What We're Waiting For (Is the McCarrick Report Finally On Its Way?)
I had never heard of Theodore McCarrick until the summer of 2018. Then I started to notice headlines mentioning his name. Honestly, I think I quickly looked away from the first few stories I saw. But eventually I clicked. And read. And then read some more. And fell down a rabbit hole of disgust and horror.
Of course, there were a million opportunities for me to wake up before the revelations about Theodore McCarrick. But the news about this popular cardinal rising through the ranks of my Church, abusing vulnerable people every step of the way - that was the thing that finally broke through my walls of denial. There was one statement that I came across in several articles, a phrase that kept echoing through my mind as I tried to make sense of this scandal: “Everybody Knew.”
I had always been aware that bad things had happened in my Church. But I honestly believed we had thrown out the ”bad apples” and were all working together to make sure predators were held accountable and the Catholic Church was a safe place for everyone.
However, the scale of McCarrick’s abuse - of both seminarians and children, in so many settings for so many years - made clear to me that there were still people in authority who were willing to look the other way, if not actively cover up abuse.
Of course, not “everybody” in the Church knew about McCarrick, but it’s evident that many powerful people did. And we still don’t know who they are - who saw what was happening and did nothing to keep God’s people safe.
In February 2019, I wrote a piece outlining some of my main questions about this case: Mr. McCarrick Has Been Defrocked. Is That The End Of This Story?. It’s been almost a year since that post, and we still don’t have answers.
However, that may change soon, with the much-anticipated release of the “McCarrick report” - the results of the Vatican investigation into Theodore McCarrick.
The public knows next to nothing about this investigation, but here is what the Vatican promised when it announced the inquiry back in October 2018:
“The Holy See will, in due course, make known the conclusions of the matter regarding Archbishop McCarrick. Moreover, with reference to other accusations brought against Archbishop McCarrick, the Holy Father has decided that information gathered during the preliminary investigation be combined with a further thorough study of the entire documentation present in the Archives of the Dicasteries and Offices of the Holy See regarding the former Cardinal McCarrick, in order to ascertain all the relevant facts, to place them in their historical context and to evaluate them objectively.
The Holy See is conscious that, from the examination of the facts and of the circumstances, it may emerge that choices were made that would not be consonant with a contemporary approach to such issues. However, as Pope Francis has said: 'We will follow the path of truth wherever it may lead.' Both abuse and its cover-up can no longer be tolerated and a different treatment for Bishops who have committed or covered up abuse, in fact represents a form of clericalism that is no longer acceptable.”
There have been no Vatican press releases about the McCarrick investigation since this announcement fifteen months ago. When McCarrick’s removal from the clerical state was communicated on February 16, 2019, no mention was made of this further investigation.
Instead, news about the timeline and extent of this report has been coming from United States bishops. At the November 2019 USCCB meeting, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, who had recently visited Rome, reported that he had been shown a “hefty document” about McCarrick, which was in the process of being translated and presented to the Holy Father. O’Malley noted that “a much larger corpus of information has emerged than was anticipated,” but said that the intention was to “publish the Holy See’s response soon - if not before Christmas, soon in the new year.” Then Christmas and New Years came and went, without any announcement. Several U.S. bishops have said they asked Pope Francis about the McCarrick investigation while on their ad limina visits, but none have been able to pin down an expected release date.
So, we wait.
In the meantime, many are speculating that the information released to the public may prove disappointing. Veteran Catholic journalist John Allen of Crux has predicted that Americans will be unhappy with the final report, positing that while the report may “document any number of senior officials both in Rome and the U.S. who were aware of rumors and concerns about McCarrick over the years, it may well not produce any ‘smoking gun’ that would prove an active cover-up and provide a basis for sanctions under Church law.” JD Flynn of Catholic News Agency made a similar prediction, noting that “American Catholics are eager for a report telling them who promoted McCarrick, and who protected him. Whenever it is actually released, the Vatican's report may offer few satisfying insights into those questions.” (Flynn has even speculated that some U.S. bishops may be hoping for a delay in the report’s release, to avoid legal repercussions during their states’ statute of limitations windows.)
Allen and Flynn are correct: we just don’t know how extensive this Vatican investigation has been. Did the Vatican thoroughly scrutinize McCarrick’s entire career, including his years of globe-trotting and international diplomacy on behalf of the Church? Did they investigate McCarrick’s complicated financial dealings? Did they find out who may have tried to raise the alarm - and who in the Church shut them down? Did they examine the role that all three recent popes - John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis - had in McCarrick’s rise to power? Did they ask the hard questions about which Church leaders turned a blind eye to the abuse and should be held responsible for their negligence?
Honestly, I don’t know what to expect. I’m not counting on full transparency, but I do hope that we learn more about who made it possible for McCarrick’s abuse to go unchecked for so many years. I hope people are held accountable for their actions and inactions. I hope we take a step away from secrecy and towards transparency. But we’ll just have to wait and see.
Several survivors have told me that they felt a twinge of relief and even optimism in August 2018, when sexual abuse in the Catholic Church was headline news once again. One woman told me that she couldn’t help but hope: “Maybe now people will start paying attention.”
I have to confess, I have some of the same feelings about the McCarrick report. Of course, I don’t want more scandal in my beloved Church. But I do want the truth - the whole truth.
So I can’t help but hope: Maybe the revelations about McCarrick will be so awful that more of my fellow Catholics will start paying attention. Maybe the news will be all over the headlines, and we won’t be able to avoid the truth anymore. Maybe people will be ready to move from passivity into action. Maybe, just maybe, this will be the tipping point.
For now, I’m waiting.
Lord, may Truth set us free.