand what happened.”

Cardinal Parolin also stressed that during the two-year span of the investigation that led to this report, there have been “significant steps forward to ensure greater attention to the protection of minors and more effective interventions to avoid that certain decisions made in the past be repeated.”

He listed the Motu proprio Vos estis lux mundi as well as instruments created following the February 2019 meeting on the  protection of minors. 

Noting the great pain of the situation, the cardinal also added, “These are pages that encourage us to reflect deeply and ask ourselves what more we can do in the future, learning from the painful experiences  of the past.”

The Vatican’s report

The report begins with a 12-page executive summary, which considers the decisions made by the pontiffs from Pope Paul VI up to Pope Francis.

The first appointment to the episcopate – in 1977 – was made by Pope Paul VI:

Most informants consulted during the nomination process strongly recommended McCarrick for elevation to the episcopate. No one reported having witnessed or heard of McCarrick engaging in any improper behavior, either with adults or minors.

There was a similarly positive evaluation of McCarrick that led to his appointments in New Jersey, and then, in 2000, when he was moved to Washington, DC, and named a cardinal, “The evidence shows that Pope John Paul II personally made the decision to appoint McCarrick and did so after receiving the counsel of several trusted advisors on both sides of the Atlantic.”

At this point there were already allegations known, which the report divides into four sections: two regarding hid bed-sharing, another regarding anonymous letters that the nuncio had received, and a fourth, regarding allegations made by a priest, referred to as “Priest 1.”

Information regarding McCarrick’s conduct led to the conclusion that it would be imprudent to transfer him from Newark to another See on three occasions, namely Chicago (in 1997), New York (1999/2000) and, initially, Washington (July 2000).14 However, Pope John Paul II seems to have changed his mind in August/September 2000, ultimately leading to his decision to appoint McCarrick to Washington in November 2000

Why did John Paul II change his mind?

The report shows that of four bishops in the United States who were consulted about McCarrick, “three of the four American bishops provided inaccurate and incomplete information to the Holy See regarding McCarrick’s sexual conduct.” As well, McCarrick wrote a letter to Bishop Dziwisz, John Paul II’s personal secretary, claiming his innocence, and at this point, the Holy See had never heard a complaint directly from a victim. “Priest 1, the only individual at the time to claim sexual misconduct by McCarrick, was treated as an unreliable informant, in part because he himself had previously abused two teenage boys.”

As well, the report notes that McCarrick was skilled at handling delicate situations, such as in Yugoslavia, and that John Paul II had direct contact with him. It also adds:

Though there is no direct evidence, it appears likely from the information obtained that John Paul II’s past experience in Poland regarding the use of spurious allegations against bishops to degrade the standing of the Church played a role in his willingness to believe McCarrick’s denials.

When Benedict XVI began in 2005, the first months were a continuation as before. However,

Based upon new details related to Priest 1’s allegations, the Holy See reversed course in late 2005 and urgently sought a successor for the Archbishopric of Washington, requesting that McCarrick “spontaneously” withdraw as Archbishop after Easter 2006.

Over the next two years, Holy See officials wrestled with how to address issues regarding Cardinal McCarrick.

At this point, allegations remained unproven. Archbishop Viganò, who was serving at this time in the Vatican secretariat of state, noted that a canonical process could be undertaken. But,

Ultimately, the path of a canonical process to resolve factual issues and possibly prescribe canonical penalties was not taken. Instead, the decision was made to appeal to McCarrick’s conscience and ecclesial spirit by indicating to him that he should maintain a lower profile and minimize travel for the good of the Church. […]

A number of factors appear to have played a role in Pope Benedict XVI’s declination to initiate a formal canonical proceeding: there were no credible allegations of child abuse; McCarrick swore on his “oath as a bishop” that the allegations were false; the allegations of misconduct with adults related to events in the 1980s; and there was no indication of any recent misconduct.

After mid-2009, the report indicates that Pope Benedict was no longer kept apprised of the McCarrick situation, given that the nuncios to the United States – Sambi and then Viganò from late 2011 – were the main point of contact with him.

A new development came toward the end of Benedict’s papacy:

Towards the end of the papacy of Benedict XVI, Priest 3, another priest of Metuchen, informed Nuncio Viganò of Priest 3’s lawsuit alleging that overt sexual conduct between him and McCarrick had occurred in 1991.

Viganò wrote to Cardinal Ouellet, the new Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, about this in 2012 and Ouellet instructed Viganò to take certain steps, including an inquiry with specific diocesan officials and Priest 3, to determine if the allegations were credible.

Viganò did not take these steps and therefore never placed himself in the position to ascertain the credibility of Priest 3. McCarrick continued to remain active, traveling nationally and internationally.

When Pope Francis took over, McCarrick was already decreasing his activity due to advanced age, though he did continue to travel and maintain other activities.

On a few occasions, McCarrick’s continued activities, and the existence of prior indications, were raised with Pope Francis by Substitute Becciu and Secretary of State Parolin. Nuncio Viganò first claimed in 2018 that he mentioned McCarrick in meetings with the Holy Father in June and October 2013, but no records support Viganò’s account and evidence as to what he said is sharply disputed.

The Report indicates that Pope Francis was never given any documentation about McCarrick until 2017, and, “Believing that the allegations had already been reviewed and rejected by Pope John Paul II, and well aware that McCarrick was active during the papacy of Benedict XVI, Pope Francis did not see the need to alter the approach that had been adopted in prior years.”

In June 2017 is when the Archdiocese of New York received its first accusation of misconduct with a minor, which occurred in the early 1970s, and found them credible.

From this point, McCarrick was asked to resign from the College of Cardinals and this led to the process that eventually led to his laicization.

This information concludes the “executive summary” which is Section 1 of the more than 400-page report. The full report can be found here.

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