Vatican faults many for McCarrick’s rise but spares Pope as report released

Theodore McCarrick
Theodore McCarrick (AP)
14:33pm, Tue 10 Nov 2020
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A Vatican investigation into ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick has found that a series of bishops, cardinals and popes downplayed or dismissed reports that he slept with seminarians.

The investigation also determined that Pope Francis merely continued his predecessors’ handling of McCarrick until a former altar boy alleged abuse.

The Vatican took the extraordinary step on Tuesday of publishing its two-year, 400-plus-page internal investigation into the American prelate’s rise and fall in a bid to restore credibility to the US and Vatican hierarchies, which have been shattered by the McCarrick scandal.

Francis defrocked McCarrick, 90, in February 2019 after a Vatican investigation determined he sexually abused minors as well as adults.

The Vatican had reports from figures dating back to 1999 that McCarrick’s behaviour was problematic, yet he continued to rise to become an influential cardinal, kingmaker and emissary of the Holy See’s “soft diplomacy”.

Ahead of the report’s publication, the Vatican provided journalists with an introduction and executive summary of it, which put the lion’s share of blame on the late Pope John Paul II.

Pope Francis and Theodore McCarrick (AP)

John Paul appointed McCarrick archbishop of Washington DC in 2000 despite having commissioned an inquiry that found he slept with seminarians. The summary says John Paul believed McCarrick’s last-ditch, handwritten denial.

The findings accused bishops dead and alive of providing the Vatican with incomplete information about McCarrick’s alleged behaviour, and of turning a blind eye to his flouting of informal restrictions ordered up in 2006 after Pope Benedict XVI decided not to investigate or sanction him seriously.

Most significantly, the findings largely gave Francis a pass, saying he never lifted or modified those restrictions, never named McCarrick a “diplomatic agent” for the Holy See and never received any documentation about McCarrick before 2017.

“Pope Francis had heard only that there had been allegations and rumours related to immoral conduct with adults occurring prior to McCarrick’s appointment to Washington,” the summary says. “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.”

Francis changed course after a former altar boy came forward in 2017 alleging that McCarrick groped him when he was a teenager during preparations for Christmas Mass in 1971 and 1972 in New York.

The allegation was the first solid claim against McCarrick involving a minor and triggered the canonical trial that resulted in his defrocking.

John Paul II and Theodore McCarrick (AP)

James Grein, whose testimony that McCarrick abused him for two decades starting when he was 11 was key to McCarrick’s downfall in the church, said he was pleased the report was finally being released.

He said he was hopeful it would bring some relief as well as a chance to “clean” up the church.

“There are so many people suffering out there because of one man,” Grein said. “And he thinks that he’s more important than the rest of us. He’s destroyed me and he’s destroyed thousands of other lives. …It’s time that the Catholic Church comes clean with all of its destruction.”

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state whose office prepared the report, said it will have an impact going forward, especially on how bishops are selected.

“Reading the document will show that all procedures, including the appointment of bishops, depend on the commitment and honesty of the people concerned,” he said. “(It will make) all those involved in such choices more aware of the weight of their decisions or omissions.”

The report drew on documents from five Vatican departments, four US dioceses, two US seminaries and the Vatican’s US embassy, while investigators interviewed 90 people.

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