Five take-aways from the Vatican’s explosive McCarrick report

In 1999, when McCarrick was being considered to take over the Archdiocese of New York, Cardinal John O’Connor of New York wrote a six-page letter to the Vatican’s ambassador to the US. He raised concerns that McCarrick had asked young adult men to sleep in his bed with him and that some priests had experienced psychological trauma from McCarrick’s inappropriate behaviour.

“I regret that I would have to recommend very strongly against such promotion, particularly if to a Cardinatial See,” O’Connor said. “Nevertheless, I subject my comments to higher authority and most particularly our Holy Father.”

Vatican leaders shared the assessment with John Paul. But the pope dismissed the allegations after McCarrick wrote him a letter directly denying them, and he elevated McCarrick anyway to the Archdiocese of Washington, one of the most prominent positions in the country. “McCarrick’s direct relationship with John Paul II also likely had an impact on the Pope’s decision making,” the report said.

The Vatican blames three American bishops

John Paul initially requested an investigation into the allegations, but the Vatican now suggests it was deceived by three bishops in New Jersey, who provided “inaccurate and incomplete information” to the Holy See, the report said.

“This inaccurate information appears likely to have impacted the conclusions of John Paul II’s advisors and, consequently, of John Paul II himself,” the report said, shifting some blame.

The allegations were dismissed as “rumour,” the report said, and “McCarrick’s denial was believed.” The bishops were also asked to keep that inquiry a secret.

The report also describes a disturbing account from a New Jersey priest, Monsignor Dominic Bottino, who said he had witnessed two of the New Jersey bishops watch McCarrick touch a man’s crotch in 1990, and neither informed the pope of that incident.

Pope Benedict XVI ousted but declined to investigate McCarrick

Soon after Benedict became pope in 2005, he quickly extended McCarrick’s tenure as archbishop of Washington.

But he reversed course by the end of the year, based on “new details” about allegations against McCarrick, and “urgently sought” to replace McCarrick in the role. By Easter 2006, McCarrick was out.

A group with Catholic Laity for Orthodox Bishops and Reform, gathers to pray, left, as John Wojnowski, right, holds a sign outside the Apostolic Nunciature of the Holy See in Washington last year.Credit:AP

Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, an official in the Holy See’s Secretariat of State, wrote two letters in 2006 and 2008 urging a church investigation of rumours about McCarrick. Instead of formally investigating the claims, however, Benedict authorised a Vatican official to “appeal to McCarrick’s conscience” and ask him to “maintain a lower profile and minimise travel.” But this request was not a formal command, and McCarrick continued to freely travel the globe on behalf of Catholic causes and institutions.

Vigano became the Vatican ambassador to the US in 2011 and was asked to conduct an inquiry to determine whether the allegations against McCarrick were credible. The report says that “Vigano did not take these steps.”

Francis did nothing until 2017

Pope Francis was aware there were rumours of wrongdoing, but until 2017, the report said, no one provided him with any documentation of the allegations. Francis believed everything had already been reviewed by John Paul. He also knew that under his predecessor, Benedict, McCarrick had remained active, so he saw no need to alter the church’s approach.

Pope Francis reaches out to hug Cardinal Archbishop emeritus Theodore McCarrick in 2015.

Pope Francis reaches out to hug Cardinal Archbishop emeritus Theodore McCarrick in 2015.Credit:Washington Post

In June 2017, the Archdiocese of New York learnt of an allegation of sexual abuse by McCarrick of a minor decades earlier. Soon after, Francis requested McCarrick’s resignation from the College of Cardinals.

Unusual for the Vatican to investigate its highest leaders

Francis first promised a “thorough study” of the Vatican’s handling of the McCarrick case in 2018. The long-awaited result is a highly unusual public investigation of abuses and cover-ups spanning decades and reaching to the highest levels of the Vatican’s own ranks.

The report will have wide implications for a global church that has been roiled for decades over its mishandling of sexual abuse by clergy.

John Paul is not just a pope — he is also a saint. At his fast-tracked canonisation mass in 2014, Francis praised him as “the pope of the family”.

The church now has to reckon with the fact that one of its most beloved pontiffs is implicated is one of its most notorious scandals.

The New York Times

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The Latest: Advocate says McCarrick caused incalculable harm

The Latest on the Vatican’s investigation of ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and allegations of sexual misconduct (all times local).



An advocate in Argentina for survivors of clerical sex abuse says ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick caused tremendous hurt and laments that church officials knew but did not act.

Julieta Añazco is the co-founder and former head of the Argentine Network of Survivors of Ecclestiastical Abuse and currently a member of Churches Without Abuses.

Añazco says “any official could have put a stop to it, but they did not.”

Añazco praises the release of the Vatican’s report on its investigation of the case, however, saying it is “at least a step toward transparency.”

She calls on Francis to publish findings on a school for the hearing-impaired in Mendoza province where dozens of students denounced abuse by clerics and lay workers. Two priests were convicted in the case last year and sentenced to more than 40 years in prison.



— A two-year Vatican investigation of ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick found that a series of bishops, cardinals and popes downplayed or dismissed reports that he slept with seminarians, and determined that Pope Francis merely continued his predecessors’ handling of the predator until a former altar boy alleged abuse.

— The 449-page internal investigation was published in a bid to restore credibility to the U.S. and Vatican hierarchies, which have been shattered by the McCarrick scandal.

— A summary of the report puts most of the blame on a dead saint: 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 believed his handwritten denial.

— McCarrick, 90, was defrocked by Francis last year after a Vatican investigation confirmed decades of allegations that the globe-trotting envoy and successful church fundraiser had sexually molested adults as well as children.




11:30 a.m.

The bishop of the New Jersey diocese of Metuchen, which was headed by Theodore McCarrick when it was established in 1981, says he is “disgusted and appalled” by the sex abuse scandal involving the ex-cardinal.

Bishop James Checchio says that “while I am grateful to Pope Francis for ordering this study to arrive at the ‘truth’ of what happened, like everyone else, I am disgusted and appalled by what has taken place.”

He adds that the Vatican’s report on its McCarrick investigation “will, undoubtedly, cause sadness, anxiety, frustration, anger, disgust and pain.”

Checchio says that since implementing new abuse prevention policies in 2002, the diocese “has not received a single credible complaint of abuse involving a minor in any of our schools or parishes by diocesan clergy.”

He laments that the diocese’s founding will “always be associated with the history of Theodore McCarrick and the culture of abuse, silence and shame that was allowed to perpetuate in the dark corners of our past,” but says there is “a new opportunity to lead lives of increased holiness.”

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York is crediting the abuse survivors who approached the archdiocese with their allegations against McCarrick.

Dolan says they “helped bring this matter to light, proving that anyone who has abused a minor, even a cardinal, will be punished.”

He says that when the first allegation was reported, church officials asked the Vatican for permission to arrange for an outside investigation and to have the issue judged by a lay review board, and Pope Francis responded by saying the case should be handled “as you would for any priest accused of abuse.”

Dolan praises Francis for trusting the processes followed by the archdiocese and others in the country, saying it “was very affirming, and will lead, I hope, to others having the confidence to come forward, knowing that their allegations will be handled seriously, sensitively, and appropriately.”


10:45 a.m.

The archbishop of Newark, New Jersey, Cardinal Joseph Tobin, says the Vatican’s investigation of ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick “represents a significant and powerful step forward in advancing accountability and transparency regarding sexual abuse.”

Tobin says “failures by some leaders in the Catholic Church have wounded many,” but “the Church has made progress in responding to clergy abuse by implementing and updating policies and programs to safeguard the faithful, especially the most vulnerable among us.”

Cardinal-designate Wilton Gregory, archbishop of Washington D.C., says his “heart hurts for all who will be shocked, saddened, scandalized and angered by the revelations” in the report.

Gregory says the disclosure is necessary if there is to be “true redemptive healing.”

“This is an important, difficult and necessary document,” Gregory says, “and it demands prayerful, thorough and thoughtful reflection.”

And Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, says the McCarrick scandal is “another tragic chapter in the Church’s long struggle to confront the crimes of sexual abuse by clergy.”

He expresses his “profound sorrow and deepest apologies” to the ex-cardinal’s victims, their families and all survivors of clerical sex abuse.

“This report underscores the need for us to repent and grow in our commitment to serve the people of God,” Gomez says.


A lawyer whose firm is handling five cases naming Theodore McCarrick as a perpetrator of sex abuse says the Vatican’s report on its investigation into the former cardinal “has the potential to be an historic first step toward top-down transparency within the Catholic Church.”

Attorney Jeff Anderson says the report is “unprecedented” in that, for the first time, “the Vatican has engaged a third-party, non-clergy lawyer to conduct the investigation, collect the evidence, connect the dots, and expose not only a perpetrator, but a system that put children in peril for decades.”

Anderson says Pope Francis’ actions going forward “will determine if he will lead a Church thoroughly committed to the healing and justice it espouses by walking the hard road of accountability, or one willing to expose only its most notorious offender to keep our eyes off those hiding in the shadows.”


SNAP, a network representing survivors of clergy sex-abuse, is welcoming the Vatican’s report on its investigation of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick but says many more steps need to be taken to prevent abuse.

The group calls for the removal of “any prelate who was aware of McCarrick’s crimes and did nothing,” as well as “a pope who is willing to talk earnestly and often about what actions he is taking to combat clergy abuse worldwide.”

SNAP says the abuse crisis is an ongoing one, and transparency and accountability are still lacking.

It calls the report “one step in the right direction” but says the Vatican must ensure that past mistakes will not be repeated.

“Awareness is good,” it says. “But awareness is meaningless without concrete action.”

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