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VATICAN CITY, November 12, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) ― One of the many tragic stories revealed in the Vatican’s recently released McCarrick Report is how Theodore McCarrick, as the Archbishop of Newark (1986-2000) — who was known to have shared his bed with seminarians — convinced St. John Paul II to make him the Archbishop of Washington, DC anyway.

“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,” said Pope Francis, quoted in the Report.

This is why Francis “supposed that any allegations against McCarrick already in existence in 2000 must have been deemed without foundation,” the Report states.

Rumors about McCarrick and his habit of having shared his bed with friends and seminarians had reached the Polish pontiff’s ears by the late 1990s.

In 1994, the papal nuncio to Washington, Archbishop Agostino Cacciavillan was told of allegations about McCarrick’s conduct which, after consulting bishops, he determined were groundless.  In 1997, a psychiatrist reported allegations of McCarrick’s abuse of a young seminarian* to the Congregation for Bishops in Rome. But these, too, were considered unconvincing. Then, in 1999, Cardinal John O’Connor of New York wrote to Cacciavillan’s successor Gabriel Montalvo to reveal what he had heard. Earlier in the 1990s, O’Connor had received subliterate anonymous letters accusing McCarrick of pedophilia and incest, which he believed were scurrilous.

At first there was a check to McCarrick’s meteoric rise through the clerical firmament. In 1997 Dr Richard P. Fitzgibbons’ account and the earlier rumors of misconduct with seminarians were enough to sow doubt that the Archbishop of Newark, even if innocent, was the right man for the See of Chicago.

According to the Report, Archbishop Jorge Maria Mejía of the College of Cardinals wrote to Cardinal Pio Laghi, who was in charge of finding candidates for Chicago, to say that McCarrick had been accused of sexual misconduct, and even though the Nunciature was “basically convinced [the allegations] are not really credible,” the Church needed to be careful.

“While it may be that these allegations are unfounded and false, and the good name of Archbishop McCarrick has to be respected above all, this Dicastery is very conscious of the highly charged atmosphere of the United States, particularly in Chicago following upon the allegations, later retracted, which had been made against Cardinal Joseph Bernardin,” Mejía wrote.

In 1999, Pope John Paul II told the ailing Cardinal O’Connor that he was thinking of moving McCarrick to a more prominent diocese, even New York. Shortly afterward, O’Connor told Nuncio Montalvo that he knew of “some elements of a moral nature that advised against” McCarrick’s promotion.

At the nuncio’s behest, O’Connor wrote a letter detailing his concerns. They included stories from “absolutely impeccable authorities” that McCarrick had shared his bed with male visitors at home and with seminarians at a beach house. O’Connor also mentioned Fitzgibbons’ allegations of outright abuse although the Cardinal also said he didn’t find it “definitively persuasive.”  Meanwhile, O'Connor praised McCarrick’s outstanding talents as a bishop and stressed that the Archbishop had not been able to defend himself from the accusations.

Montalvo shared O’Connor’s letter with Cardinal Moreira Neves, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, and with Archbishop Giovanni Battista Re, the Substitute, telling the latter to make the matter known to the Pope. This Re did, and John Paul II requested information about whether or not the report involved “unfounded accusations.”

As the Substitute wrote back to Montalvo: “I have received the confidential report regarding S.E. Msgr. Theodore Edgar McCarrick, Archbishop of Newark. I did not fail to refer [the matter] to the Holy Father, who told me to suggest that Your Excellency verify, when the occasion presents itself, without urgency, whether this involves unfounded accusations. This is for the sake of the truth, regardless of the provision of New York, where – as is well known – this Prelate [McCarrick] is not wanted.”

After summing up what he did know, the nuncio gave his own opinion that McCarrick should not be promoted. He had concluded that there was no evidence to state with certainty that allegations against McCarrick were true but also that “it would be imprudent to consider Archbishop McCarrick for more important responsibilities in the Church.”

Re, acting for John Paul II, also consulted Cacciavillan, who remained unconvinced that there was substance to the rumors.

But despite Cacciavillan, and despite a chorus of bishops recommending McCarrick for New York, McCarrick was left in Newark. Edward Egan became O’Connor’s successor as Archbishop of New York in May 2000.

According to the Report, many American bishops were convinced that the hard-working, accomplished, and popular McCarrick deserved a promotion. In 2000, they “warmly endorsed” him for the See of Washington DC. Behind the scenes, Vatican officials considered the allegations against McCarrick, and although John Paul II could not believe that McCarrick was guilty, he agreed, in the words of Archbishop Re, that “it is not appropriate to run the risk of these accusations resurfacing by promoting Msgr. McCarrick to a more important See, even if they do lack foundation.”

Shortly afterward, however, McCarrick wrote a heart-rending letter to the pope’s secretary, Bishop Stanisław Dziwisz, saying that the late Cardinal O’Connor had maligned him.

McCarrick’s career-saving letter

“Your Excellency,” he wrote on August 6, 2000:

A few months ago I wrote you when certain friends of mine seemed to be promoting my transfer to a more prestigious See. At that time I wrote to assure you that I am very peaceful to stay where I am or to do whatever the Holy Father would ask.

Today I write because of the confidence and trust I have in you and in your love for the Church and for our Pope. I have heard that, before his death, Cardinal O’Connor wrote to the Holy Father a letter which deeply attacked my life as a bishop, a priest and even as a man. If this is true then it is a very grave accusation and leaves me bewildered.

I know that the Cardinal did not want me as his successor although on four occasions in the last eight or ten years he asked me if I would be open to serving as Coadjutor Archbishop of New York. I replied, as always, that I would do whatever the Holy Father asked of me. Never, in all his years of service in New York, did Cardinal O’Connor ever approach me with criticisms or accusations such as apparently are contained in his letter to his Holiness.

Your Excellency, sure I have made mistakes and may have sometimes lacked in prudence, but in the seventy years of my life, I have never had sexual relations with any person, male or female, young or old, cleric or lay, nor have I ever abused another person or treated them with disrespect.

Some years ago, a series of anonymous letters accusing me of improper conduct were sent to the Cardinals in the United States. I immediately shared them with the Apostolic Nuncio and brought them openly to the attention of our Archdiocese Presbyteral Council – so anxious I was to be as open to my priests as possible. I know that I wrote to Cardinal O’Connor at that time to assure him that the accusations were false.

I had thought not to write you about this terrible complaint and to leave the matter in the Hands of God Who is the Judge of all things. However, I discussed it fully with my Confessor and he advised me at least to contact you, whom I regard as a good friend and brother. In case Cardinal O’Connor’s criticism of me involves others, it is good that I write lest the reputation of anyone else be damaged unjustly.

On the other hand, if His Holiness were to have lost confidence in me as a bishop, I would willingly resign my diocese and accept whatever ministry he would assign me. I know the regard the Holy Father has for me — and I have great love for him. The most hurtful part of the matter for me is that it would sadden the Holy Father and let him feel that I had let him down.

Now that I have had my chance to write to you, I will let the Lord do what He will and I will be at peace. Thank you for being someone to whom I can write and to whom I can honestly say that, if I understand the accusations that Cardinal O’Connor may have made, they are not true.

Please pray for me. This is a trying moment in my life. May the Lord use this present cross to make me a better priest.

With gratitude for your patience in reading this letter[.]

+Theodore McCarrick

According to the Report, Pope John Paul II was completely convinced by McCarrick’s letter. He sent a message by way of Cardinal Sodano saying, “Tell McCarrick that I believe what he said and I am still a friend.”

In a sense the pope had been McCarrick’s friend since 1976 when, according to the Report, the multilingual Fr. McCarrick was first called away from a fishing trip with young people to host the visiting Cardinal Karol Wojtyła and his secretary in New York. McCarrick jestingly complained that they had ruined his vacation, a joke the Polish cardinal remembered and referred to when they next met. By then Wojtyła had recently been elected pope, and McCarrick took special pains to cultivate him for the rest of the pontiff’s life.

In October 2000, John Paul II appointed McCarrick the next Archbishop of Washington.

Overview of the McCarrick Report

The Secretariat of State for the Holy See released the 449-page McCarrick Report on Tuesday , Nov. 10 at 2 PM Rome time. Titled “Report on the Holy See’s Institutional Knowledge and Decision-making Related to Former Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick (1930 to 2017),” the document is divided into 30 chapters and follows a chronological order. The Report is prefaced by a letter from the Holy See’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Piero Parolin, who states that Pope Francis had authorized the publication of the document “for the good of the Universal Church.”

The Report states repeatedly that the Holy See had no knowledge, prior to 2017, of any allegation that McCarrick had ever abused a minor. Rumours that McCarrick had once sexually molested adult men, particularly seminarians, had, however, reached Rome as early as the 1990s, and there is evidence that Pope John Paul II was informed of them by the year 2000.

However, the Report makes it clear that the Polish pontiff received incomplete information about allegations about McCarrick’s misdeeds because of omissions made by three American bishops when they were asked for information concerning the future cardinal: Bishop Edward T. Hughes, Bishop John Mortimer Smith, and Bishop James Thomas McHugh.

Report contradicts, blames Viganò

The Report also tells the story of the sanctions, or “indications”, as the Report denies the restrictions on McCarrick’s public life had the canonical or juridical weight of sanctions, placed on McCarrick by then-Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Battista Re. The Report contradicts the testimony of Archbishop Viganò regarding the “indications” to McCarrick to cease his travels and activity. For example, it states categorically that “[n]either Pope Francis, nor [Secretary of State] Cardinal Parolin, nor [Re’s successor] Cardinal Ouellet lifted or modified the prior ‘indications’ related to McCarrick’s activities or residence.”

The Report also holds Viganò responsible for McCarrick’s continued travel, alleging he did not follow Ouellet’s instructions in the matter of new allegations against McCarrick:

Towards the end of the papacy of Benedict XVI, Priest 3, another priest of Metuchen, informed Nuncio Viganò of Priest 3’s lawsuit alleging that overt sexual conduct between him and McCarrick had occurred in 1991. Viganò wrote to Cardinal Ouellet, the new Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, about this in 2012 and Ouellet instructed Viganò to take certain steps, including an inquiry with specific diocesan officials and Priest 3, to determine if the allegations were credible. Viganò did not take these steps and therefore never placed himself in the position to ascertain the credibility of Priest 3. McCarrick continued to remain active, traveling nationally and internationally.

Alongside an extensive biography of the former cardinal, now 90 years old, the report lays out the accusations of sexual misconduct against McCarrick from anonymous letters, of which there is no trace, written by a concerned mother in the mid-1980s, to testimonies given to the Secretariat of State after 2017. The first serious allegations to be reported against McCarrick were made by three priests to his successor as Bishop of Metuchen, Edward T. Hughes, from 1989 to 1994.

As Hughes never reported these allegations, what was more widely known of McCarrick’s activities in the 1980s was his habit of inviting seminarians from Seton Hall University to his beach house where he always arranged to share a bed with one of them. When McCarrick was taxed with his bed-sharing habit, he admitted to sharing his bed, as he said he had done with family members, growing up, but denied ever having had sexual relations with anyone, “man, woman or child.” By 2002, such journalists as David Gibson were working hard to find substance to “the same old rumors” stemming from the bed-sharing but never obtained first-person testimony.

In the end, what stopped McCarrick’s high-profile career, which the Report shows continued despite reproofs and “indications” from Vatican officials, was a 2017 allegation to the Archdiocese of New York that the cardinal had molested a minor in the early 1970s. Francis ordered an end to McCarrick’s public ministry and activities, and shortly thereafter the prelate resigned from the College of Cardinals. He was subsequently, and after his appeal, reduced to the lay state.

The unknown author of the document cites extensive research.

“Although the Holy See’s examination was originally focused on documents, information was also gathered through over ninety witness interviews, each ranging in length from one to thirty hours,” the Report states.

Copious correspondence

The Report also includes copious correspondence between McCarrick and Vatican officials, and between Vatican officials and bishops about McCarrick. They include New York’s Cardinal John O’Connor’s 28 October 1999 letter to Nuncio Gabriel Montalvo summarizing what he knew of stories suggesting McCarrick might have been guilty of misconduct; this letter was sent to Pope John Paul II. They also include McCarrick’s supposedly heartbroken letter to Pope John Paul II that convinced the Polish pontiff that he was innocent.

The biography and correspondence together leave one with the impression that the Holy See had no real evidence that Cardinal McCarrick was anything but the holy, friendly, hard-working and very gifted prelate he appeared to be. When papal nuncios in Washington sought advice from American bishops about the appropriateness of McCarrick for higher office, all but O’Connor always gave enthusiastic references. Some of them are reproduced in the report. Another aspect was the secrecy which with every bishop or official shrouded any rumor they had heard about the bishop. Several examples are given of McCarrick himself misleading people as to why he had curtailed his activities after his extended tenure as Archbishop of Washington came to an abrupt end in 2005.

McCarrick had also made himself seem indispensable, not only to the Church but to the American government. In one letter of complaint about the “indications” limiting his ability to take part in the celebrations around election of Barack Obama, the then-cardinal cited his relationship with then-Vice President Joe Biden (p. 334).

“The disappointment that I was not able to be available was highlighted by a personal phone call from the Vice President- elect, Senator Joseph Biden,” McCarrick wrote to Cardinal Re.

“I believe that I took care of this without losing a friend for the Church or for myself, but it is very difficult,” he continued.

“Dear Eminence, it is so interesting that my reputation among so many of my brother Bishops and among the leaders of government, who have access to investigative agencies, still remains so high that they want me present at their functions while the Church seems unwilling to have any confidence in me.”   

The report ends with a quotation from Pope Francis about the damage sex abuse does to minors; perhaps an unfortunate way to end, given the relative lack of concern among prelates, illustrated by the McCarrick Report, for the well-being of the former prelate’s older “nephews”.

*The McCarrick Report states that Dr. Fitzgibbons was treating two young priests who accused McCarrick of abuse. Fitzgibbons contradicts this, saying only one of his patients ever alleged misbehavior by McCarrick.