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Cardinal Theodore McCarrickLisa Bourne / LifeSiteNews

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VATICAN CITY, November 12, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — “Why the trip to Switzerland during his youth?” I was asked today over Twitter.

“When did he ‘go bad’? Was he recruited by other evil men?”

“He,” of course, is Theodore Edgar McCarrick, the former cardinal whose exalted career crashed and burned in 2017 after a credible allegation that he had sexually molested a teenage boy was received by the Archdiocese of New York. When the news hit the headlines, we also learned that there had been rumors for years that McCarrick had sexually molested adults. And not just rumors: settlements.

As new allegations of McCarrick’s abuse appeared in the media, angry Catholics demanded an explanation of how such a man could become an auxiliary bishop of New York, let alone the bishop of Metuchen, the archbishop of Newark and, finally, the cardinal archbishop of Washington, D.C.

Then another explosion: a former papal nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, revealed that there had been restrictions on McCarrick, restrictions allegedly lifted by Pope Francis, that a whole host of prelates knew about. Catholics demanded more answers: Was this true? Who else knew?

What about McCarrick’s relationship with Pope Francis? The cardinal himself had bragged he helped get the cardinal archbishop of Buenos Aires elected pope. Was McCarrick part of the so-called St. Gallen Mafia? St. Gallen is in Switzerland — McCarrick studied in Switzerland — was there a connection?

Catholics demanded and waited for what we received Tuesday: the McCarrick Report.

I’ve read the entire McCarrick Report, and I can’t answer the questions about Switzerland. All the Report has to say about his youthful sojourn there is that after graduating from Fordham Prep in 1949, McCarrick “attended the Institute Rosenberg and the École Lémania, which helped him develop a facility in French, German and Italian.”

This sounds pretty snazzy for the only child of a widowed factory worker, but where the money came from is never explained. About any early patrons, the Report says absolutely nothing — unless you count the grandmother and aunt who helped raise him.

A striking thing about the McCarrick Report is its sheer bulk. Since the 256-page Amoris Laetitia and its fatal footnote 351, we’ve learned to distrust long documents coming from the Vatican: what are they hiding?

With the McCarrick Report, it is hard to say. Perhaps its attempt to destroy the credibility of Pope Francis’ arch-critic Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò. I was certainly tired by the time I got to the first footnote attacking Viganò’s testimony in detail (600), although, to be fair, Viganò makes his first appearance on page 10.

If we were to take the McCarrick Report at face value — and it has already been accused by one of its 90 witnesses of falsifying his testimony — we would find Viganò an odd, two-faced character. In 2006 and 2008, he wrote warnings to his superiors about McCarrick, but in 2011 he allegedly disobeyed instructions to investigate him.

Viganò is thus made a scapegoat for the inaction of the then-Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Ouellet, in the matter. After page 278 the Report aims at refuting the former nuncio’s testimony when it can, and casting doubt on it when it cannot. I look very much forward to Viganò’s response. Pope Francis, interviewed for the Report, says he cannot remember having any conversation with Viganò about McCarrick. The Report says there is no recorded evidence of it.

Evidence is a major theme in the Report. It’s a tragic one. Throughout the account, bishops and archbishops ashamedly discuss rumours, allegations and anonymous letters about McCarrick, and they always decide they are unfounded. It wasn’t just prelates, either: scandal-sniffing journalists like David Gibson followed up aging stories that McCarrick had abused seminarians in a Jersey shore beach house and came up with nothing.

Another tragic theme: all these top prelates’ utter faith in McCarrick’s holiness. When John Paul II, advised by New York’s Cardinal John O’Connor, passed over McCarrick for the Archdiocese of Chicago, and then that of New York and, at first, that of Washington, D.C., it wasn’t because he and his advisors ever thought Uncle Ted was guilty of sexual sin.

It was because they were afraid the rumors would appear in the media.

Not that there wasn’t cover-up. Dead prelates tell no tales, but according to the Report, two American bishops (now deceased) witnessed a drunken McCarrick groping a terrified young priest, and another American bishop (also deceased) heard complaints from at least three young clerics that McCarrick had assaulted them. Apparently the first two bishops did not report what they had seen even when asked about McCarrick by a papal nuncio, and the third was almost equally as incommunicative when he was consulted by Cardinal O’Connor. The stories, by the way, are disgusting.

Also disgusting is the apparent lack of concern among the prelates in the report for potential victims older than 18. The conclusion, on page 449, contains a quote by Pope Francis commiserating solely with minor victims of sexual abuse. One of the gifts McCarrick brought to the table (and made darned sure Pope John Paul II knew about) was his ability to inspire priestly vocations.

Well, this Report is almost sure to repress them. What Catholic parents will want their sons in a seminary unless they are assured by every level of the hierarchy that their boys, be they 17 or 47, will not be sexually abused?

The Report does not suggest that McCarrick was recruited himself before or during his own seminary days for any nefarious purpose. (The KGB tried it in the 1980s, however — see Footnote 127.) What it does underscore, in lavish detail, is that for decades McCarrick was one of the hardest-working, most intelligent, most connected, and most popular bishops in the United States of America.

For every ALL-CAPS anonymous letter accusing him of pedophilia, there were ten letters from superiors and then brother bishops praising him to the skies. McCarrick knew everyone, charmed everyone. (He also gave everyone money, although oddly the Report dances over that.) The Report practically argues that John Paul II needed him in D.C. to mend fences with the White House.

In an interview the Vatican did with McCarrick for the Report, the broken old lizard said, “People in the Conference ask, ‘How did he rise in the ranks?’ Well, they know well how I rose in the ranks: I worked very hard, for them as well. They were happy to have me do most of the things I did.” Having gone through lists of the committees and organizations McCarrick was involved in and the number of trips he took, I believe him there. But having read some of his letters, I think carefully balanced flattery, mixed with convincing shows of obedience, humility, piety, etc., accelerated his success, too.

Thus, although I still wonder about that pricey education, I don’t think there was a shadowy cabal behind McCarrick: I think he was a criminal genius. He played everybody. He played John Paul II, no dummy. He played Obama, no saint. In the post-2005 “sanctions” era, McCarrick told people he had “enemies in Rome” to cover up why he didn’t appear in public as much as he used to.

Most of the story of what McCarrick did to boys under 18, mostly from the New York families he claimed as his own, is at the end of the Report. This is presumably because these stories were not known by the Holy See until 2017. The Report does not go into detail, but the account is heart-breaking as it is. All those Catholic families were so pleased and proud to be chosen by a charming priest to be his family, and sexually abusing some of their boys is how he repaid them. “Uncle Ted” exploited the natural respect, trust and affection American Catholic families had for priests and bishops, thereby destroying it, possibly forever.

What lessons can we take from the Report?

First of all, not to trust wholeheartedly in the Report. A warning from Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons that the Report misrepresented his testimony appeared yesterday in Catholic World Report. The McCarrick Report also goes after Archbishop Viganò in a way it does not go after any other witness: this is clearly personal. The Report is also strangely reticent about the role money played in McCarrick’s life.

Second, McCarrick was brilliant at fooling people, so you may want at least to consider that before ripping up your icons of St. John Paul II. And say a prayer for poor Cardinal John O’Connor, who clearly agonized over sending upstairs what he thought were false rumors about a friend.

Third, anonymous letters and gossip might be enough to stop dodgy prelates now, but they weren’t in 1999. I was particularly struck by the testimony of Religion News Service’s David Gibson and his failure to find a beach house victim. Clever McCarrick seems to have shared a bed with dozens of men he didn’t touch, thus making it harder for anyone to find (or believe) the ones he did. But without a first-hand testimony, Gibson couldn’t expose McCarrick. I can guess how he felt: I’m sitting on at least two separate abuse stories now. The problem is, no victims have come forward. No first-hand testimony, no story. No story on one of them, and chances are my generation’s McCarrick is already on the rise.

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Dorothy Cummings McLean is a Canadian journalist, essayist, and novelist. She earned an M.A. in English Literature from the University of Toronto and an M.Div./S.T.B. from Toronto’s Regis College. She was a columnist for the Toronto Catholic Register for nine years and has contributed to Catholic World Report. Her first book, Seraphic Singles,  was published by Novalis (2010) in Canada, Liguori in the USA, and Homo Dei in Poland. Her second, Ceremony of Innocence, was published by Ignatius Press (2013). Dorothy lives near Edinburgh, Scotland with her husband.