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McCarrick report says serious rumors weren’t investigated

St. John Paul II likely heard abuse rumors about ex-cardinal for years

Published: November 11, 2020   
CNS / Paul Haring
Then-Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick attends a reception for new cardinals in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Nov. 20, 2010. Among the new cardinals was Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, successor to Cardinal McCarrick as archbishop of Washington.

VATICAN CITY -- 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 summary of its report on the matter.

In choosing then-Archbishop Theodore E. 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 a long relationship with him, McCarrick's own strong denial and the pope's experience with communist authorities in Poland making accusations to discredit the Church, the summary said.

But, in fact, 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, N.J., 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.

One hour before the release Nov. 10 of the "Report on the Holy See's Institutional Knowledge and Decision-Making Related to Former Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick," journalists were given the document's 14-page introduction, which described the two-year investigation that led to the report's compilation and gave an "executive summary" of its findings.

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."

Until the allegations about child sexual abuse were made to the Archdiocese of New York in 2017, "Francis had heard only that there had been allegations and rumors related to immoral conduct with adults occurring prior to McCarrick's appointment to Washington," it said.

"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 in prior years," the summary said.

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, cardinals, bishops and former seminarians.

In a statement issued with the report, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, said the contributions of survivors were "fundamental." The introduction of the report cautions survivors of abuse that certain sections "could prove traumatizing" and warns that some portions of the document are "inappropriate for minors."

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