The Vatican released a damning report this afternoon about discredited American Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. The once very influential Archbishop of Washington was fired by Pope Francis last year after revealing that he had widely abused men and boys.
There had long been very serious indications that ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was guilty of sexually assaulting seminarians, but these have been swept under the rug by the Vatican for years. Insofar as it was not about deliberately covering up bad things, the new report shows great naivety among the current Pope, among others. Until 2017, there was no hard evidence that McCarrick was guilty of sexual abuse, it sounds.
The Vatican took the very unusual step of opening the door after a two-year investigation. In 400 pages, the rise and fall of the fired American Cardinal are revealed.
The McCarrick scandal was all the more painful for the Catholic Church because there is evidence that Vatican and American Church leaders knew about the Cardinal’s fondness for seminarians. Many were concerned, but everyone fell silent once he reached the top spot and brought in millions of dollars as a successful fundraiser for the Church.
McCarrick also had the confidence of three consecutive popes. For example, former Pope John Paul II knew about the string of abuse allegations before the American was elevated to Cardinal, the report says. In an appendix, the Vatican communications chief acknowledges that McCarrick was able to advance in the church ranks as a result of, among other things, “underestimations and choices that later turned out to be wrong”.
When the scandal came to light, the current Pope Francis decided that there would be much more radical investigations into the sexual misconduct of bishops from now on. The Pope hoped to end decades of impunity for sometimes the highest Catholic leaders.
As bishop, McCarrick was supreme, and he abused that power in his hierarchical relationships with seminarians. Those who refused to respond to their sexual advances or reported their misconduct could draw a line under their priestly calling.
The first revelations about the case hit like a bomb. That came after allegations made by a former acolyte who said McCarrick stroked him when he was a teenager while preparing for Christmas services in 1971 and 1972. Immediately afterward, two New Jersey dioceses, where McCarrick had previously worked, revealed that three charges of adults had been bought off by the Church.
Next came the revelations of James Grein (11 at the time), who had been abused by McCarrick. Other former seminarians opened a cesspool about “Uncle Ted,” as McCarrick liked to call himself. They had been forced to sleep at his house by the bishop.
McCarrick, now 90, was fired last year after the Vatican had already determined that he had sexually assaulted both adults and children. The former bishop accepted the Pope’s sanctions but said he did not recall any of the charges.
“While I have absolutely no recollection of this reported abuse and believe in my innocence, I regret the pain endured by the person who filed the charges,” McCarrick said in a statement in 2018. In an email, McCarrick stated to the Vatican in 2008 that he could not be blamed for sexual misconduct but “an unfortunate lack of judgment” for having shared bed with seminarians.
The report does not address the “internal culture” that allowed McCarrick’s behavior to continue unchecked for so long. Catholic cardinals and bishops have long been regarded as untouchable and reproachable. Claims of homosexual misconduct have been interpreted as attempts to discredit or blackmail prelates. They were often dismissed as rumors.
Pope Francis ordered the report after retired Vatican Ambassador to the US, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, made a thrilling revelation of the two-decade-long ‘McCarrick cover-up’. He named twenty American and Vatican officials who knew about it.
Vigano quoted former seminarians who described the harassment and mistreatment they endured while “Uncle Ted” was their bishop in New Jersey. On weekend trips, they were required to come to his beach house and sleep in his bed.