The Vatican admits that Francis was warned
of abusive Archbishop Theodore McCarrick
The late Pope John Paul II was warned of reports of sexual impropriety by Theodore McCarrick, but after McCarrick's own denials and an examination by American bishops returning "inaccurate and unreliable details," an internal Vatican investigation ended Tuesday.
After two years of investigation and years of criticism on how McCarrick was permitted to ascend in the ranks, the study on the treatment of the highest ranked Church figure to be defrocked over sexual harassment comes.
John Paul, elevated to cardinal in 2001, a year after becoming archbishop of Washington, McCarrick became a power player in both the Church and Washington DC and was known for his fundraising and presence overseas.
In 2018, he retired from College of Cardinals and was defrocked by the Vatican last year after a Church trial found him guilty of sexually abussing minors.
Barry Coburn, McCarrick's counsel, declined to comment on Tuesday's Vatican story.
Who will blame McCarrick 's rise?
The Vatican article seems largely to blame the new pope, Francis.
"Before 2017, no one ... presented any reports to Pope Francis on McCarrick 's claims," said the report's executive summary.
"Pope Francis had heard only that there were reports and rumours of unethical activity with adults previous to McCarrick 's election to Washington," the study said, noting that Francis at first assumed "that the allegations had already been investigated and dismissed by Pope John Paul II."
Instead, the report outlined charges against McCarrick when Pope John Paul II made him Washington Archbishop, which the report claimed falls into four groups.
The claims involved a priest who claimed to have witnessed McCarrick engaged in sexual activity with another priest; anonymous letters accusing him of pedophilia; that McCarrick was "reported to have shared a bed with young adult men at the Metuchen and Newark bishop's residence;" and that he was "known to have shared a bed with adult seminarians at a New Jersey beach house."
These suspected events linked to McCarrick 's tenure as Metuchen's bishop from 1981-1986 and as Newark's archbishop from 1986 to 2000. John Paul appointed him to both posts, and the report considered the decision to make him Archbishop of Washington.
Tuesday's Vatican paper does not dwell on McCarrick 's supposed harassment or guilt under canon law, but shines light on what the Holy See knew about him and when.
However, the article outlines that during the two-year investigation, "numerous people who had prior physical contact with McCarrick were interviewed."
"In extended, sometimes emotional interviews, people identified a variety of activities, including sexual harassment or assault, inappropriate sexual interaction, personal physical contact, and sharing of beds without physical touch, including extensive descriptions of McCarrick's abuse of authority and influence," he said.
The study states that Pope Benedict XVI ordered McCarrick 's resignation in 2005 after "re-emerging allegations of violence and bullying of adults."
It adds that in 2006 and in 2008, the Vatican Office for Bishops ordered McCarrick orally to resign from public life, but he rejected those guidelines.
The study says Pope Francis was already aware of "rumors of unethical activity toward adults" previous to McCarrick 's election to Washington, but opted not to take any further steps to change "the path his predecessors followed."
As the first charge of a minor's sexual harassment appeared in 2018, the reported reaction of Pope Francis was "immediate" and he removed the former cardinal from the priesthood.
Why U.S. bishops and other Catholics address the study
U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference delegates have pushed the Vatican to create the study for at least two years. On Tuesday, when it actually came, the conference's official response was muted.
Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference, said he would review the paper.
"This is another sad chapter of the Church's long journey to confront priest sexual assault abuses," Gomez said in a statement. "I express my sincere sadness and deepest condolences to McCarrick's victims and their families, and to any victim-survivor of clergy sexual assault."
Traditionally, in their diocese, bishops held a lot of autonomy, with only the pope having oversight. But last year, the US bishops introduced four new initiatives to establish greater openness, honesty and confidence with lay Catholics.
Specifically, bishops agreed to create a toll-free hotline and website to file bishops' misconduct grievances. The hotlines will be tracked by a third party to forward complaints to the region's senior archbishop, the Vatican's US ambassador, and civil authorities if suspected illegal activity.
The bishops have proposed steps they could take to restrict former bishops who were "removed from their office for a serious cause," including sexual harassment or cover-up of wrongdoing.
John Carr, a former U.S. Bishops' Conference official now leading a center for faith and politics at Georgetown University, called McCarrick's behavior a "treaty of confidence," similar to Carr's violence 50 years earlier by a Catholic priest.
"Personal, technical and institutional," Carr said in a statement. "I hope this study will affirm the call of Pope Francis to end disruptive clericalism and help end a history of systemic hypocrisy that has hidden, sheltered and promoted both perpetrators and those who encouraged or turned the other way."