McCarrick Report details history of Pope Benedict XVI’s lenient treatment of the case
November 24, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — The new November 10 McCarrick Report reveals in detail the content of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò’s 2006 and 2008 memoranda concerning McCarrick’s immoral conduct, one of which was asking Pope Benedict XVI to start a canonical investigation of this prelate. With it, the Report confirms important details of Viganò’s own 2018 testimony, but gives us, at the same time, the new fact that these two Viganò memoranda did reach his superiors who then discussed them with the Holy Father and encouraged him to take some clear action with regard to McCarrick. Unfortunately, however, Pope Benedict chose not to open up a canonical investigation that would have likely put an end to some of the waffling of the Vatican with regard to the U.S. cardinal, never being sure what are the rumors and what are the facts.
As LifeSite already reported, the newly released McCarrick Report seems to try to steer away from criticism of Pope Francis and to point to faults or omissions committed both by Pope John Paul II — who was aware of allegations against McCarrick but who chose to trust McCarrick’s protestation of innocence and the testimony of three U.S. bishops that later turned out to have been false — and by Pope Benedict XVI. Francis, on the contrary, is presented as simply having followed his predecessors’ rules with regard to McCarrick, as if he had not had his own moral duty to look into the situation himself. For example, Francis is quoted as saying that he trusted the “morally strict” Pope John Paul II in his approach to McCarrick.
However, just because the McCarrick report tries to steer the discussion into one direction, away from Pope Francis’ own responsibility (we have shown that here), it does not mean that we should not consider the facts laid out therein with regard to the other earlier popes. There is one fact that stands in the room: from the time of John Paul II onward, the Vatican had multiple reports about McCarrick that as a bishop he did, indeed, share beds with his subordinate priests and seminarians. Even if there was doubt about any possible sexual contacts in these cases, would it not have warranted a strong response on the part of the Vatican by virtue of the simple fact that an adult man who was in a superior position shared the beds with other adult men who were his subordinates? Should this not have been sufficient to remove McCarrick from any episcopal office?
In this report, we will look at the time period of 2005 until 2013/2014, the time of Benedict’s resignation and Francis’ election, including the beginning of his pontificate. On November 22, prior to publication, LifeSite sent this report to Pope Benedict, via his personal secretary Archbishop Georg Gänswein, asking for a comment and any potential correction of the facts. We shall update this report if we still hear from him.
As we will show, from 2005 onward, Pope Benedict XVI first decided to retire the already-75-year-old cardinal from the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., after an increased number of testimonies, rumors, articles, and other forms of reports on McCarrick’s immoral behavior. Then, in 2006 and 2008, he approved Vatican cardinals telling McCarrick to lead a private life. But at the same time, the Pope never chose to undertake a canonical investigation of all those swirling allegations against the cardinal. Strikingly, U.S. journalist Richard Sipe had written an Open Letter to Pope Benedict XVI in May of 2008, offering to provide him with evidence that McCarrick was a homosexual predator, but that evidence was never requested by the Pope nor by his collaborators. For the sake of doing justice to Pope Benedict, we will present the developments under his pontificate in detail, asking our readers for some patience.
LifeSite had already reported about the pontificate of Pope John Paul II and how he had received, in 1999, a concerned letter from Cardinal John O’Connor, in which he wrote about stories from “absolutely impeccable authorities” that McCarrick had shared his bed with male visitors at home and with seminarians at a beach house. However, this fact — even confirmed by McCarrick himself — had not sufficed to stop McCarrick’s career in the Church, and in 2000, he was made the archbishop of Washington, D.C., after John Paul II had received some supportive statements by three U.S. bishops that now turn out to have been deceptive.
In light of later developments in 2005 — especially since a priest came forward accusing McCarrick — it was Pope Benedict who finally decided that McCarrick should retire, even though he had originally decided, in June of that year, that the cardinal should remain in his office for two more years after he had then turned 75 years of age.
According to the McCarrick Report, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re — the then-Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops – stated in a handwritten memorandum dated November 5, 2005: “The Holy Father requests that the Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops convoke Cardinal McCarrick to Rome, to ask him to spontaneously withdraw immediately from the Washington See after the Christmas holidays.”
At the time, in 2005, Pope Benedict had received information from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that one priest from the Diocese of Metuchen who accused McCarrick of misdeeds was deemed credible. Cardinal Re wrote on November 7 of that year: “Unfortunately, new rumors have come from Metuchen that lead one to hold to be true those [rumors] of years ago that had been judged false.” Allegations of McCarrick’s having shared a bed with another priest had also come to the public light, in December of 2005, due to an article written by U.S. journalist Matt Abbott.
Pope Benedict commented on these developments in 2005 for the McCarrick report, and here we quote the report at length:
In an interview, Cardinal Re stated, “I spoke to Benedict XVI about the problem with McCarrick and he immediately approved the process for the appointment of a successor.”
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who reviewed the Report related to these events, found the contents to be consistent with his own recollections. Through Archbishop Georg Gänswein, the Pope Emeritus recalled that there were suspicions regarding McCarrick’s prior misconduct but a dearth of concrete evidence. The Pope Emeritus recollected that the request that McCarrick resign as Archbishop of Washington was intended to send McCarrick a “clear signal” of disapproval.
However, one may ask: If there was a “dearth of evidence” and “suspicions,” was it not time for a proper investigation of these accusations, that is to say, time for a canonical investigation, for the sake of many souls involved? Instead, the Pope chose to retire McCarrick at the age of 75, as a “clear signal” of approval.
Cardinal Re, in comments for the McCarrick Report, said that at the time the information received by the Congregation for Bishops “was neither ‘certain’ nor ‘concrete’ with respect to McCarrick’s misconduct.” He also emphasized that the information “did not relate to minors,” and that, if “there had been any involvement of minors, the approach to the question would have been completely different.”
This might indicate another problem that the Church suffered under for too long, also under Pope Benedict’s pontificate, namely that homosexual contacts between adult priests were regarded as a lesser problem. As another example, we could mention here that Pope Benedict chose not to start a canonical investigation of a monsignor who worked closely with him as Pope in the Vatican, after there emerged in 2006 complaints about his homosexual assaults on other priests, especially one for whom Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò wrote at the time a memorandum, summing up problems with that monsignor. Instead, Benedict chose to send this monsignor away from Rome, to another position in Austria and, then, after renewed complaints, to his home diocese in Germany.
It was to take another half a year until McCarrick was finally retired. States the report: “On 16 May 2006, Pope Benedict XVI accepted McCarrick’s resignation as Archbishop of Washington and appointed him as the Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese for one month.”
2006 is also when more information about the legal complaints of a priest came to light via official legal letters — McCarrick had forced himself upon him in the 1980s. At the time, an official of the nunciature in Washington expressed that it might be “impossible to prevent an eventual leak of the accusation,” whether it be true or not. Therefore, Cardinal Re stated in a letter to Washington Nuncio Archbishop Pietro Sambi on October 17, 2006 that “as it is impossible to exclude the risk that the press may speak of this in the near or distant future,” McCarrick should be advised to move away from the seminary he was dwelling in at the time. Re also said that McCarrick “needs to decide to lead a reserved life of prayer, so as to not cause himself to be spoken of.”
This October 17, 2006 note is an important historic document, because it lays out the “instructions” given to McCarrick which were not even canonical sanctions. McCarrick was essentially told to lay low so as not to draw the media attention to himself, which could trigger reports of allegations about him. At this moment, it seems that the Church’s concern was more about the reputation of the person and institution involved, rather than about finding out the facts and taking fitting actions.
It is at this point of history that Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò comes in. In 2006 and then in 2008, he wrote two memoranda about the McCarrick case. LifeSite has been able to receive directly from Viganò a confirmation of the accuracy of both Viganò memoranda, and we reproduce them below.
At the time the Delegate for Pontifical Representations within the Secretariat of State, Viganò commented on a correspondence between Nuncio Sambi and Cardinal Bertone on the instructions to be given to McCarrick. Nuncio Sambi had written to Secretary of State Cardinal Bertone on November 27, 2006, stating, “While everyone recognizes Cardinal McCarrick’s warmth, skill, and political flair, he nevertheless keeps us all on edge for the possibility that he may be involved in sex scandals at any moment.”
On December 6, 2006, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò wrote a memorandum (see full text here) related to the November 2006 communication from Nuncio Sambi to Cardinal Bertone. His memorandum summed up what the Vatican so far had heard from different sources, among them Father Boniface Ramsey, O.P. who told the Vatican in 2000 about McCarrick’s sharing the bed with seminarians and priests, as well as the above-mentioned priest who accused McCarrick of abuse. Viganò commented on the priest’s accusations that they are “of such gravity and are so nefarious as to provoke in the reader a sense of disconcert, deep sorrow, and bitterness.” The Italian prelate then pointed out that in the case of a cardinal, it is the Pope’s to judge, and that it would be “healthy,” if “for once” the “ecclesiastical authorities were to intervene before the civil authorities.” Viganò at the time proposed “an exemplary measure that might have a medicinal function that would soothe the serious scandal for the faithful.”
It seems that Viganò'’ memorandum had some effect: “Viganò’s memorandum was read first by Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, the Substitute, followed by Secretary of State Cardinal Bertone. Archbishop Sandri wrote and signed in his hand on the Viganò memorandum, “Si vera sunt exposita: The least one can imagine would be a prohibition against any public pastoral activity, guiding him towards a retired life of penance and prayer. But would that be sufficient?” As the McCarrick report continues, “Cardinal Bertone, agreeing that the matter was disturbing and recognizing that primary competence rested with the Congregation for Bishops, contacted Prefect Re. Following a telephone call with Cardinal Re, the Secretary of State noted in his own hand on the same memorandum: ‘Cardinal Re will write to the Nuncio for a discreet intervention.’”
Nuncio Sambi then had a December 15, 2006 meeting with McCarrick where the Nuncio explained to McCarrick that “no one believes in the truth of the accusations, but in the USA today to create a scandal involving a cardinal and one that damages the Church, the truthfulness of the facts is not indispensable.”
Pope Benedict XVI was also directly informed and he approved of the measures.
Cardinal Bertone’s itemized agenda for his audience with Pope Benedict XVI at the time showed that he and Pope Benedict XVI discussed “Problems relating to Cardinal Theodore McCarrick” during their weekly meeting on 15 January 2007. Cardinal Bertone recalled in an interview for the McCarrick report that he had briefed Pope Benedict XVI regarding the McCarrick situation.
But here comes the Pope’s own assessment of the situation, which seems today so misplaced.
States the report: “Cardinal Bertone stated that the Holy Father ‘was worried about McCarrick’ and wished that McCarrick’s activities be contained in some manner, but did not believe that the path of formal investigation by [the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith] should be taken at that point. Consistent with this recollection, nothing in the record indicates that Pope Benedict XVI instructed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to open an investigation or expressed the view that the course of action previously adopted by Cardinal Re and the Congregation for Bishops should be modified.”
The lack of decisiveness on the Pope’s part is also clarified in light of the fact that in August 2007, he selected McCarrick to serve as special papal envoy to the Seventh Symposium of the Religion, Science and the Environment Movement, which was held the following month in Greenland. McCarrick even read Pope Benedict XVI’s greeting out loud at the beginning of the program in Greenland.
The inherent contradiction is clear: While, with papal approval, McCarrick is first told to lead a private life and not to appear much in public, the Pope himself then calls McCarrick into a public role by even allowing him to present his greeting to an audience in Greenland. The Pope even mentioned McCarrick by name in his greeting.
One could have the following consideration. In a sense, this waffling on the part of Rome was doing injustice either to McCarrick or to his victims. That is to say, had McCarrick been innocent, this quietly telling him to lay low was an injustice to him and he would have deserved a strong defense of his Church. But had he been guilty, the victims deserved that he was stopped from doing harm and punished for his past sins. Either way, the situation would have called for a thorough investigation of the allegations against McCarrick, just as Viganò was to ask for in 2008.
In line with this lack of papal decisiveness, McCarrick’s own activities and responsibilities only slightly decreased in early 2007 following his retirement and the verbal indications received from Cardinal Re through Nuncio Sambi. Nevertheless, Cardinal McCarrick was active during the rest of the year and in 2008, both in the United States and overseas. For example, he attended World Youth Day celebrations in Sydney, Australia, in July 2008, where he was one of the cardinals greeted by the Holy Father.
Another factor of the McCarrick situation and its lack of firm clarity was that Benedict did not explicitly call upon someone to supervise the situation with the U.S. cardinal and to continue to report back to him. As the McCarrick report states: “While McCarrick’s continued activities were known to Nuncio Sambi and certain officials in the Secretariat of State, it appears that Cardinal Re remained under the impression during this period that McCarrick had generally ceased his overseas travel in line with the verbal indications McCarrick had received from Sambi in 2006.”
How can it be that the Vatican establishes rules for a potential culprit, but then does not consistently supervise him to see that he remains loyal to these instructions?
McCarrick also appeared in public together with Pope Benedict in April 2008, at the time of the papal trip to the United States. During that trip, McCarrick concelebrated Mass with Pope Benedict XVI at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and attended dinner with the Holy Father during the visit to New York. Had Benedict been insistent and consistent with the rule that McCarrick should lead a quiet life away from the public, this incident certainly would not have taken place. In a sense, the Vatican acted here like a liberal parent: it told a child not to do certain things but then did not make sure these rules were supervised and implemented.
But it was at that time — April of 2008 — that another public reminder came that the McCarrick problem still had not been solved: shortly after Benedict’s return from the United States, Richard Sipe, a psychotherapist and former Benedictine monk, published on the Internet an Open Letter to Pope Benedict XVI about the “Pattern of the Sexual Abuse Crisis in the United States.” One of the cases therein mentioned was McCarrick.
In his letter, Sipe wrote that “McCarrick took seminarians and young priests to a shore home in New Jersey, sites in New York, and other places and slept with some of them. He established a coterie of young seminarians and priests that he encouraged to call him ‘Uncle Ted.’” Sipe added that he had “documents and letters I have received from a priest who describes in detail McCarrick’s sexual advances and personal activity” and then explains that “I know the names of at least four priests who have had sexual encounters with Cardinal McCarrick. I have documents and letters that record the first hand testimony and eye witness accounts of McCarrick.” Such a published letter, it would seem, would call for an investigation on the part of the Vatican.
In contradiction to what Cardinal Re had told the authors of the McCarrick Report — namely, that he thought McCarrick’s activities had calmed down and that he abided by the instructions — he did, after Sipe’s article, reach out on May 8 to Nuncio Sambi, asking him to “follow closely the Cardinal McCarrick case, and also to let me know if it is agreed that I should repeat the indications” that he himself had originally transmitted to the Nuncio in his 17 October 2006 letter.
In light of these allegations published by Sipe, Archbishop Viganò saw fit once more to intervene. He wrote on May 5, 2008 a second internal memorandum related to McCarrick (see full text here). Archbishop Viganò’s 2008 memorandum, which contained, in part, some content similar to his 2006 memorandum, additionally quoted at length Sipe'’ Open Letter to Pope Benedict. A striking part of this letter is that Sipe had offered Pope Benedict to give him the evidence in order to prove his point that McCarrick is a homosexual predator. “If Your Holiness requests,” Sipe wrote in 2008, “I will submit to you personally documentation of that about which I have spoken.” As far as we know, the Vatican has never contacted Richard Sipe to ask him for his evidence. There is nothing mentioned about it in the Report.
That Pope Benedict saw Sipe’s Open Letter is highly likely since the letter not only came to him by way of Viganò’s memorandum, but also by way of Monsignor Joseph Augustine Di Noia, O.P., an official at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, acting on behalf of Prefect Levada, who forwarded the letter to Cardinal Bertone. On the envelope containing Sipe’s letter, Cardinal Bertone wrote on May 19, 2008: “Two hypotheses: either not to respond or report to N.A. [the Apostolic Nuncio] confidentially.” But then also Pope Benedict’s own secretary commented on it, thereby indicating that he had seen it, too. Below Cardinal Bertone’s note, Monsignor Georg Gänswein wrote: “Return to Card. Bertone in a reserved manner.” The handwritten comments by both Gänswein and Bertone do not indicate that it was planned to contact Mr. Sipe.
Let us return to Viganò’s 2008 Memorandum.
After quoting Sipe's letter, Archbishop Viganò stated in his Memorandum that “to the many scandals in the Church in the United States, it seems that another of particular gravity concerning a Cardinal is about to be added.” Here, the Italian prelate now pointed once more to the responsibility of the Pope in this matter and then proposed that a canonical investigation of McCarrick could and should be opened: “The case of Card. McCarrick,” Viganò wrote, “as has been said, is within the sole competence of the Roman Pontiff, who could, possibly, entrust the Promoter of Justice of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith with commencing an investigative process as soon as possible.”
In a manuscript note on Archbishop Viganò’s Memorandum, Cardinal Bertone wrote: “I agree with the observations, though it seems to me that the most recent report of the [Apostolic Nuncio] Msgr. Sambi contains testimony in defense (in some manner) of the Cardinal. Will it be possible to carry out proposal n. 6? (But let’s hear, naturally, from the Holy Father). B.”
This note by Bertone is important since it shows that Pope Benedict would be informed about this memorandum and then asked for guidance and new instructions. Bertone clearly doubted that a canonical investigation was the right thing to do, and it is possible that he convinced the Pope of his opinion, even though we do not have any evidence for that.
The McCarrick Report now simply states: “No formal investigation or penal process was conducted at that time,” adding that “a search of the records of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith turned up no file and no archival ‘position’ related to McCarrick prior to 2018.”
As the Report stresses, this second Viganò memorandum was nevertheless taken into consideration. “Finally, as explained below, Cardinal Re did take certain measures in June 2008, just a month after Viganò’s second memorandum,” the report states.
Cardinal Re actually also rebuked McCarrick for having appeared at a public event together with Pope Benedict, in mid-May of 2008. The Report states: “Accordingly, following the event, Cardinal Re approached McCarrick and reproved him for his public presence, repeating that McCarrick was supposed to be conducting a more reserved life. McCarrick did not take Cardinal Re’s verbal admonition well and, according to Re, McCarrick avoided him thereafter.” Re told McCarrick, who protested and insisted upon his innocence: “True or not true, the accusations exist! You, for the good of the Church, must not be going around.”
On May 27, 2008, in response to Cardinal Re’s inquiry several weeks before, Nuncio Sambi wrote a report. Among the things he related were two important facts, namely, that “the priests that the Cardinal invites to go with him to the sea seem to [the Vice Rector of Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Washington] to be of a homosexual tendency; one of them made an indecent proposal to him.” Secondly, Sambi stressed the possible damage to the soul of McCarrick should he live a too restricted life, thereby promoting a lenient approach in his case: “nobody will succeed in convincing the Cardinal to accept ‘a life in retirement’: it is not part of who he is; if it were to be imposed on him, psychological collapse (depression) and even psychosis are to be feared.”
Not long after this report, Cardinal Re instructs Sambi on June 14, 2008 that McCarrick should move away from the Redemptoris Mater Seminary, living in a religious house, and that he “conduct a more private life,” accepting invitations in the U.S. or abroad only with the approval of the Holy See. On the same day, he wrote to McCarrick directly, telling him “not to make public appearances and to conduct a quiet life of prayer and penance for past imprudent actions.” “I know that this goes against your natural character,” Re continued, “since you enjoy getting together with others in order to do so much good and spread the values of the Gospel in every setting.” Therefore, the cardinal added, “I appeal to your ecclesial spirit and I am obliged to ask you not to accept invitations for any public events.”
Let us remember at this point that these June 14, 2008 instructions very much resemble the October 17, 2006 indications given to McCarrick, namely to move away from the seminary he was dwelling in at the time, as well as “to lead a reserved life of prayer, so as to not cause himself to be spoken of.”
However, these 2008 lenient measures constituted no canonical sanctions. The report explained that “Cardinal Re stated in an interview that his 14 June 2008 letter to McCarrick ‘was not juridical in nature’ and depended upon the expectation that Cardinal McCarrick, as a bishop, would comply with the request of the Holy See.”
Once more Pope Benedict XVI is shown in the Report to have been kept informed about the McCarrick case. After Cardinal Re informed him “of the decision of the Congregation for Bishops to urge McCarrick to lead a quiet life,” the Pope approved. Re stated: “I communicated to the Pope the contents of the letter [containing the new instructions to McCarrick], the substance of the letter, and the Pope was in agreement. He said, ‘Good, very good.’” Additionally, through Archbishop Gänswein, the Pope also recalled receiving Cardinal Re in audience, being briefed on the situation regarding Cardinal McCarrick, and reviewing Re’s June 14, 2008 letter to McCarrick. States the Report: “The Pope Emeritus also recalled approving the approach taken in Cardinal Re’s letter.”
The problem, once more, was that the Vatican was not yet sure about the truth of the allegations against McCarrick. As the Report states: “In an interview, Cardinal Bertone noted that the allegations against McCarrick did not relate to minors, that they were ambiguous with regard to overt sexual conduct, and that they were deemed untrue by those who lived with McCarrick. Given McCarrick’s strong denials and the fact that he was already emeritus, the focus of Holy See officials was on the need to avoid drawing unwarranted attention to allegations that remained unproven.”
It seems only Archbishop Viganò saw the matter in a different light, if we consider his two 2006 and 2008 memoranda.
In early 2009, Cardinal McCarrick, adhering to Cardinal Re’s request that he leave the Redemptoris Mater Seminary, moved into an upper floor apartment connected to the St. Thomas the Apostle parish in Washington, D.C., as had been arranged by Archbishop Donald Wuerl. However, McCarrick maintained his office at the Redemptoris Mater Seminary and traveled there frequently for work, thereby remaining present in the seminary.
To sum up what happened after the June 2008 instructions given by Rome to McCarrick: He maintained for about half a year an intense correspondence with Re about his activities, asking for permission for them. However, the communications then ceased and he merely remained in contact with Archbishop Sambi who seemed positive about the lists of activities that McCarrick was presenting to him. As we know from other sources, such as Monsignor Anthony Figueiredo, the U.S. cardinal kept on intensely working with curial cardinals such as Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, Cardinal Peter Turkson, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and Archbishop Peter Gallagher, the Vatican’s foreign minister.
McCarrick also seemed to resent the instructions from the Vatican, especially since they were not even given to him in the name of the Pope. “Cardinal Re wants me out of the seminary, but unless the Pope tells me I won’t go anyplace,” he is being quoted as saying in the Report. McCarrick also insisted that “I am a cardinal of Mother Church and it has to be the Pope who tells me what I can and can’t do.”
The Vice Rector of the Redemptoris Mater Seminary where McCarrick had lived and worked in retirement did not recall a significant slowing down of McCarrick’s activities. On the contrary, according to the McCarrick Report, the Vice Rector said: “I didn’t really see any change in activities. I do remember that he was focused on helping the State Department with things. Peace talks in the Middle East, Israel, China. There was a lot of that. He was traveling all the time. He was a Cardinal of the Church but it was more than just assisting a Cardinal or a Cardinal Emeritus, since his activities went well beyond that and entered also into the political realm. And during those years that I was helping him, he continued doing that. The activity did not go down. On the contrary, there was more and more and more of it.” The same has been corroborated by a priest in Rome who worked as a secretary for McCarrick.
The Report states that from May 2009 on, there was no correspondence taking place between McCarrick and Rome: “After his letter of 15 May 2009, there is no further trace of McCarrick having written again to Cardinal Re or to any other official of the Congregation for Bishops, including Cardinal Ouellet, the new Prefect appointed on 30 June 2010. There is also no record of correspondence from any official of the Congregation for Bishops to McCarrick after Cardinal Re’s letter of 30 May 2009.”
When the new Prefect of the Congregation of Bishops, Cardinal Marc Ouellet came into office in June of 2010, his predecessor did not even speak with him about McCarrick, at least according to the McCarrick Report: “Cardinal Ouellet and Cardinal Re did not discuss the McCarrick matter at the time that Ouellet was installed as Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops in mid-2010.” In an interview, Cardinal Re stated that he “never spoke with Ouellet about the question of McCarrick” because “[i]t was a resolved case for me.”
It is astonishing how those intimately involved in this fairly confidential dealing with McCarrick had so little interest in making sure the U.S. cardinal followed the Vatican's instructions about leading a private life of prayer.
The McCarrick Report sums up the situation as follows: “While Pope Benedict XVI was informed by Cardinal Bertone regarding the options available with respect to McCarrick, the Holy Father did not authorize an investigation or other proceeding that might have resulted in findings of fact upon which more decisive action could have been taken. The Holy Father did not impose sanctions or restrictions on McCarrick’s activity.” While the last sentence is a bit of a sophistical statement – since they did ask him to restrict his movements – it is at the same time true since no one in the Vatican insisted that McCarrick should actually follow these rules of leading a more restricted life. Whether the McCarrick report tries here to lay blame on Benedict or not, the facts do not look good.
It was clear that Cardinal Re did not pay special attention to McCarrick’s continued activities, and that he did not see himself obliged to control him. As the Report has it, Cardinal Re stated in an interview that he was “unaware that McCarrick had continued to be active and that he believed that McCarrick, in accordance with the language of Re’s letter of 14 June 2008, was withdrawing to live a quiet life.” Cardinal Re said: “I, in fact, had the impression that everything was calm. After [my 14 June 2008 letter], I thought that he was not taking any more trips. That he remained tranquil in the United States. This was the impression that I had … that he had understood the import and importance of my letter and that he had retired. I do not recall any further contact with him after that.”
Here we quote the report once more with regard to Pope Benedict himself:
Through Archbishop Gänswein, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI stated that he believed that, after Cardinal Re’s letter was given to McCarrick, the approach set forth in the letter was coherently followed in the ensuing years. The Pope Emeritus was unaware that the original indications may have been relaxed or that Nuncio Sambi had adopted a flexible approach to McCarrick’s travel and public activity. Like Cardinal Re, the Holy Father did not recall being aware, or being made aware, that McCarrick continued to travel frequently after 2008.
If the head of an organization wants to make sure that a certain collaborator abides by certain rules, he sets up certain persons with the task of implementing his rules and watching over that collaborator. Benedict obviously did not have the will to do so, thus showing a lack of interest in the matter.
2010 until 2012
McCarrick remained active also in the Papal Foundation and participated as such in April of 2010 in an audience with Pope Benedict who, according to McCarrick, was “most gracious” with him.
McCarrick also traveled to Rome to meet with Pope Benedict XVI on January 16, 2012, on the occasion of the Ad Limina visit of the Archdiocese of Washington, thereby showing the Pope that he was still active.
Consistent with his approach during Archbishop Sambi’s tenure as Nuncio, Cardinal McCarrick kept Viganò informed of his activities when he became the new nuncio in late 2011. But, as in 2006 and 2008, this Italian prelate was not at ease with what he saw when he came to Washington and repeatedly wrote to his superiors in Rome about McCarrick’s continued activities and asking them for instructions as to how he should deal with this problem.
For example, on August 13, 2012, Viganò wrote to Cardinal Ouellet and described the continued activities, public appearances, and travels of McCarrick, reiterated the “indications” given to the U.S. cardinal, and concluded: “Accordingly, one can affirm that Cardinal Re’s admonition to him is a dead letter.” He also stated that “Cardinal McCarrick therefore should not have accepted any invitation of a public nature and should have ‘conducted a quiet life of prayer and penance for past imprudent actions.’ The Cardinal did not obey this advice.” In light of a new priest filing complaints with regard to McCarrick, Viganò concluded his letter with the words: “I therefore request instructions as to how I should act in this regard.”
(Here we do not go in detail into the Vatican’s attempt at blaming Viganò for not fulfilling Ouellet’s subsequent instructions concerning the priest who had issued complaints about McCarrick. From what can even be seen in the Report, Viganò did send follow-up information about the case to Rome, to include that the court had dismissed the priest’s case and that one U.S. bishop called this priest unreliable. Additionally, in an interview with Raymond Arroyo, Archbishop Viganò added that he had had an unrecorded telephone call with Ouellet about this matter that is not mentioned in the Report. It is embarrassing that the Report claims that only because Viganò did not follow up on the priest’s accusations, Cardinal Ouellet did not see any need to brief newly-elected Pope Francis in 2013 about the McCarrick case whose history goes far beyond Viganò’s time. That Viganò was friendly in dealing with McCarrick in his position as nuncio can also not be laid at his feet since he was simply abiding by the tone set by Pope Benedict, as well as the curial cardinals who closely worked together with McCarrick. Let us consider how in the story that we relate here, Viganò appears to have been the only Vatican prelate truly concerned about McCarrick’s misdeeds.)
On September 8 of the same year, Viganò told Ouellet again about an incident where McCarrick wanted to participate in a diocesan event, but Viganò intervened. He pointed out that the “situation, in any case, confirms how much Cardinal McCarrick no longer takes into consideration the provisions given to him in the past by this Congregation” and stated that, in his opinion, it would be “opportune” that “new directives be eventually communicated to this Apostolic Nunciature, in light of the aforesaid facts.”
On September 12, Ouellet answered Viganò, renewing the old “instructions” that had been largely ignored by McCarrick: “However, even in the event that [Priest 3’s] accusations against Cardinal McCarrick were to turn out to be unfounded,” Ouellet wrote, “if the facts were made public, they could harm the Cardinal and the Church.” He continued:
Therefore, I ask that Your Excellency have a conversation with the Cardinal, presenting to him this new accusation against him, reiterating to Cardinal McCarrick, for his own good and for the good of the Church, the previous indications of this Dicastery: to lead a more reserved life of prayer (cf. Letter of this Dicastery bearing the same protocol number, dated June 14, 2008) and not to accept public commitments, whether in the United States or abroad, without the prior and explicit permission of the Holy See (cf. Letter from this Dicastery bearing the same protocol number, dated September 8, 2008).
Unfortunately, both Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Ouellet confirmed that Ouellet did not discuss the new developments in the McCarrick case with the Pope, whether before or after sending the letter to Archbishop Viganò
For Ouellet, once he had sent the letter to Viganò in September 2012, he considered the matter as “something that had been handled. It was no longer something that was pending.” In his October 2018 open letter, Cardinal Ouellet had even stated that he never discussed the McCarrick case with Pope Benedict, a sign that also the Pope did not show special interest in the matter; otherwise he could have told Ouellet to keep him updated on the matter.
“Since I became Prefect of this Congregation on 30 June 2010,” Ouellet wrote on October 7, 2018, “I never brought up the McCarrick case in an audience with Pope Benedict XVI or Pope Francis until these last days, after his removal from the College of Cardinals.”
Again, it is certainly a sign of lack of sensitivity toward such a potential moral scandal that the head of the Congregation for Bishops would not have an ongoing discussion about McCarrick with the successive popes, nor would make sure that he receives regular updates on McCarrick’s behavior, also in light of the fact that McCarrick appeared at papal audiences and events.
2013 until 2014
In February of 2013, Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation, leaving the unresolved McCarrick case behind.
That Viganò also after Benedict’s resignation did not give up being concerned about the McCarrick situation is being recorded in the McCarrick Report, as well, and perhaps against its own intentions at dismissing Viganò’s witness. As the author of the Report writes: “Cardinal Re also recounted that Nuncio Viganò met with him in the Vatican just prior to Viganò’s October 2013 meeting with Pope Francis. Viganò gave Cardinal Re a copy of the 14 June 2008 letter from Re to McCarrick and told Re that he believed that the indications set forth in that letter were no longer being followed. Viganò stated that he intended to raise his concerns about McCarrick with Pope Francis.” As we now know from Viganò’s own 2018 testimony, that is also what he did in June of 2013.
One last time, in 2014, Viganò raised his voice of concern. On 5 May 2014, Nuncio Viganò wrote to Cardinal Parolin about McCarrick’s trip and the prior indications. Nuncio Viganò wrote: “You are probably already well acquainted with the journeys which, with a certain frequency, His Eminence Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, Archbishop emeritus of Washington, undertakes in various parts of the world, given that, at times, such news circulates in the media. … For my part, … I feel the duty to transmit this news to Your Eminence, in consideration of the fact that the Congregation for Bishops, in the persons of the Most Eminent Card. Giovanni Battista Re, Prefect emeritus, and of the Most Eminent Card. Marc Ouellet, current Prefect, has repeatedly given instructions to the aforementioned Cardinal to refrain from making trips and “not to make public appareances” (sic) (see Foglio No. [redacted], dated 14 June 2008 by Card. Re to Card. McCarrick). The reasons for this provision are certainly available from this Secretariat of State and the Congregation for Bishops. They could possibly no longer be in effect, in which case I would like to be comforted by new instructions in this regard.”
But this was clearly already under Pope Francis who had his own political agendas and interests. Accordingly, Cardinal Parolin, after having been informed about the history of the McCarrick case made a note on July 20, 2014, saying that “in a forthcoming meeting in Rome I will speak with Cardinal McCarrick about the problems raised by [Bishop] Viganò, about whom I was also able to speak with Cardinal Ouellet.” With respect to the alternative channel in China through McCarrick’s contacts, Cardinal Parolin adhered to the diplomatic precept that it is best to promote dialogue and “never close a door.” On that basis, Parolin permitted McCarrick’s own China initiatives.
Archbishop Viganò was left out of this discussion, though on March 16, 2015, Archbishop Becciu responded to his May 2014 letter “concerning the travels undertaken by Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington.” The Substitute wrote, “In thanking you for the information and the observations which you provided, I would assure you that they have been carefully noted.”
In hindsight, it might have been better for the Catholic Church had Pope Benedict done what Archbishop Viganò had proposed in 2008, namely, that a canonical investigation of the allegations against McCarrick was to be instigated. As we have seen by now, the lack of interest on the part of Pope Benedict in the McCarrick case — in light of increasing numbers of warning voices about McCarrick — was fatal for the Church.