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How the truth was covered up

20 November 2020

The inquiry into Cardinal McCarrick reveals Church doubletalk, says Andrew Brown


Cardinal Theodore McCarrick in 2005

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick in 2005

THE news line of the Vatican’s report on the disgraced abuser Cardinal Theodore McCarrick is already clear: Pope St John Paul II was the man responsible for his promotion as RC Archbishop of Washington, despite being warned off by everyone with any local knowledge.

Pope Benedict XVI forced McCarrick to resign in 2006, but placed no real further restraints on his activities. Pope Francis largely ignored him, until a report that he had molested minors as well as seminarians surfaced in 2018, when he removed him from the College of Cardinals and disgraced him publicly (Comment, 3 August 2018). Archbishop Viganò, a former Nuncio to Washington, was simply lying when he claimed in 2018 that Francis had protected McCarrick after Benedict had pushed him out of public life.

What makes the report so valuable is that it establishes these facts from the original documents. It shows not just who was concealing the truth, but the language that they used to do it with: the doubletalk that concealed the Church’s compulsory doublethink about sex and power. The powers of the bureaucracy were all bent to ensuring that nobody admitted knowing what everybody really knew they knew.

For example, Cardinal John O’Connor tried to block McCarrick’s succeeding him in New York: “After Archbishop McCarrick was appointed as Ordinary, it was said that he would frequently invite male visitors for dinner and to stay overnight. Usually they shared a bed, although there were sufficient guestrooms. . .

“With deep regret, I would have to express my own grave fears . . . that rumours and allegations about the past might surface with such an appointment, with the possibility of accompanying grave scandal and widespread adverse publicity.”

So, even though Cardinal O’Connor clearly believed the stories, and understood that they described sexual abuse of seminarians who regarded the Bishop as their “Father in God”, the only argument that he could openly make was that other people might believe them and cause scandal.

The same line was taken up by the Ambassador — who, of course, also knew the truth. “The charges leveled against His Excellency McCarrick appear to be known to some priests among the Metuchen clergy and probably to some of the country’s Bishops.”

Absolutely no one mentions the victims.


BUT the Pope was determined to promote him. Archbishop Cacciavillan, a former Nuncio in Washington, understood how to deal with this rather tricky situation.
No one should follow up the stories, he wrote, because “Nothing new would be learned, and worse, a ‘trial situation’ could be created against Msgr. McCarrick, leaving the impression of great concern, which would have the effect of receiving answers in harmony with the expressed concern, rather than a de-dramatization, whereas a de-dramatization might perhaps be justified.”

Some of the bishops asked for their knowledge of McCarrick simply lied. But that does not excuse anyone who believed the lies. They had also seen the evidence. They knew how these things worked. McCarrick was sacked — or, rather, “asked to resign spontaneously” — after John Paul II died and the original complaints about him resurfaced. The Nuncio who broke the news to McCarrick that he was busted wrote afterwards: “I know that the Cardinal chose an attorney for his own defense; it is to be hoped that this time as well, whether with a lot of money or a little, he succeeds in obtaining silence.”

Note those two words “as well” — which reveal that they knew that he had already paid off some of his accusers, 12 years before this was officially admitted.

And, in 2008, two years after McCarrick had been spontaneously resigned, Pope Benedict came to New York, denounced the scandal of sexual abuse — and then concelebrated mass with McCarrick among all the other American cardinals, in front of a crowd of 45,000.

The other linguistic revelation of the report is the word “customary”. It is used only eight times, and, in six of those, it refers to McCarrick’s practice of making large cash presents to helpful contacts in the Vatican. This is, we are told, what every US cardinal is expected to do.


BEFORE we are quite overcome with Anglican smugness, there is one last point. This is an official document in all its damning detail, which Pope Francis himself has approved.

The Anglican counterpart to McCarrick as a really well-connected serial abuser is undoubtedly the late John Smyth. But if the Makin report on the networks around Smyth is even half as honest, and if it quotes even half as many damning documents from inside the networks that protected him, I will be perfectly astonished.


Andrew Brown writes the weekly Press column for the Church Times.

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