In 2019, Theodore McCarrick became the first Catholic cardinal to be defrocked for sexually abusing boys under his care. It was a shock given both his place in the Church hierarchy and the fact that he was the former archbishop of Newark and Washington D.C.
Through the Vatican’s inquiry into the allegations, we learned that McCarrick would often bring teenage boys with him when he traveled many decades ago — it was considered an honor for their families — only to sexually abuse them on the trips. He allegedly abused seminarians. There was a “sex ring” at a beach house. There were at least 10 allegations against him from minors, a number that has gone up since 2019.
Beyond the allegations, though, there’s always been a question of who else knew what McCarrick was doing. How high up did it go? There have been three popes who could’ve known about these actions before the public was made aware of them; did they know?!
In 2018, things really hit the fan when Italian Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, a former Vatican ambassador to the United States, released an 11-page letter claiming that Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis knew about the abuse allegations but did nothing about it. (No proof of their complicity was included in that letter.)
That brings us to today, when the Vatican released its long-awaited internal report on McCarrick. According to the New York Times, the report does not “directly cast blame on Francis or his predecessors for knowingly abetting or protecting” McCarrick, but it does indirectly blame Pope John Paul II for elevating him within the hierarchy despite being told there were allegations against him.
“Pope John Paul II personally made the decision to appoint McCarrick,” the report says, despite receiving a letter from Cardinal John O’Connor, the archbishop of New York, that summed up allegations, some anonymous, that Mr. McCarrick had engaged in sexual conduct with another priest in 1987, that he had committed pedophilia with his “nephews” and that he shared a bed with young adult men and seminarians.
But even in recent years, no one ever took the allegations as seriously as they should have:
Pope Francis, according to the report, did receive notification about the prior indications by Benedict from top church officials but was not given documentation regarding allegations against Mr. McCarrick until 2017. Believing that they had already been thoroughly reviewed, the Vatican said Francis “did not see the need to alter the approach that had been adopted in prior years.”
Everyone just kept passing the buck. No one had the courage to just remove McCarrick from Church leadership. They were always more willing to believe him and his allies over his accusers.
The report doesn’t include any recommendations on how to change things moving forward, because of course it doesn’t. The Vatican isn’t seriously interested in fixing its past; it’s hoping it can just move forward while prior allegations fade away while pinning as much of the blame as possible on the one guy who’s dead.
This report isn’t an explosive as it could have been — though given where it’s coming from, that’s not surprising — and because of that, I fear it’ll get some coverage in the coming days and then disappear from the public’s attention altogether. That would be exactly what the Vatican wants.
Still, there’s a simple takeaway here: The Church protects its own. They’re more interested in the reputation of their leaders than the well-being of their members. Practicing Catholics who continue giving money to this institution are propping up a criminal organization that has a long public history of covering up its most heinous actions.