By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Although dogged for years by rumors of sexual impropriety, Theodore E. McCarrick was able to rise up the Catholic hierarchical structure based on personal contacts, protestations of his innocence, and a lack of church officials reporting and investigating accusations, according to the Vatican report on the matter.
The "Report on the Holy See's Institutional Knowledge and Decision-Making Related to Former Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick" was released Nov. 10; it included an introduction describing the two-year investigation that led to the report's compilation and gave an "executive summary" of its findings.
Commenting on the Vatican report on former Cardinal McCarrick, Evansville Bishop Joseph M. Siegel stated: “This report chronicles another tragic account of past sexual misconduct by a member of the clergy, this time a former Cardinal, as well as the failure of Church leaders to properly address allegations made against him. While it is painful to read the report, it also displays the Church’s attempt to provide more transparency in these matters, which the lay faithful deserve. I am grateful to Pope Francis for commissioning this investigation and for publishing the findings.
“On behalf of the Evansville diocese, I wish to offer again my sincere apologies to anyone who has suffered abuse or harassment by a member of the clergy. As part of the efforts of the United States bishops to prevent the abuse of power described in the report from happening again, a third-party reporting system, www.reportbishopabuse.org, was established for reporting sexual misconduct against children or vulnerable adults or interference in an investigation, by a bishop. This system complements the safe environment and victim assistance program which has been in place in the diocese since 2002.
“I ask for your continued prayers for all survivors of sexual abuse by a member of clergy, as well as prayers for the continued accountability, healing and renewal for the Church.”
In June 2018, the Vatican suspended McCarrick from ministry after an investigation by the Archdiocese of New York found credible a charge that he sexually abused a teenager. McCarrick resigned from the College of Cardinals in July; and in February 2019, after a canonical process found McCarrick guilty of "solicitation in the sacrament of confession and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power," Pope Francis dismissed him from the priesthood.
In August 2018, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, former nuncio to the United States, called on Pope Francis to resign after claiming that he had informed Pope Francis of McCarrick's abuse in 2013 and that top Vatican officials knew of McCarrick's abusive behavior for years.
That claim led Pope Francis to initiate an investigation into how McCarrick was able to continue to rise through church ranks despite the repeated rumors, anonymous letters, allegations and even settlements with alleged victims.
The report summary said, "No records support Vigano's account" of his meeting with Pope Francis, "and evidence as to what he said is sharply disputed."
The introduction to the report said it is based on documents found at the Vatican and the apostolic nunciature in the United States as well as interviews – "ranging in length from one to 30 hours" – with more than 90 witnesses in the United States, Italy and elsewhere. They included survivors, Pope Francis, retired Pope Benedict XVI, cardinals, bishops, former seminarians and a mother who was shocked by McCarrick's behavior with her sons.
The report said St. John Paul's decisions to name McCarrick bishop of Metuchen in 1981 and archbishop of Newark in 1986 were based on "his background, skills and achievements. During the appointment process, McCarrick was widely lauded as a pastoral, intelligent and zealous bishop."
It also said that, at the time, "no credible information emerged suggesting that he had engaged in any misconduct."
However, rumors of McCarrick's conduct, especially knowledge that he had young adult men and seminarians sleep in the same bed with him when he was bishop of Metuchen, New Jersey, led the Vatican to decide it would be "imprudent" to promote him when looking for candidates to become archbishop of Chicago in 1997, New York in 1999-2000 and, initially, of Washington in July 2000, the report said.
In ultimately choosing then-Archbishop McCarrick of Newark in 2000 to be archbishop of Washington and later a cardinal, St. John Paul II likely overlooked rumors and allegations about McCarrick's sexual misconduct because of the recommendation of key Vatican advisors; some American bishops providing inaccurate and incomplete information regarding McCarrick's behavior with young adults; the Pope’s long relationship with him; McCarrick's own strong denial; and the Holy Father’s experience with communist authorities in Poland making accusations against bishops to discredit the church, the report reveals.
The report also concluded that now-retired Pope Benedict XVI did not initiate a formal canonical process against McCarrick or even impose sanctions on him because "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."
However, after initially asking McCarrick to stay on in Washington for two years past his 75th birthday in 2005, the report said, new details related to a priest's allegations about McCarrick's sexual misconduct emerged, and Pope Benedict asked him to step down in 2006.
While acknowledging efforts made by Archbishop Vigano to bring rumors about McCarrick to the attention of his superiors while Pope Benedict was still in office, Archbishop Vigano, who was appointed nuncio to the United States in 2011, was "instructed" in 2012 to conduct an inquiry into allegations by a priest who claimed he was sexually assaulted by McCarrick, the summary said.
Archbishop Vigano, it continued, "did not take these steps and therefore never placed himself in the position to ascertain the credibility" of the priest's claims.