It has now been a year since the devastating scandal surrounding the sexual misconduct by former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick exploded into public view, disastrously undermining the credibility of the Catholic Church in the United States and eroding the confidence of faithful Catholics in their own shepherds’ leadership.
And while some remedial actions have been taken, most notably McCarrick’s laicization in February, what has been done on the McCarrick file overall has been lamentably inadequate — especially in terms of the response from Rome.
This inadequacy was on display in two significant McCarrick-related events in late May, namely the publication of excerpts of purported email correspondence by McCarrick’s former secretary Msgr. Anthony Figueiredo and the publication of a new interview with Pope Francis in which he touches on the McCarrick scandal.
The emails appear to substantiate what was alleged in Archbishop Carlo Viganò’s bombshell “testimony” last August, regarding long-standing Vatican knowledge of some of McCarrick’s sexual misconduct and informal restrictions placed on McCarrick in 2008.
Msgr. Figueiredo’s email excerpts also buttress Archbishop Viganò’s assertion that, after Pope Francis’ election, McCarrick enjoyed a renewed prominence in Rome. That doesn’t prove the archbishop’s most explosive claim — that the Holy Father rehabilitated McCarrick despite clear knowledge from June 2013 forward that McCarrick was accused of serious sexual misconduct.
But the fact that McCarrick was allowed to serve under Francis as a globe-trotting emissary, apparently sometimes in direct communication with Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin on sensitive issues, such as Vatican relations with China and to lobby for U.S. episcopal appointments, raises questions that should be resolved in Cardinal Parolin’s final report.
Cardinal Parolin, since last September, has led the Vatican’s internal investigation into what was known about McCarrick’s misconduct and why it was mishandled.
On May 29, the cardinal advised that the Vatican review is continuing and that a declaration about its findings would be released after it concluded, but he provided no timeline as to when that would happen. Given that it shouldn’t be a complex matter to review relevant Vatican files and interview relevant Vatican officials to discern what was known, it’s hard to avoid concluding the main reason Rome hasn’t provided more clarity is because Rome has chosen not to do so.
Nor have appearances been improved by the Holy Father’s latest interview, in which he insists that he knew absolutely nothing about McCarrick’s misconduct until long after he became Pope.
Significantly, however, Francis doesn’t deny Archbishop Viganò’s assertion that he specifically and very forcefully told the Pope in June 2013 that McCarrick had “corrupted a generation” of U.S. seminarians through his sexual misbehavior; instead, Francis said merely that “I don’t remember” if that conversation occurred. (Curiously, this element was omitted when the interview was translated from Spanish into Italian by the Vatican, and it was restored only after The Associated Press queried about the peculiar omission.)
The Pope also pronounced himself satisfied with his decision last August to refuse to respond to any of Archbishop Viganò’s specific allegations and to instead invite journalists to ferret out the truth without the benefit of his assistance.
In the new interview, the Holy Father said he didn’t need to comment at the time because “first of all that the proofs were there, I told you: ‘Judge for yourself,’” adding that “the result was good, better than if I had started to explain, to defend myself. You judge evidence in hand.”
To U.S. ears these observations seem outlandish, given that it remains impossible to arrive at any clear judgments precisely because of the paucity of information the Vatican has been willing to provide about the archbishop’s claims.
Indeed, the entire haphazard Vatican approach to the McCarrick scandal is jarring to American and faithful Catholic sensibilities and, alongside the earlier sidelining of the U.S. bishops’ intention to introduce new abuse policies in November, seems to reflect a disturbing disinterest about how damaging the continuing inaction has been on these shores.
The lack of clarity about what the Vatican knew and did internally about McCarrick isn’t the only serious inadequacy.
Not long after the scandal came to light, the Register noted, “Any sound analysis of the McCarrick scandal — and other cases now coming to light that similarly involve clerical abusers accused of preying upon seminarians and other clergy — must acknowledge two fundamental dimensions: an almost incomprehensible absence of effective structures of episcopal accountability; and, even more fundamentally, an appalling lack of fidelity to what the Church teaches with respect to sexual morality.”
In the wake of the publication of his new motu proprio on sexual abuse, Vos Estis Lex Mundi, Pope Francis can be credited with substantial progress in the area of episcopal accountability.
Unfortunately, far less progress has occurred in terms of addressing the failures of sexual morality, particularly in acknowledging the homosexual subcultures known to have figured prominently in the McCarrick scandal and in a host of other clerical sexual-abuse cases in the U.S. and elsewhere. Here again, it’s in Rome where there is the most heel-dragging about discussing this problem forthrightly.
The U.S. bishops will gather June 11-14 in Baltimore for their spring assembly, with the primary objective of enacting new bishops’ accountability measures intended to fill the gaps in their existing sexual-abuse policies that were so glaringly spotlighted by the McCarrick scandal.
But with so many unanswered key questions about who knew about McCarrick’s misconduct, and why no one took effective countermeasures for so long, it’s difficult for U.S. Catholics to have full confidence about the outcome.
As Dominican Father Pius Pietrzyk told the Register this week, “You can’t implement a solution to fix a problem if you don’t know how the problem occurred. We know something, but not enough. And, so far, the Vatican has not given us any information.”
In October, we stated that silence is not an option with respect to any aspect of the McCarrick affair, and we communicated the urgency of a full accounting. With many of the leading questions still unaddressed, it’s more urgent than ever that U.S. Catholics get the answers they need and deserve.