The Vatican’s long-promised report on the Theodore McCarrick scandal has yet to materialize. Meanwhile, his “nephews” continue to rise in the Church, often taking positions within the inner circle of Pope Francis. Cardinal Kevin Farrell, who roomed with McCarrick for five years in Washington, D.C., has been appointed by Pope Francis to the position of camerlengo, which means that he will preside over the next papal conclave. According to the National Catholic Reporter’s Michael Sean Winters, who serves as a stenographer for the American bishops around Pope Francis, Farrell may receive another papal plum this year: a seat on the powerful Congregation for Bishops.
Winters writes that the seat is likely to go to either Farrell or Joseph Tobin, who is another “nephew” of McCarrick, having received his position as archbishop of Newark through the string-pulling of McCarrick. Donald Wuerl, who covered for McCarrick, currently sits on the Congregation for Bishops but is nearing 80, which will require that he step down, says Winters:
Of special concern to Americans will be the likely naming of a new American prelate to be a member of the Congregation for Bishops when Cardinal Donald Wuerl turns 80 on Nov. 12. This is an onerous job, but a consequential one, requiring monthly trips to Rome but also providing a seat at the table when new candidates for the episcopacy are discussed and referred to the pope.
There are really only two candidates at the moment: Cardinal Joe Tobin, who lives 10 minutes from the airport in Newark, New Jersey, and Cardinal Kevin Farrell, who is already in Rome as prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life. Either one would be an excellent choice as both are champions of Francis and neither is an alumnus of the North American College. It is imperative that the nuncio and the congregation look beyond the walls of the North American College for candidates.
The uber-liberal cardinal of Chicago, Blase Cupich, who is another beneficiary of McCarrick’s string-pulling, already sits on the Congregation for Bishops. Should Tobin or Farrell join him on it, that will give liberals two like-minded bishop-makers on the Congregation. Even in his disgraced exile — it was reported this last week that McCarrick is back on the move after leaving the Kansas friary where he was holed up for over a year — McCarrick exerts influence over the Church through his minions.
The abuse cases against him continue to pile up, which will cost the Church untold millions. In Newark, where McCarrick once served as archbishop, the archdiocese is in a lawsuit with workers at St. James Hospital who say the archdiocese has failed to fulfill its pension obligations. Forecaster Beau Henderson writes about the controversy in his December newsletter Strategic Retirement. Henderson predicts that one of the scandals of 2020 will be the Catholic Church’s inability to fulfill pension obligations owing to skyrocketing abuse costs: “In 2019, General Electric made headlines when it announced plans to freeze its pension plan for more than 20,000 domestic employees. In 2020, I expect an even bigger retirement scandal to capture the nation’s attention and draw politicians’ ire. It involves one of the largest religious denominations in the world.”
Henderson notes that the Church has been using its religious exemption to “opt out of obeying federal pension laws.” This has resulted in a number of “pension collapses” in Church institutions already — a trend that is likely to accelerate under the weight of the costly abuse scandal. Henderson gives the example of St. Joseph’s Health Services in the diocese of Providence, Rhode Island. “[The diocese] has resolved over 130 sexual-abuse claims by paying out over $21 million in legal settlements,” he writes. “It could be one of the reasons why the church failed to make proper contributions to the St. Joseph Health Services pension fund.… These members face a shortfall of more than an estimated $125 million. In October, the church and its business partners settled the court case for $12 million.”
Henderson predicts that the number of such lawsuits is going to explode, forcing politicians to reconsider the religious exemption from federal pension obligations:
When you think about it, it’s more than a little galling that churches are legally stealing hundreds of millions of dollars in promised retirement benefits from people who dedicated their entire lives to the care and service of others.… The religious exemption (federal pension rules) has been debated for a long time.… Politicians are already attacking billionaires for not doing enough to help their workers. Imagine what they’ll do if the deep-pocketed Catholic Church decides to continue breaking its promises to employees. I expect at least one politician will make an ultimatum during the campaign — declaring that churches will have to start following [federal pension rules] or risk losing their tax-exempt status.
While McCarrick lives off his millions in retirement, lowly workers in dioceses that are financially reeling from the abuse scandal find themselves out of luck. In the old days, the Church would have called that a “sin that cries out to heaven for vengeance.” But in the church of Pope Francis, those most responsible for hiding McCarrick suffer nothing and often enjoy promotions. No doubt the reason for the delay in the Vatican’s report on the McCarrick scandal is that it implicates not only members of Francis’s inner circle but Pope Francis himself, who had been told of McCarrick’s predations and ignored them. Cardinal Sean O’Malley had risibly suggested last November the delay was due to slow translation work. Surely, it is due to difficulties in finessing the pope’s role in the mess and having to explain why its stain hasn’t been erased — a stain that is visible at the highest levels of the Church where his protégés continue to hold power.