The McCarrick Report: Four villains, one saint, and many unanswered questions

The Report is helpful in some ways but sins by omission in many other ways. Its general thrust and principal purpose, however, is clear and that is to declare Pope Francis blameless throughout.

Then-Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick waves to fellow bishops as he attends a prayer service with Pope Francis and more than 300 U.S. bishops at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington Sept. 23, 2015. The first day of the virtual fall assembly of the U.S. Catholic bishops, Nov. 16, 2020, included discussion about the Vatican report on Theodore McCarrick, the ongoing pandemic and the church’s response to racism. (CNS photo/Jonathan Newton, The Washington Post, pool)

Unconfirmed stories a couple of months ago indicated that the long-awaited “McCarrick Report” ran to 600 pages; as it turns out, the final count of the English text is 449. Some very thoughtful Vatican person provided the media with a fourteen-page summary. I wish to be even more gracious and offer our readers a two-sentence summary: There are four villains and one saint. The villains are: Karol Wojtyla, Stanislaus Dziwisz, Joseph Ratzinger, and Carlo Maria Viganò; the saint is Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

The document, in spite of its legal structure, reads like a novel; in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone is already planning a film! The overall length and the 1410 footnotes would lead one to conclude that it is comprehensive and fully transparent. A closer reading argues against such an interpretation. Let’s explore this a bit more.

It is clear to any fair-minded person that Theodore McCarrick – regardless of his guilt or innocence – was used by Pope Francis as his personal “trophy” to wave before the bishops attending the Vatican summit on sex abuse in February 2018: “The laicization of McCarrick is proof that I (Francis) am serious about this issue.” However, is that what the McCarrick Report reveals?

The testimonies of at least one of the mothers and one of the priests are simply weird and hardly credible by any standard. Is that why they were given such play in the Report? To suggest (subtly) that many would-be witnesses to McCarrick’s abuse were not the most convincing, thus exonerating authorities for their lack of action? I would not be opposed to such a suggestion, by the way. That said, with all the play given to testimonies, why are we not privy to McCarrick’s testimony before the tribunal in the Archdiocese of New York?

The alleged basis for McCarrick’s laicization was abuse of minors (and solicitation during the administration of the Sacrament of Penance). Why are those testimonies not included, especially since those two accusers have been very public with their stories? Is it because those stories are not, in fact, very credible (as many psychologists and law enforcement personnel have indicated)? McCarrick’s modus operandi did not gravitate toward kids; his interest was in young men. The solicitation accusation is bizarre on the very face of it; if McCarrick had such ready access to would-be victims, why would he need to prostitute the Sacrament of Penance? One of the priests alleging abuse says that he witnessed McCarrick and another priest engaged in sexual activity and that they then went to confession to each other (thus incurring an automatic excommunication), with McCarrick joking to the supposed onlooker that someday he might get to hear a bishop’s confession! Bizarre beyond imagining.

The document gives great weight to psychotherapist Richard Sipe, an ex-priest and monk. This is strange indeed as Sipe was virulently anti-clerical and an inveterate opponent of priestly celibacy. I had the unfortunate task of having to rebut his wild assertions on the priesthood on CNN’s Larry King Show more than two decades ago.

The Report also states that McCarrick’s mother died when he was twenty. This is not possible since then-Auxiliary Bishop of New York, Terence Cooke, presided at Mrs. McCarrick’s funeral (Cooke was not a bishop until 1965, thus putting McCarrick himself at least at the age of 35).

The Report never alludes to McCarrick’s years at The Catholic University of America in Washington or to his time as President of the Catholic University of Puerto Rico. Is that because investigations turned up nothing untoward? If so, that should have been said. If, on the other hand, those two venues were not taken into consideration, that is a major oversight.

While the Report does mention that McCarrick was responsible for delivering the 2004 judgment of Cardinal Ratzinger to the American bishops on dealing with the phenomenon of pro-abortion Catholic politicians, it neglects to note that McCarrick’s oral presentation to the bishops deleted the paragraph which cited canon 915 on the inadmissibility of such persons to Holy Communion.1 That was surely one of the primary reasons why Ratzinger as Benedict XVI took more seriously accusations against McCarrick’s character.2

Papa Bergoglio has consistently pled ignorance to McCarrick’s alleged dalliances. That flies in the face of the evidence. Viganò claims he discussed this issue with the Pope on at least two occasions (and, in one of Francis’ infamous interviews, he admitted to a possible fleeting recollection); Archbishop Giovanni Becciu (whatever his other deficiencies may be) testified (in his then-role as sostituto) that he informed Bergoglio twice (the Pope admits to one such conversation). The Report defends Francis’ non-action in this regard by indicating that June 2013 was a very busy month for Bergoglio! Cardinal Pietro Parolin (Secretary of State) attests to Viganò’s correspondence with him in 2014 about McCarrick and to his own discussion of the case with Francis in 2016 (the Pope says he doesn’t remember that but would “defer” to the recall of Parolin). Further, there is a constant flow of letters of McCarrick to Francis informing him of his various and sundry jaunts, so that Francis is quoted as suggesting that McCarrick be left alone since he might be “useful.”

Archbishop Viganò is cited 306 times. Why was he never interviewed for this project? Surely, his original “testimony” was the impetus for this entire investigation. In truth, Viganò is treated with undisguised contempt throughout and with thinly veiled accusations of careerism and bitterness (his behavior in the Curia and his repeated efforts to bring McCarrick to justice belie such suggestions). Cardinal Marc Ouellet (Prefect of the Congregation of Bishops) says that he instructed Viganò to open a full investigation into McCarrick but that Viganò never carried out that mission. Is that true? Viganò needs to respond to that. It is also a puzzlement as to why Viganò repeatedly wrote glowing letters of approval to McCarrick.

One of the running observations is that McCarrick bought influence among the power-brokers of the Vatican. The Report acknowledges that he did indeed make “gifts” to various officials.3 Why are those beneficiaries of McCarrick’s generosity not named, along with the amounts of the gifts? This omission brings to mind the report emerging from the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston not long ago, divulging that the former Ordinary had done the same, while failing to name the prelates who received such gifts; negative public opinion eventually forced a full disclosure.

A follow-up to the accusation of bribery is that such behavior gave McCarrick sway in the appointment of bishops. Footnote 1302 takes cognizance of that suggestion but says that McCarrick’s letter to Francis on a possible candidate for Chicago, as a matter of fact, did not mention Archbishop Blaise Cupich (who eventually got the post), and that – although widely rumored that McCarrick was responsible for the appointment of Archbishop Joseph Tobin to Newark – there is no record of such an attempt. The word on the ground was that the promoter of Cupich was not McCarrick by Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga (the head of Francis’ Council of Cardinals and a close confidant of the Pope). On the Tobin appointment, we have McCarrick’s own bragging about it in a lecture he delivered at Villanova University, when he likewise boasts of advancing the candidacy of Bergoglio for the papacy!

There is one person conspicuous for his absence in this whole tale, and that is Cardinal Justin Rigali, who began his service at the Holy See in the English section of the Secretariat of State in 1964. After a hiatus from 1966 to 1970, serving in the nunciature in Madagascar, Rigali returned to Rome as the head of the English section of the Secretariat of State and became the English translator for Pope Paul VI, accompanying him on his various apostolic journeys. In 1985, he was named President of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy (the oldest diplomatic school in the world), also then receiving episcopal consecration. In 1989, he was named Secretary of the Congregation of Bishops (thus, the Number Two Man in the dicastery). It boggles the mind why a man with such a portfolio would not be a key witness to the McCarrick saga.

Now, to a few critiques from the ecclesiastical “right side” of the aisle.

One commentator says that McCarrick sojourned in Switzerland at least twenty times, thus connecting him to the St. Gallen Mafia. The Report documents four visits to Switzerland, the first being his trip there after high school graduation. The other three visits were all on official Church business, in the company of many other participants. There is no reason to doubt the veracity of the Report here, especially since assertions to the contrary have no evidence to back them up.

Other commentators have expressed amazement that the word “homosexual/homosexuality” never appears in the document. That is patently false as a word-search reveals at least eleven uses of the word. However, even were the word absent (which it isn’t), the entire document deals precisely with that problem. The word “Trinity” is not found in the New Testament, but the reality of it is omnipresent.

Yet others have strongly suggested that Cardinal Angelo Sodano (former Secretary of State) was responsible for McCarrick’s rise in the hierarchy. This makes no sense since McCarrick was consecrated a bishop eleven years before Sodano was! In fact, McCarrick was already the Archbishop of Newark a year before Sodano’s consecration. Was Sodano a protector of McCarrick as Secretary of State? That is quite possible, as he certainly was with Legionary Father Maciel.

So, where do the Popes fit into this drama?

I believe that the Report honestly says that John Paul II did not accept stories of McCarrick’s alleged misbehavior for two reasons: first, his experience in Poland of Communist efforts to derail a good priest or bishop through false accusations;4 second, his knowledge of McCarrick’s very effective and faithful service as a diocesan bishop.5 Efforts by the gang at the National Catholic Reporter and their accomplices at the New York Times to besmudge the reputation of John Paul, calling for the revocation of his cult, are odious but totally in keeping with their hatred of everything he stood for as Pope.

What about Pope Benedict? We know with what dispatch and deliberateness he handled the Maciel scandal. Rather than subjecting the old man to an ecclesiastical trial, Benedict graciously decreed (in writing) that Maciel was to withdraw from public life for a life of prayer and penance. Maciel complied. Benedict’s similar suggestion (not in writing, however) for McCarrick was flaunted by him from Day One. Being an honorable man himself, Ratzinger tends to presume that everyone else is, too. Cardinal Giovanni Re as Prefect of the Congregation of Bishops regularly raised red flags about McCarrick’s peregrinations, as did Archbishops Gabriel Montalvo and Pietro Sambi (nuncios to the United States), both of whom died “on the job.” In a recent reflection for CWR, George Weigel observed that McCarrick had “gamed” the system. That is undoubtedly true. He also knew how to manipulate and capitalize on the lack of communication between the various dicasteries of the Holy See, as well as with the several nuncios.

Of course, the massive elephant in the middle of the living room is that rumors of misbehavior by the former Cardinal were rife for decades and any priest or bishop alive in the 1980s who says he didn’t know about them needs to take a dose of truth serum. However – and it is a big “However” – no one was willing to make a formal complaint – and that includes a delegation of laity who went to Rome years ago with their concerns and who were strongly encouraged by Vatican officials to sign a formal complaint; they never did. So, yes, John Paul was right to discount unsubstantiated rumors. Who among us would want to be tried and convicted on the basis of anonymous rumors? In fact, at times even the rumors about McCarrick were investigated and came back with little to no evidence. One of my over-arching concerns about his ecclesiastical conviction and reduction to the lay state is precisely the failure of this Report to share with all the testimony which led to those decisions and actions of the Holy See. We are entitled to know who said what, who took those testimonies seriously, and why. Those questions have not been handled, even in a cursory fashion.

In summary, there is plenty of blame to go around in this whole unseemly and dismal affair. The Report is helpful in some ways but sins by omission in many other ways. Its general thrust and principal purpose, however, is clear and that is to declare Pope Francis blameless throughout. One is tempted to re-name the document Santo subito!6


1The missing paragraph read as follows:

4. Apart from an individuals’s judgement about his worthiness to present himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, the minister of Holy Communion may find himself in the situation where he must refuse to distribute Holy Communion to someone, such as in cases of a declared excommunication, a declared interdict, or an obstinate persistence in manifest grave sin (cf. can. 915).

2I was present at that Fall meeting of the episcopal conference. Indeed, for twenty-five years, I attended every Fall session (serving as a theological consultant for a number of bishops).

3We need to note that there is a legitimate presentation of an honorarium to visiting prelates, just as any speaker would expect to be compensated for his time and effort. Some lay folk have the impression that clergy survive on plenary indulgences!

4This mindset of John Paul, interestingly, was also responsible for the naming of Bergoglio as auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires. The story goes that Bergoglio was blocked by the Father General of the Jesuits as being unfit for any position of authority in the Church. Cardinal Antonio Guarracino, then-Archbishop of Buenos Aires, appealed directly to the Pope, who (it is said) determined that the Jesuits were keeping Bergoglio out of the episcopate because of his orthodoxy and, as they say, the rest is history.

5McCarrick was the founding Ordinary of the Diocese of Metuchen, which he put on a very firm footing; indeed, his performance in Metuchen led Cardinal John O’Connor to be a strong supporter of McCarrick’s promotion to the Archdiocese of Newark, as his written assessment attests. His tenure in Newark was marked by pastoral zeal and orthodoxy, taking an Archdiocese that had been put on the brink of schism by his predecessor and bringing it back into full communion. Those facts cannot be gainsaid and should not be.

6“Make him a saint immediately!” The cry of the mourners in St. Peter’s Square at the obsequies of Pope John Paul II.

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About Peter M.J. Stravinskas 166 ArticlesReverend Peter M.J. Stravinskas is the editor of the The Catholic Response, and the author of over 500 articles for numerous Catholic publications, as well as several books, including The Catholic Church and the Bible and Understanding the Sacraments.

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