In Spirit and Truth News Roundup Special Edition: The McCarrick Report
Welcome to a special edition of the In Spirit and Truth News Roundup, focused specifically on news and analysis of the McCarrick Report released by the Vatican last week.
I have been reading a LOT of coverage (along with the report itself), and honestly, there are still many more articles I haven't had a chance to dive into yet. With such a long (461 page!) document, I believe that there is still much analysis to be done over the coming weeks. However, I thought it might be helpful to collect some of the best pieces so far, for anyone who would like to be better informed.
(As always: I strive to share only articles I find both thoughtful and helpful in understanding the twin crises in the Catholic Church. However, sharing a link does not mean I fully endorse of every word in that article. I do believe that reading broadly, from many sources and perspectives, is a valuable way to become better informed and, thus, more able to respond with wisdom and prudence. The top three reads below are a great place to start!)
** YOUR TOP THREE READS (PLUS ONE WATCH) **
I know that most people don't have time to read the entire Vatican report, but I would strongly encourage you to at least read the "Executive Summary" found at the beginning. This summary offers a brief overview of the report and gives you a sense of the language and approach you would find if you read the whole thing. It's only 9 pages long and begins on page 5 of the PDF linked above.
I'm clearly biased because I co-authored this blog post, but I think it does a good job of briefly summarizing the contents of the report, sharing the perspectives of several survivors, and offering a succinct analysis of three key things we can learn from reading the McCarrick Report.
This is the best analysis I have read about the McCarrick Report so far. It puts into words exactly what I've been finding as I read the report myself.
"People have been scouring the 461 pages of the McCarrick Report, looking for a smoking gun that definitively explains what went wrong and who should be held responsible for the church’s long-standing failure to take allegations of abuse by former cardinal Theodore McCarrick seriously. But there is no single smoking gun. Instead, the report documents decades worth of smoke during which almost no one went looking for the very real fire producing it. Even more, it gives us a close-up view of concentric layers of plausible deniability and culpable ignorance, powered by clericalism, that allowed McCarrick to evade discovery or accountability...
Over and over again, shepherds of the church, were faced with persistent and proliferating rumors and eventually even specific allegations that one of their brothers had abused and mistreated those entrusted to his care. But time and time again they asked themselves not whether members of the flock had been hurt and were in need of care but how likely the media was to notice and publicize the matter. To put it bluntly, the hope of those with responsibility over him was not that McCarrick had not done these things of which he was accused—a hope that might have led to investigations and oversight—but rather that it would be possible to avoid any definitive reckoning before the public about whether or not he had."
If you prefer watching to reading, this 8 minute video is a fair summary of the contents of the McCarrick Report.
** NEWS REPORTS **
If you want a quick summary of some key facts of the McCarrick Report, particularly as it relates to each of the popes, this is a good start. (This article is not related to the above video, in spite of their similar names)
"Pope Francis first promised a 'thorough study' of the Vatican’s handling of the McCarrick case in 2018. The long-awaited result is a highly unusual public investigation of abuses and cover-ups spanning decades and reaching to the highest levels of the Vatican’s own ranks. The report will have wide implications for a global church that has been roiled for decades over its mishandling of sexual abuse by clergy."
Vatican News is obviously not an unbiased source, but there is some helpful information in this summary that was published immediately after the report was released.
"Something happened that radically changed the course of events. McCarrick himself, after having evidently become aware both that he was a candidate, and of the reservations in his regard, wrote to then Bishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, personal secretary to the Polish Pontiff on August 6, 2000. McCarrick declared himself innocent and swore that he had “never had sexual relations with any person, male or female, young or old, cleric or lay”. Pope John Paul II read the letter and was convinced that the American Archbishop was telling the truth and that the negative “rumors” were precisely that – solely rumors that were unfounded, or at least unproven. It was, therefore, Pope John Paul II, acting through specific directions imparted to then-Secretary of State Angelo Sodano, who established that McCarrick should be reinstated on the shortlist of candidates. And it was he who, in the end, chose McCarrick for the see of Washington."
This was a very early story, before any journalist had time to read the whole report, but it's a decent start.
"The Vatican on Tuesday released a highly anticipated report investigating how the disgraced former prelate Theodore E. McCarrick rose through the Roman Catholic hierarchy to become one of America’s most powerful cardinals, despite longstanding allegations of sexual misconduct that ultimately led to his downfall.
The report, which, given Mr. McCarrick’s long career in the church, had the potential to engulf three separate papacies in scandal, did not directly cast blame on Francis or his predecessors for knowingly abetting or protecting him. But a 14-page summary of the report, which included a Who’s Who of Vatican power players and American church officials, seemed to put it at the apostolic doorstep of Pope John Paul II.
'Pope John Paul II personally made the decision to appoint McCarrick,' the report says, despite receiving a letter from Cardinal John O’Connor, the archbishop of New York, that summed up allegations, some anonymous, that Mr. McCarrick had engaged in sexual conduct with another priest in 1987, that he had committed pedophilia with his 'nephews' and that he shared a bed with young adult men and seminarians.'"
This article begins with Pope Francis's public reaction to the McCarrick Report, but also includes some notes about the report itself.
"Francis concluded his weekly general audience Wednesday by recalling that the report into the 'painful case' of the former high-ranking American cardinal had been released the previous day.
'I renew my closeness to victims of any abuse and commitment of the church to eradicate this evil,' Francis said. He then paused silently for nearly a minute, apparently in prayer."
** REACTIONS, ANALYSIS, AND OPINION **
Thoughtful commentary from Elizabeth Bruenig of the New York Times, who seems to really get it.
One key point: "While the charter improved the church’s policies on sex abuse prevention and its management of allegations, it was directed specifically at shielding children and youths from the predations of priests. As Mr. McCarrick’s exploits show, it isn’t just children who are at risk of sexual exploitation in the church.
While Mr. McCarrick did sexually abuse children, some of the more egregious of his offenses were committed against adults, namely seminarians he met during his tenure as a bishop in New Jersey. In the report, it is clear that his peers and superiors were convinced his case wasn’t particularly urgent because Mr. McCarrick preyed mostly on adults."
This is a summary of many early reactions to the report, including those of survivors, advocates, bishops, church leaders, and key commentators.
Note this important point from SNAP: "In an initial statement, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests called the report 'one step in the right direction' by raising awareness about McCarrick's history. The group said any prelate who knew of McCarrick's abusive past and did not act on it should be removed. 'Awareness is good. But awareness is meaningless without concrete action,' SNAP said."
More insightful analysis from Elizabeth Bruenig.
"Since accusations of sexual misconduct with boys and young men culminated in the former archbishop Theodore McCarrick’s dramatic resignation as a cardinal in 2018 and expulsion from the priesthood the following year, the Catholic hierarchy has been haunted by the question of who knew what, and when.
A Vatican-commissioned report released Tuesday gives us a clearer answer: everyone — to the highest echelons of the church — and far sooner than had previously been verified. According to the report, a year before Pope John Paul II installed Mr. McCarrick as archbishop of Washington, D.C., Cardinal John O’Connor of New York warned the pontiff of serious concerns about Mr. McCarrick’s rumored sexual abuses, citing seminarians who had entered psychiatric treatment in the wake of their encounters with him.
The warning, in a letter dated Oct. 28, 1999, persuaded the pope to delay the installation. The reputation of the church might have been spared a serious blow if he had then deployed a sincere investigation of the enterprising bishop. But when Cardinal O’Connor died in the spring of 2000, Mr. McCarrick caught wind of the letter and wrote to the pope’s personal secretary, swearing that the accusations were malicious lies and that he had never had sex with any man, woman or child."
This one is hard for me, but important none the less.
"For many Catholics in the pews, however, an important question remains: How did this behavior go unchecked for so many years, and how was Mr. McCarrick allowed to rise so far in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church despite persistent rumors of misconduct? And what does his rise say about the oversight of Pope John Paul II? Is it enough simply to say 'the pope didn’t believe the rumors'?
Most historians and Vaticanistas will acknowledge that Pope John Paul II was not strong on efforts to weed out sexual abusers from the priesthood or responding quickly and with compassion to victims; even his most passionate defenders will admit it was a blind spot in his papacy. But the financial largesse of Mr. McCarrick (who, like Father Maciel before him, was a generous patron of many Vatican officials and a prodigious fundraiser as well) creates the unfortunate appearance that the Vatican had an ulterior motive for ignoring any rumors swirling around him."
This piece offers a helpful summary of the ways all three popes - John Paul, Benedict, and Francis - are implicated in the McCarrick Report, but also draws our attention to the larger theme:
"To put the conclusion into a soundbite: If the McCarrick report taints a legacy, it isn’t so much that of St. John Paul or any other single individual, but rather an entire clericalist culture in which bishops are taken far more seriously than laity or rank-and-file priests and religious.
In that October 1999 letter by Cardinal O’Connor, which was addressed to the papal ambassador at the time, Colombian Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, Cardinal O’Connor suggested that if Archbishop Montalvo wanted to get to the bottom of things, he should talk to a lawyer who had worked with McCarrick, a layman named Tom Durkin, and to a priest psychologist named Msgr. James Cassidy, who’d consulted the psychiatrist treating a couple of priests who reported being victimized by McCarrick. The report shows neither man was ever consulted. Instead, the Vatican relied entirely on the opinions of other bishops in reaching its conclusions.
A similar pattern repeated itself at other important moments in the saga. A bishop would bring damning accusations to the attention of a Vatican official. In assessing them, other bishops would be asked for their opinion, most of whom urged caution and voiced doubt about McCarrick’s guilt. What usually tipped the scale was McCarrick himself, who offered unfailingly persuasive denials. In other words, it was a conversation about a bishop carried on exclusively by other bishops, with anyone outside the club relegated to the sidelines. If you’re looking for the “bad guy” in this story, that culture quite probably is the most compelling candidate."
A more hopeful take on what the McCarrick Report means for future accountability in the Church.
"Think about the precedent this report sets. From now until the end of time, regarding any scandal past or present, if the Vatican refuses to conduct a similar investigation and make the results public, the question always will be: Why not? What are they trying to hide?
If I were a victim of the late Mexican Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legion of Christ, I’d be demanding a similar investigation right now to find out who covered for Maciel in the Vatican and why. If I were one of the alleged victims of Argentine Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta, accused of sexual misconduct with adult seminarians and given a job by Pope Francis in the Vatican’s financial operations, I’d be clamoring for my own McCarrick report to tell me what the pope knew and when he knew it... In other words, having decided once that secrecy and sovereignty needed to yield to transparency and honesty, the Vatican will never again have a persuasive excuse not to do the same thing when other failures occur."
This is the most critical assessment of the McCarrick Report I have read so far, from the conservative National Review. I don't agree with every word here (and I'm definitely not endorsing the writer himself), but there are some very important points here worth considering. The report may be long and substantive, but there are still many questions left unaddressed and unanswered.
"The report is a kind of prophylactic against a real investigation. Instead of confessing to the Church the sins of its leaders with a degree of candor and humiliation, the report tells outsiders, if you looked at these selected documents, this is the most you could possibly prove against us.
Ultimately, the report itself is a kind of moral heresy. Instead of approaching the McCarrick case in a forensic — yes, inquisitorial — way, judging the bishops of the Church as men who have duties to the Church and God to confront evil, based on what we know, we have this petty bureaucratic account. God, save Your church from these wolves."
The first response from the USCCB:
"This is another tragic chapter in the Church’s long struggle to confront the crimes of sexual abuse by clergy. To McCarrick’s victims and their families, and to every victim-survivor of sexual abuse by the clergy, I express my profound sorrow and deepest apologies. Please know that my brother bishops and I are committed to doing whatever is in our power to help you move forward and to ensure that no one suffers what you have been forced to suffer."
This is a useful compilation, for anyone who is interested in hearing what various US bishops are saying. I haven't had the time to read through all of these, but if anyone does, please let me know if you notice any statements that are particularly good - or particularly bad.
** PERSPECTIVES FROM SURVIVORS**
This is a really valuable piece. (Although I might be a little biased, since two of the beautiful women featured in this story are friends of mine, and Awake even got a little mention as well.)
"Jan Ruidl, who lives in Milwaukee, was abused by a priest in the 1970s. She worked in church ministry for several years and now works in grief ministry at a funeral home.
Based on her reading of the report, Ruidl said, there was 'an extremely high level of denial' in the hierarchy about McCarrick, especially when it came to the allegations that he abused adults. 'As a woman who's been abused, as a mother, a wife, a church minister, and a human being, I just can't comprehend why nobody was concerned about these young men. They were adults, but they were young, and in such a power imbalance they might as well have been children'...
Ruidi said that while there are certainly clerics in the Church who do care about listening to survivors, some clerics may value their reputation to the detriment of the truth — there still exists "a reflex reaction to protect the Church," she said. 'That reaction fails to take into account that the Church isn't [the hierarchy], it's all of us together. And if they aren't concerned about the people of God, then they are missing the whole point of the Church,' Ruidl said."
More reaction from survivors:
"'It was very emotional to read. It was very emotional because there were so many opportunities to stop him. So many opportunities to stop him. And maybe my life would be different, maybe I wouldn’t be a victim if someone had,' said John Bellocchio, a New Jersey man who has sued both McCarrick and the Holy See, alleging the prelate abused him in the 1990s when he was a teenager.
In interviews with The Associated Press, Bellocchio and others demanded that the Vatican institute changes to ensure nothing like what was described in Tuesday's extraordinary report can happen again."
This was written by my friend Faith right before the McCarrick Report was released.
"I have known for years that things would get worse before they get better and, in order for survivors and our Church to fully heal, there needs to be complete transparency. That means turning over every stone no matter how painful and no matter how long it takes. It's taken far too long already.
The scandal has been big news on a few occasions and then been thrown onto the back burner when “bigger, better” stories have come along. It was big news in my own Archdiocese of Boston when the Spotlight Team broke their story in 2002. It was big news again when the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report was released in 2018. For awhile, the sexual abuse plaguing the Catholic Church was all we heard about (or so it seemed). Do you remember how angry and frustrated everyone was? We were all shouting for resignations, praying and pushing for reform, and talking about how we could best support survivors. Too many leaders, meanwhile, were scrambling to hide their secrets and trying to figure out how to best continue the cover-up of their sins and the sins of others. Clearly, they had a lot of success. Otherwise, we wouldn't be where we are today.
Time marched on. When the news broke out of Pennsylvania two summers ago, we were filled with a renewed vigor to put a stop to the corruption. We were determined to not let the scandal get pushed onto the back burner just like it did after 2002. We promised to fight for change, for justice, and for survivors. We promised that we would not be silent. There was an intense spiritual sort of fire seen among Catholics as we vowed to fight for renewal. Then, newer, hotter stories took over and news of the scandal mostly faded away. I somewhat expected this to happen, but it hasn't lessened my frustration or resolve to keep up the good fight even if no one else is."
A collection of perspectives from several well-informed survivors and advocates.
Notice this key quote, from Marie Collins: “There is wringing of hands around the past but no signs that the future will be different."
As always, I will close this blog post with an invitation to prayer. I encourage all of us to bring everything we just read to the merciful heart of God. If there is a specific story that you found moving, hopeful, painful, or unsettling, please place those thoughts and reactions into the hands of Jesus and ask Him what he is calling you to do in response.
God, please give all victims of sexual abuse your healing, justice, and peace.