Anybody who bothers to slog through the Vatican’s mountainous report on the McCarrick scandal will not emerge from the experience enlightened. The report’s revelations, to the extent they exist, are inadvertent. The chief one, evident in the feckless epistolary back-and-forth documented in the report, is that McCarrick would remain an honored cardinal to this day were it not for credible accusations against him involving underage teens. Take those charges away, and he would still be popping up at the Vatican for meetings with the pope. That McCarrick had corrupted countless seminarians and priests by pressuring them into his bed simply didn’t shock churchmen, whose standards seemed considerably lower than those of the pagan world.
Well aware of McCarrick’s louche reputation, Pope Francis joked about it, according to previous reports, once jovially attributing McCarrick’s longevity to the devil not having his “accommodations ready” yet. McCarrick’s victims didn’t find his deranged sex addiction amusing and tried to alert churchmen to it. But they didn’t want to listen. Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who succeeded McCarrick in Washington, D.C., was told directly about McCarrick’s abuse by one of his victims, around 14 years before the scandal broke. Wuerl says that he “forgot” about the exchange. Despite this pathological lie, Wuerl is given a chance in the report to tell more of them. He repeats his denials of any knowledge of McCarrick’s misconduct and even portrays himself as an innocent in the belabored, pathetically pussyfooting discussions about McCarrick’s retirement.
The testimony of Wuerl and other McCarrick enablers only serves to highlight the report’s dishonesty. It is a very selective, self-serving, and above all score-settling document. A great deal of it is directed toward refuting former papal nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, who urged the Vatican to cashier McCarrick. But this material isn’t very convincing. Indeed, many of the footnotes in a roundabout way confirm Viganò’s testimony. Did Pope Francis know about McCarrick’s past? Yes. Did he do anything about it? No.
There is a lot of boring back-and-forth about whether Pope Benedict had imposed “sanctions” on McCarrick in retirement or merely recommended that he live quietly. Who cares? Either way, Pope Francis didn’t continue his predecessor’s policy, passive as it was. Long after learning about McCarrick’s misconduct, Pope Francis was still musing about the purposes to which he could put him. In a footnote, the pope is quoted as saying to Cardinal Parolin, “Maybe McCarrick could still do something useful.”
The pope, after all, had already rehabilitated plenty of other checkered prelates. To this day, thanks to the pope’s protection, the ecclesiastical head of the Vatican bank is Monsignor Battista Ricca. The pope made that appointment even after Vatican correspondent Sandro Magister had established that Ricca’s scandals included an affair with a member of the Swiss Guard, a beating he received at a gay bar, and the discovery by firemen of Ricca trapped in an elevator with a young male prostitute.
It was the Ricca appointment that gave rise to the signature phrase of this pontificate: “Who am I to judge?” McCarrick benefited from the lax ethos that that signaled.
The report, of course, says nothing about the existence of the gay mafia in the Church that elected Pope Francis and that has been receiving plum positions ever since. McCarrick had been part of that bloc. Though he couldn’t vote in the conclave, he acknowledged “talking” Francis up to other prelates. What role that played in the pope’s ginger handling of McCarrick naturally goes unaddressed.
One gets the distinct sense from the occasionally omniscient tone of the document that its authors held much back. For example, we are told that McCarrick found out about Cardinal John O’Connor’s highly confidential letter warning Pope John Paul II about elevating McCarrick. Who tipped McCarrick off to that? The Vatican knows, but it tellingly withholds that information, as that would shed too much light on the string-pullers behind the gay mafia.
In one letter, O’Connor insinuates that McCarrick’s incessant globetrotting could be cover for sex tourism, which surely must have been the case. But the document contains no reports of McCarrick-related misconduct abroad, which strains credulity. One wonders how much actual investigation went into the report. (Its aside about the supposed simplicity of life McCarrick adopted while living with the Incarnate Word order is particularly lame. In fact, McCarrick was dragging unwilling seminarians with him to Atlantic City casinos.)
Here and there the report does advance our knowledge of the corruption around McCarrick. One passage recounts an extraordinary dinner at which a drunken McCarrick, growling about how he deserved “New York” (he was angry that his ecclesiastical career had stalled in New Jersey), grabbed the crotch of a cleric next to him in front of his cronies, most of whom took the incident in stride. One of the bishops present, John Smith, would later vouch for McCarrick’s fine character to the Vatican.
The impression left by all the excuse-making for McCarrick (with some bishops pretending that his sleeping with seminarians was non-sexual) is that of a hopelessly decayed bureaucracy, utterly indifferent to holiness or orthodoxy. In a footnote, the report quotes an exasperated Wuerl, eager to wash his hands of the matter in discussions with other churchmen, saying that he was McCarrick’s “successor,” not his “superior.” In the annals of slimy Church history, Wuerl deserves a special place.
McCarrick’s heterodoxy was as obvious as his depravity. But most of the old letters cited in the report (in which churchmen hesitantly debate his future) never even raise that issue. They all gush about his allegiance to the “magisterium.” There is one intriguing mention of somebody objecting to his support for Theodore Hesburgh’s Land O’ Lakes statement, the 1967 manifesto that called for the secularization of American Catholic colleges. But the complaint went nowhere. Too bad. McCarrick’s support for that document foreshadowed a great deal of mischief, culminating in his suppression of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s letter on pro-abortion Catholic pols.
In many ways, McCarrick was a forerunner to the pontificate of Francis, combining an obnoxious political liberalism with doctrinal flakiness. The report makes a point of detailing all the praise he received from politicians, in an effort to spread the blame as widely as possible. It notes that George W. Bush gave him a send-off dinner.
But what does all of this faux-transparency add up to? Nothing. Not a single one of McCarrick’s “nephews” — from Cardinal Cupich in Chicago (his honoring of McCarrick goes unmentioned in the report) to Cardinal Tobin in Newark — has been stripped of any power. If anything, they have gained some since McCarrick’s defrocking.
Now that Wuerl has turned 80, he can no longer serve on Vatican congregations, thereby increasing the power of Cupich and Tobin, not to mention McCarrick’s old roommate, Cardinal Kevin Farrell, who is rumored to be Wuerl’s replacement on the bishop-making congregation. Farrell lived with McCarrick for years in Washington and professed total astonishment at the news of his predation (though in the report, he allows that he had heard rumors about McCarrick’s beach house). In 2019, Pope Francis named Farrell “camerlengo,” the position of overseeing the Church during the period between the pope’s death and the next conclave.
McCarrick is gone, but his influence remains, even extending through Farrell to the next pope. Don’t be surprised if that future pope is a McCarrick crony, too.