February 15, 2019 (CatholicCulture.org) — According to multiple reliable sources in Rome, former cardinal Theodore McCarrick will soon be laicized — defrocked — in punishment for multiple instances of sexual misconduct.
The Vatican will announce the penalty, apparently, just before the long-awaited meeting of the sex-abuse problem. That's not a coincidence. The spin-control experts in Rome will say, in effect: “See? Now even a powerful cardinal has been held accountable. We're really getting serious.”
Not so fast.
The sentence of laicization will be imposed on McCarrick, and McCarrick alone. What about the many other prelates who knew of his misconduct for years, did nothing to curb it, and even advanced his ecclesiastical career? If justice is to be served, they too must be held accountable.
The penalty on McCarrick, as John Allen has observed in his own perceptive handling of the story, “is mostly symbolic.” He retired thirteen years ago, he has already been suspended from ministry and stripped of his dignity as a cardinal; he is now 88 years old, still has many powerful friends, and will undoubtedly live out his remaining years in relative comfort.
More to the point, the crimes of which McCarrick has reportedly been convicted occurred decades ago. According to Archbishop Vigano, the Vatican was aware of those crimes by 2000, Pope Benedict had ordered McCarrick to retire from public life, and Pope Francis was aware of that disciplinary sanction in 2013. Still McCarrick remained in the public eye, and retained considerable influence within the Church.
Since Archbishop Vigano made those shocking disclosures, many people have questioned his motives. But no one has found any substantive error in his testimony. On the contrary, the little evidence that has emerged has supported Vigano. Msgr. Jean-Francois Lantheaume, who once served with the archbishop at the apostolic nunciature in Washington, remarked simply: “Vigano said the truth.” Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, who for years headed the Vatican office that handles such paperwork, confirmed that serious complaints about McCarrick had reached Rome at least by 2000. Even Cardinal Marc Ouellet, who scolded Vigano for airing his complaints in public, acknowledged that Pope Benedict XVI had “strongly advised” McCarrick to maintain “a discreet style of life, of prayer and penance for his own good and that of the Church.”
So why is McCarrick only facing canonical disciplinary action now, so many years later? Defenders of Pope Francis have argued that some of the blame should fall on Pope Benedict, who chose to act quietly, and even on Pope John Paul II, who raised McCarrick to the College of Cardinals. Fair enough. But the failures of those former Pontiffs do not give Pope Francis an excuse for giving McCarrick a new lease on ecclesiastical influence.
We cannot hope to unravel this scandal until we understand how McCarrick came to power. How did he escape punishment — and even climb up the hierarchical ladder — even when his misconduct was an open secret? Who were his patrons in Rome?
Archbishop Vigano has told us where to look for the answers to these questions: in the archives of the Vatican Secretariat of State and the Congregation for Bishops, in the files of the apostolic nunciature in Washington. The relevant documents are safe from subpoena by any American prosecutor; they are under the Vatican's sovereign control. But the Vatican could make them available. And until they are examined, by trustworthy independent investigators, please don't ask us to believe that a symbolic penalty on an aged prelate represents a new commitment to accountability.
The cover-up continues.
Published with permission from the CatholicCulture.org.