ROME (NewsNation Now) — A Vatican report into disgraced ex-U.S. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick points to failings by popes, Vatican officials and senior clerics who let him rise through the Catholic ranks despite repeated allegations of sexual misconduct.
The Vatican on Tuesday published its two-year, 400-plus-page internal investigation into the American prelate’s rise and fall in a bid to restore credibility to the U.S. and Vatican hierarchies, which have been shattered by the McCarrick scandal. Scroll below to view the full document.
Pope Francis defrocked McCarrick, 90, last year after a Vatican investigation confirmed decades of allegations that he had sexually molested adults as well as children. The Vatican had reports from authoritative figures dating back to 1999 that McCarrick’s behavior was problematic, yet he continued to rise to become an influential cardinal, kingmaker and emissary of the Holy See’s “soft diplomacy.”
Ahead of the report’s publication, the Vatican provided journalists with an introduction and executive summary of it, which put the lion’s share of blame on Pope John Paul II, who appointed McCarrick archbishop of Washington D.C. in 2000, despite having commissioned an inquiry that confirmed he slept with seminarians. The summary says John Paul naively believed McCarrick’s last-ditch, handwritten denial.
The findings accused bishops dead and alive of providing the Vatican with incomplete information about McCarrick’s behavior, and of turning a blind eye to his repeated flouting of informal restrictions ordered up in 2006 after Pope Benedict XVI decided not to investigate or sanction him seriously.
The report said that “credible evidence” that the former archbishop of Washington, D.C. had abused minors when he was a priest in the 1970s did not surface until 2017.
But it said church leaders were aware of consistent rumors that after McCarrick became a bishop in the early 1980s he preyed on adult male seminarians.
“During extended interviews, often emotional, the persons described a range of behaviour, including sexual abuse or assault, unwanted sexual activity, intimate physical contact and the sharing of beds without physical touching,” the report’s introduction says.
The report said no documentation of any abuse by McCarrick was given to Pope Francis before 2017, when McCarrick was accused of abusing a minor in the 1970s, leading to the Vatican investigation that led to his expulsion from the priesthood
“Pope 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,” the summary says. “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 2017, an altar boy alleged that McCarrick groped him when he was a teenager during preparations for Christmas Mass in 1971 and 1972 in New York. The allegation was the first solid claim against McCarrick involving a minor and triggered the canonical trial that resulted in his defrocking.
McCarrick has said he had no recollection of child abuse and has not commented publicly on allegations of misconduct with adults. Now aged 90, he is living in isolation. The two lawyers who represented him did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
While the summary provided new details about what the Vatican knew and when, it didn’t elaborate on the internal culture that allowed McCarrick’s behavior to continue unchecked.
The church has long considered sex by priests with other adult men or women as sinful but consensual, with flags only raised in recent years when minors were involved.
But the McCarrick scandal, which erupted during the #MeToo era, has demonstrated that adult seminarians and priests can be sexually victimized by their superiors because of the power imbalance in their relationships. And yet the church’s legal system has had no real way to address that type of abuse of authority.
James Grein, whose testimony that McCarrick abused him for two decades starting when he was 11 was key to McCarrick’s downfall, said he was pleased the report was finally being released. He said he was hopeful it would bring some relief as well as a chance to “clean” up the church.
“There are so many people suffering out there because of one man,” Grein said. “And he thinks that he’s more important than the rest of us. He’s destroyed me and he’s destroyed thousands of other lives. … It’s time that the Catholic Church comes clean with all of its destruction.”
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state whose office prepared the report, said it will have an impact going forward, especially on how bishops are selected.
“Reading the document will show that all procedures, including the appointment of bishops, depend on the commitment and honesty of the people concerned,” he said. “(It will make) all those involved in such choices more aware of the weight of their decisions or omissions.”
Francis commissioned the report after the retired Vatican ambassador to the U.S., Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, issued an expose of the two-decade-long McCarrick cover-up in 2018, naming around two dozen U.S. and Vatican officials who knew of his misconduct but failed to effectively sanction him.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.