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November 11, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – The newly released, long-awaited November 10 “McCarrick report” indicates that Pope Francis was not to be blamed for the fact that he did not restrain then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick in his activities in international affairs and church politics. The report points out that he merely followed the path chosen by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI with regard to McCarrick. Francis also denies ever having heard from Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò about the allegations of McCarrick's sexual abuse and the instructions given to him by the Vatican to live a more private life. But the report at the same time shows that Francis did, in fact, hear of the facts of McCarrick’s abuse, but from other sources, namely from Cardinal Angelo Becciu and Cardinal Pietro Parolin. This confirms an essential argument made by Viganò, namely, that Francis knew and chose to collaborate with McCarrick.

The general tone of the report is that Pope Francis did not know much about McCarrick's past and that he followed the lead of his predecessors. States the report: “Pope Francis recalled having supposed that any allegations against McCarrick already in existence in 2000 must have been deemed without foundation because 'John Paul II was a man so morally strict, of such moral rectitude, that he would never have permitted a rotten candidacy to move forward.'”

As to the claim of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò that the Archbishop had informed Francis about McCarrick's misdeeds and that the Cardinal had been placed under certain restrictions with regard to his public life, the report states that Pope Francis does not recall these words. The Italian Archbishop says that he had spoken with the Pope on two occasions, in June and in October of the year 2013. Here we once more quote the report at length, for the sake of clarity:

Pope Francis was questioned closely regarding the 23 June and 10 October 2013 meetings. Whether due to the extraordinary level of activity during the Summer and Fall of 2013, or due to how the information was communicated, Pope Francis did not recollect what Viganò said about McCarrick during these two meetings. However, because McCarrick was a cardinal known personally to him, Pope Francis was certain that he would have remembered had Viganò spoken about McCarrick with any “force or clarity” (…)

In an added footnote, it is explained that “Pope Francis recalled having received Viganò on 23 June 2003 [sic, it was 2013] but stated that what he remembered from that evening was that 'I needed to ask Parolin to be Secretary of State. That was my focus that day and my memory of that day.'”

However, independently of the question of whether Francis remembered what Viganò told him or not, two facts are standing in the room:

  1. that Cardinal Becciu had informed him about rumors about McCarrick's immoral conduct and the “indications” (a strange word for the Vatican's instructions for McCarrick concerning his public life and his private residence)
  2. that Cardinal Parolin had also informed him about the same matter.

We shall investigate these two aspects in a moment, but we can already pause here and consider the following: Is it sufficient for a new Pope to hear about grave allegations and even restrictions placed on a cardinal of the Catholic Church without following up on the matter, requesting documentation, and considering whether the restrictions should be removed, altered, or preserved? After all, such a case of the highest-ranking nature surely must call from the Pope's attention and care.

Let us now consider the facts.

With regard to then-Archbishop Angelo Becciu – at the time the Substitute in the Secretariat of State – the report states that he recalled in an interview “that he mentioned to Pope Francis the existence of old allegations related to McCarrick in 2013 and then again at some point between 2014 and 2016.”

Becciu was privy here to some important information since he worked in 2000 as an official in the Washington Nunciature and thereby became a witness of Nuncio Gabriel Montalvo's concern about McCarrick's misdeeds. The report states that Becciu “told Pope Francis that Nuncio Montalvo had appeared shocked when he learned of the nomination to Washington because Montalvo had excluded McCarrick from the terna after receiving letters reporting allegations made by others of McCarrick’s prior immoral conduct with a seminarian.”

But not only this, Becciu also told the Holy Father that “it was his understanding that McCarrick had later been prohibited from traveling, and that this was in relation to the same allegations that had surfaced prior to the appointment to Washington.”

Pope Francis confirms this conversation when he told the authors of the report that he “remembered a brief exchange with Substitute Becciu regarding McCarrick.” The report goes on to say that “he recalled Archbishop Becciu asking rhetorically, 'But what is McCarrick doing here? He should not be coming around.' Pope Francis stated that Becciu did not elaborate on what the prior indications related to, other than to say that it 'was something from the distant past' that had been 'gossiped about' and that Becciu had heard about while he was in the Nunciature in the United States.”

Here comes the above-mentioned quote from the Pope that he trusted Pope John Paul II's assessment of McCarrick's character.

Becciu only discussed the McCarrick topic with the Pope in 2018, also since he “understood that the matter fell within the competence of the Congregation for Bishops, just as it had prior to 2013.”

The second case is Cardinal Parolin. An interesting letter written by McCarrick to Pope Francis comes into play. In the March 8, 2016 letter, the Cardinal stated, after describing his international travels, that “Holy Father, thank you for letting me pursue these small works of mine. I hope that I can be useful to You and to the Church and am, of course, always willing to let everything pass if in any way You would prefer that I go into a deeper retirement or into a house of prayer.” This letter seems to indicate that McCarrick at least assumed that Pope Francis was aware of the “restrictions” placed on his life by the Vatican, or, even more, that the two had spoken about them in a prior conversation.

Cardinal Parolin, who had received a similar letter dated on the same day, noticed these words in the letter to the Pope, too, and took them as an occasion to speak with the Pope about the McCarrick case. Parolin mentioned then in “a brief conversation with Pope Francis that McCarrick was 'gossiped about' regarding past imprudent acts with adults and that the Congregation for Bishops had previously indicated to McCarrick that he should lead a more reserved life and not travel so much.” The report goes on to say that “Cardinal Parolin recalled that he 'did not present it as a matter of grave concern, or as something very serious,' but that he asked if anything should be done, noting, 'he keeps writing. He continues to travel. He continues to meet people.' Cardinal Parolin recollected that, during this exchange, Pope Francis commented that 'maybe McCarrick could still do something useful.'”

Even going further, Pope Francis was well aware of his two predecessor's dealing with the McCarrick allegations, but he also saw that they had been lenient with McCarrick. The report states that Cardinal Parolin recalled that “Pope Francis was aware that both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI had known of the old allegations against McCarrick, and that McCarrick had nevertheless remained active during the two prior papacies.”

These two interlocutors also “understood that the Congregation for Bishops remained the competent dicastery to handle the matter, as it had since 2006.” This phrase from the report indicates that Pope Francis was then also aware that the restrictions had been placed on McCarrick since 2006 and that it was the Congregation for Bishops which was tasked with handling this problem. That is to say: Pope Francis knew a lot.

However, as the report concludes, this McCarrick topic “did not come up again between Pope Francis and Cardinal Parolin until the Fall of 2017.”

That is to say, in spite of the fact that Pope Francis was told by two of his trusted collaborators about McCarrick, the allegations against him and the Vatican's restrictions, he chose not to further investigate that matter by requesting documentation and by revisiting whether further investigations were necessary. Here, one cannot simply blame his conduct on the omissions of his predecessors.

Let us here review this situation in light of Pope Francis' church reform. There are many areas where he chose not to trust his predecessors' decisions and guidance. For example, he went against the policies and direction of the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family, effectively dismantling it; he also dismissed John Paul II's firm reassurance that “remarried” divorcees may not receive Holy Communion. Lastly, he dismissed and degraded several of the most trusted collaborators of Pope Benedict XVI, such as Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller and Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke.

That is to say: Francis has not always been following his predecessors' lead, and the reason why he chose to do so in the McCarrick case might very well be for the reason that McCarrick was a useful tool for him in his attempt at liberalizing the Catholic Church and at increasing his good relations with China and the Muslims. As the report itself shows, Francis met McCarrick on multiple occasions and at least in three private audiences. He received multiple letters from McCarrick with reports on his international activities. And he let McCarrick increase contacts with Chinese representatives, as well as let him play a role in the dealing between President Barack Obama and Cuba.

This now-published McCarrick report confirms a fact for which Viganò stood but had been chided for by many in the Catholic world: that Pope Francis did know about the sex abuse allegations against McCarrick and that the Vatican had taken steps, from 2006 on, to remove him from the public, by telling him to move into a more remote residence and to hold back in his public appearances and travels. Pope Francis chose not to follow up.

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Dr. Maike Hickson was born and raised in Germany. She holds a PhD from the University of Hannover, Germany, after having written in Switzerland her doctoral dissertation on the history of Swiss intellectuals before and during World War II. She now lives in the U.S. and is married to Dr. Robert Hickson, and they have been blessed with two beautiful children. She is a happy housewife who likes to write articles when time permits.

Dr. Hickson published in 2014 a Festschrift, a collection of some thirty essays written by thoughtful authors in honor of her husband upon his 70th birthday, which is entitled A Catholic Witness in Our Time.

Hickson has closely followed the papacy of Pope Francis and the developments in the Catholic Church in Germany, and she has been writing articles on religion and politics for U.S. and European publications and websites such as LifeSiteNews, OnePeterFive, The Wanderer, Rorate Caeli,, Catholic Family News, Christian Order, Notizie Pro-Vita, Corrispondenza Romana,, Der Dreizehnte,  Zeit-Fragen, and Westfalen-Blatt.