Two years in the making, the Vatican’s exhaustive report on Theodore E. McCarrick’s rise in the Church hierarchy despite allegations of sexual misconduct is disturbing reading.
The 90-year-old McCarrick, ordained a priest in New York in 1958, climbed the Church ladder to become an auxiliary bishop here, a diocesan bishop in Metuchen, the archbishop of Newark and, finally, was elevated to cardinal after his 2000 appointment as archbishop of Washington, D.C., one of the most prestigious sees in the United States.
Pope Francis, who dismissed McCarrick from the clerical state in 2019, ordered the 450-page report released Nov. 10.
It details how Church officials seemingly were unable for decades to substantiate rumors about McCarrick’s behavior with seminarians and other adult males, and that they did not know until recently that his misconduct also extended to young people.
And the personable—and manipulative—McCarrick strenuously denied any such allegations, including in a letter to Pope John Paul II. The pope, now St. John Paul II, apparently believed the denials and also relied on the strong recommendations of some of his top advisers that McCarrick get the D.C. post.
Neither Pope Benedict XVI, who succeeded John Paul II, nor Pope Francis were immediately convinced of McCarrick’s conduct either— although the drumbeat of stories was getting louder and his duties were scaled back.
Eventually, a man contacted the New York Archdiocese’s Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program to report that McCarrick, while a New York priest, had abused him when he was a 16-year-old altar boy in Manhattan.
Cardinal Dolan, we’re proud to say, immediately contacted the Vatican and received word back from Pope Francis to treat the allegation as he would any other allegation about a member of the clergy—leading to the 2018 investigation that resulted in McCarrick’s dismissal from the clerical state.
We’re also proud of our former archbishop, Cardinal John O’Connor who, during his terminal illness in 1999, wrote a strongly worded letter to the Vatican outlining the allegations that had swirled around McCarrick for years and urging that he not be appointed to any major posts—including Archbishop of New York.
Cardinal O’Connor’s was a lonely voice, however. Over the years, a number of bishops, priests and others who served with McCarrick were questioned about his fitness for appointment to high Church positions and none apparently reported knowledge of wrongdoing or even inappropriate behavior. Possibly, they were reluctant to pass along what they believed to be rumors and misinformation, and it’s not clear whether there were any direct complaints on file from victims or witnesses.
It’s also true that patterns of sexual abuse and misconduct were not addressed openly in the Church, nor in society at large, until the last 20 years or so.
But those days, we hope, are gone forever.
We now know that schools and civic organizations, notably the Boy Scouts, have also failed to recognize and confront this evil and now are struggling to make amends while trying to move toward openness and accountability going forward.
In the Catholic Church, we’ve already made huge strides in that direction, starting with the U.S. bishops’ approval and implementation of the comprehensive Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, first adopted in 2002 and revised and updated three times since then.
The charter sets forth a series of provisions aimed at identifying and protecting against abuse and it mandates creation of three permanent committees and boards to monitor compliance with its policies.
Last year, in the wake of the McCarrick situation, Pope Francis issued his “Vos Estis Lux Mundi” document promoting bishops’ accountability and setting out procedures for handling accusations of abuse against bishops.
We’re counting on the letter and spirit of the bishops’ charter and the pope’s document to continue.
We also join those who are praying that the journey toward healing in the Church will continue.