Cover Up?

Bishop Robert Barron gave an interview to share his reaction to the Vatican’s McCarrick report. The bishop quibbled with the interviewer’s question about a “culture of cover-up.” Barron said:

When you press the issue of cover-up, you’re looking at real wickedness. You’re looking at people who were desirous of suppressing the truth. That’s a harder thing to judge. You’re looking at motivation. I think what’s clear objectively is how the system failed… What struck me is a clunky, sclerotic, dysfunctional system.

Bishop Barron’s lack of moral clarity here comes as no surprise. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Vatican report itself reaches no clarity about McCarrick’s guilt.

In fact, if you took the Vatican report as your primary source of information, you would wind up thinking, “McCarrick is a saintly man who served the Church selflessly over a long and brilliant career. Pope Francis had to defrock him after some anonymous people said terrible things about him in 2018. But who really knows the truth? McCarrick himself said, over and over again, that the men accusing him were just after money.”

Pope Paul VI

On the other hand, if you have any moral clarity about the situation at all, you recognize the evident fact that McCarrick’s accusers are not all lying. You recognize that the offense for which the Vatican gave McCarrick a pass for decades–forcing subordinates and minors to share his bed–itself merits defrocking. A clear-headed, non-compromised reader of the report sees the evidence of a “culture of cover-up” begin to pile up on page 1 of the Vatican report.

The phrase “cover-up” does not do justice to the depths of wickedness that the report unwittingly reveals. One of my book editors pointed-out to me that the term “cronies,” which I use at crucial points in my narrative, falls short of the mark. A “crony” is some kind of government or union official without scruples. But a union or government crony has considerably less of a duty to exemplify Christianity than a Catholic prelate does. A Catholic prelate can’t be just a “crony.” A Catholic prelate who doesn’t care about justice is something more wicked than a crony.

What the Vatican report reveals is a network of cowards who have transformed responsibility-shirking into a genuine art form. This network of men has convinced itself that taking no responsibility whatsoever for the welfare of the vulnerable is precisely what makes for a successful churchman.

Robert Ciolek New York Times
Robert Ciolek in a New York Times photo

According to the report, Pope Paul VI made McCarrick a bishop on the testimony of dozens of fellow clergyman–at a point in history when McCarrick belonged in jail, 1977. As auxiliary bishop of east Manhattan, McCarrick established a domicile for himself in a building that had been a children’s hospital. It was in this place that McCarrick traumatized the victim that the Vatican report calls “Priest 1.”

The Vatican report treats “Priest 1” and other McCarrick-survivor-priests with thinly veiled contempt. The report calls them by number, rather than by name–even when they have spoken openly about their experiences. Priest 2 is Robert Ciolek. Priest 3 is Father Lauro Sedlmayer. Priest 1’s name is publicly available, but apparently he prefers to retain his privacy at this point, so I will respect that here.

These are the men who tried in vain–for years, decades, quarter-centuries–to get some Vatican official to own the McCarrick problem. Apparently, in 2006 and 2008, Archbishop Viganò tried to do just that, but his proposals met with rejection by his superiors. (More on that in a subsequent post.)

The Vatican report fails to sympathize with the survivor-priests’ point-of-view. In footnote 833 on page 253, the report even tries to set two of them against each other. Priest 1’s and Ciolek’s testimony agrees on the basic facts. The discrepancies between them are understandable, given the traumatic nature of McCarrick’s predation. But instead of recognizing that the Church owes these survivors not only sympathy, but praise for their courage and honesty, the report continues the cruel cover-up tactic of trying to cast doubt on their word, and does so by disingenuously pitting them against each other.

Archbishop Vigano
Archbishop Viganò

Father Sedlmayer, “Priest 3,” fares even worse. The report treats him solely as a pawn in the Vatican bureaucrats’ petty little cat-fight with Archbishop Viganò.

Sedlmayer spoke with the Washington Post in 2019. He gave the Post the testimony he had submitted to the Vatican for the McCarrick report. We find here another piece of hard evidence demonstrating the unreliability of the Vatican report as a source of facts. Sedlmayer’s testimony to the Vatican included this statement:

I know some find it hard to believe that an adult could be forced so easily [into mutual masturbation, which McC repeatedly forced upon Sedmayer.] The answer is fairly straightforward: a bishop holds your professional life, your reputation, your assignments, and your dignity in his hands… It was extremely difficult to resist the sense of fear and control that McCarrick exercised over me.

Sedlmayer gave his written testimony for the Vatican report to the Post; the Post printed these words of his. The Vatican report, however, does not include this statement. Perhaps because it so eloquently expresses the experience of McCarrick’s many victims.

In fact, the Vatican report blithely leaves the reader with the impression that Father Sedlmayer is a dangerous liar. The report only invokes him in order to make Archbishop Viganò look negligent. (Viganò appears, in fact, to have neglected Sedlmayer; as I mentioned, I intend to write more on that later.) The report happily ignores the torture to which ecclesiastical officials subjected Father Sedlmayer for decades. McCarrick’s successors in the diocese of Metuchen all told Father Sedlmayer to shut up.

No one in the Vatican would do anything about it. They still won’t.

3 thoughts on “Cover Up?

  1. Amen, Father Mark. Thank you for working so hard to uncover all these horrible things that are happening to our church which have been swept under the rug for centuries and would have never been made publlc if it weren’t for good priests like you and others who have the guts to speak up. Lori

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