Vatican reviewing McCarrick case, vows to pursue truth no matter what

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Pope Francis prays as he leads a Lenten penance service in early March in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. “No effort must be spared” to prevent future cases of clerical sexual abuse and “to prevent the possibility of their being covered up,” Pope Francis said in an Aug. 20 letter addressed “to the people of God.” (Stefano Rellandini/CNS, via Reuters)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Promising a thorough review of how the Vatican handled allegations of sexual misconduct by former Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the Vatican acknowledged that what happened may fall short of the procedures that are in place today.

“The Holy See is conscious that, from the examination of the facts and of the circumstances, it may emerge that choices were taken 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,’” the Vatican said in statement released Oct. 6.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, welcomed Pope Francis’ pledge to fight attempts to cover up cases of sexual abuse and to stop offering special treatment to bishops who have committed or covered up abuse.

“On behalf of my brother bishops in the United States, I welcome the statement of Oct. 6 from the Holy See which outlines additional steps Pope Francis is taking to ensure the faithful are protected from the evil of sexual assault,” Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo said in a statement released Oct. 7 in Rome.

The Executive Committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had said in August that they would seek such an investigation, and leaders of the bishops’ conference met with Pope Francis Sept. 13 to tell him how the Church in the United States has been “lacerated by the evil of sexual abuse.”

After the meeting with the pope, neither the bishops nor the Vatican mentioned an investigation. However, Cardinal DiNardo and Archbishop José H. Gómez of Los Angeles — vice president of the conference — are at the Vatican for the Synod of Bishops and are likely to meet the pope again Oct. 8.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, (second from left), and Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, vice president of the conference (third from left), arrive for a session of the Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment at the Vatican Oct 5. (Paul Haring/CNS)

Renewing its commitment to uncovering the truth, the Vatican also said that information gathered from its investigation as well as “a further thorough study” of its archives regarding the former cardinal will be released “in due course.”

“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,” the Vatican said.

“The truth will ensure the terrible sins of the past are not repeated,” said Cardinal DiNardo. “The courage of abuse survivors who first brought the horrific truth of sexual abuse to light must continue to be matched by our courage as pastors to respond in justice.”

The U.S. cardinal’s statement was published the same day Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, responded to allegations by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, former nuncio to the United States, that Pope Francis knew about and ignored the allegations against then-Cardinal McCarrick.

Cardinal Ouellet called Archbishop Viganò’s accusations a “political” ploy that had wounded the unity of the Church.

“Out of respect for the victims and given the need for justice, the inquiry currently underway in the United States and in the Roman Curia should provide a comprehensive and critical study of the procedures and the circumstances of this painful case in order to prevent something like it from ever happening in the future,” Cardinal Ouellet said.

Cardinal DiNardo said he and all the U.S. bishops “offer our prayers and solidarity for the Holy Father. We urge all in the Church, particularly the bishops, to reaffirm our communion with Pope Francis who is the visible guarantor of the communion of the Catholic Church.”

Pope Francis greets Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, during a private meeting in 2017 at the Vatican. Pope Francis will meet Sept. 13 with Cardinal DiNardo and with Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston, president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, the Vatican press office announced Sept. 11. (CNS, via L’Osservatore Romano)

According to the Vatican statement, the pope ordered a preliminary investigation by the Archdiocese of New York after an allegation that Archbishop McCarrick abused a teenager 47 years ago; the allegation subsequently was found to be credible.

Pope Francis, the Vatican said, accepted Archbishop McCarrick’s resignation from the College of Cardinals after “grave indications emerged during the course of the investigation.”

In the weeks after the allegations were made public, another man came forward claiming he was abused as a child by Archbishop McCarrick and several former seminarians have spoken out about being sexually harassed by the cardinal at a beach house he had.

The Vatican statement comes more than a month after Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, former nuncio to the United States, released an 11-page “testimony” claiming that Church officials, including Pope Francis, failed to act on the accusations of abuse by Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick.

In his statement Aug. 25, Archbishop Viganò said the Vatican was informed as early as 2000 — when he was an official at the Secretariat of State — of allegations that Archbishop McCarrick “shared his bed with seminarians.” Archbishop Viganò said the Vatican heard the allegations from the U.S. nuncios at the time: Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, who served from 1998 to 2005, and Archbishop Pietro Sambi, who served from 2005 to 2011.

Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, former apostolic nuncio to the United States, accused Church officials, including Pope Francis, of failing to act on accusations of abuse of conscience and power by now-Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick. Archbishop Viganò is pictured in a 2013 photo. (Bob Roller/CNS)

A 2006 letter obtained by Catholic News Service Sept. 7 suggested that then-Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, the former Vatican substitute for general affairs, acknowledged allegations made in 2000 by Fr. Boniface Ramsey, pastor of St. Joseph’s Church Yorkville in New York City, concerning Archbishop McCarrick.

Archbishop Viganò had claimed that Pope Benedict XVI later “imposed on Cardinal McCarrick sanctions similar to those now imposed on him by Pope Francis.”

“I do not know when Pope Benedict took these measures against McCarrick, whether in 2009 or 2010, because in the meantime I had been transferred to the Governorate of Vatican City State, just as I do not know who was responsible for this incredible delay,” he said.

Then-Cardinal McCarrick, he claimed, “was to leave the seminary where he was living” which, at the time, was the Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Hyattsville, Maryland, and was also “forbidden to celebrate Mass in public, to participate in public meetings, to give lectures, to travel, with the obligation of dedicating himself to a life of prayer and penance.”

However, photos and videos during the time of the alleged sanctions gave evidence that Archbishop McCarrick appeared in public with Archbishop Viganò and continued to concelebrate at large public Masses and visit the Vatican and Pope Benedict himself.

Almost a week after issuing his original accusations, Archbishop Viganò modified his claim and said Pope Benedict made the sanctions private, perhaps “due to the fact that he (Archbishop McCarrick) was already retired, maybe due to the fact that he (Pope Benedict) was thinking he was ready to obey.”


Junno Arocho Esteves and Cindy Wooden from Catholic News Service contributed to this report.