The Vatican’s McCarrick report is a fundamentally dishonest document. Accepting it at face value, as an exercise in “transparency,” would require the reader to suppress his or her common sense. The anonymous author(s) of the report have applied a particular whitewash to the actual facts. Let me explain.
First, here are links to the posts I have written so far about the report:
Regnum Christi Memory Turned Painful
More-Readable Report? My Interviews on TV
McCarrick Report Literary Genre
My Offer to Help with the Report
“Innocent” Bed Sharing? Cover Up?
McCarrick Men and One Thing the Report Doesn’t Say
Throughout his adult life, Theodore McCarrick preyed sexually on innocent people. He damaged his victims’ faith, their relationship with the Church, their sense of themselves as human beings, their capacity for trust and openness in relationships, their earning potential, their interior freedom, and much more. He did damage like this over and over again.
We do not have a full reckoning of the damage. The Vatican report does not even pretend to offer such a reckoning.
In fact, the report even has a hole when it comes to something as “documentable” as legally binding financial settlements. As I alluded to in an earlier post, the report unwittingly shows that we remain altogether in the dark about multiple McCarrick settlements. (See the quote of Archbishop Myers of Newark on page 227, as well as footnote 815 on page 242.)
This lacuna, however, is far from the central whitewash that the Vatican report tries to slather in front of our eyes.
First, let’s call to mind the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas in Summa Theologica, pars II-II, question 60, article 5, reply 1. This question in the Summa explains how to make fair judgments; the article discusses giving the benefit of the doubt. The reply reads:
He who interprets doubtful matters for the best may happen to be deceived more often than not. Yet it is better to err frequently through thinking well of a wicked man than to err less frequently through having an evil opinion of a good man, because in the latter case an injury is inflicted [on the misjudged innocent man], but not in the former.
The Vatican report offers a thesis that would resonate with this teaching of St. Thomas. “The popes did not have clear evidence of guilt, at least not until they somehow obtained it in 2018. They rightfully gave McCarrick the benefit of the doubt until then.”
The report quotes Pope-emeritus Benedict about the doubtfulness of the matter, as things stood in November 2005, when the Vatican demanded of McCarrick that he resign as Archbishop of Washington. The pope-emeritus recalled: “There were suspicions regarding McCarrick’s prior conduct but a dearth of concrete evidence.” (See footnote 798, on page 233.)
This understanding of the situation, as Pope Benedict expressed it, produced the “foolhardy conspiracy” to which I referred in a previous post. The idea governing Vatican policy towards McCarrick under Pope Benedict was this: McCarrick says he’s innocent, and we believe him. But the danger of scandal hovers like a terrifying cloud, because ‘numerous voices’ have ‘raised red flags.’ We must make McCarrick vanish from the public eye.
Papal representative Gabriel Montalvo went to an early grave after having to pursue this policy. Then Montalvo’s successor, Pietro Sambi, complained about having McCarrick “always at my door,” looking for permission to continue his globe-trotting (page 308).
Sambi, too, died an early death, with the McCarrick situation still pending.
Both of these earlier nuncios, however–premature as their demises may have been–got off easy compared to their successor in office, Carlo Maria Viganò.
In both 2006 and 2008, Viganò–while still working in the Vatican–tried to convince his superiors that the “hiding McCarrick” strategy would not work. Viganò suggested that the pope should put McCarrick on trial, canonically (as ultimately, the pope did have to do.) Viganò proposed that they make an example of McCarrick, to indicate to the whole Church that McCarrick’s abuses were intolerable.
Now, with its McCarrick report, the Holy See has thanked Archbishop Viganò for having been right–by making him out to be the dishonest villain of the story.
Be all that as it may, the ‘hide-McCarrick’ policy pursued under Pope Benedict did not actually resonate with the teaching of St. Thomas on giving the benefit of the doubt in uncertain matters. At the time, McCarrick called the Vatican’s bluff on that score.
All the Vatican’s communiques to McCarrick (until 2018) conceded that he was, in fact, innocent. (Even after two Metuchen victims gave sworn testimony about McCarrick’s sexual harassment.) Nuncio Sambi told McC that “no one believes the truth of the accusations,” and Cardinal Re, Prefect for Bishops, wrote to McC in June 2008; Re referred to the “unfounded reports” about McC.
So McCarrick made a reasonable answer. In a September 2008 letter to Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Bertone, McCarrick wrote, “I have asked for a complete investigation and have offered to submit to a lie-detector test.”
Ironically enough, therefore: McCarrick and Viganò agreed. Justice requires a thorough investigation which will result in a definitive conclusion of guilt or innocence. The policy based solely on an indeterminate fear of people finding out–that does an injustice to everyone involved. The judge must reach a clear decision.
According to canon law, only one authority in the Church can judge a Cardinal. The pope.
I speculated extensively about the McCarrick affair, prior to the release of the Vatican report. Turns out that I gave Pope Benedict a great deal more credit for perspicacity in this matter than he deserved.
I thought that Benedict understood the commitment to zero tolerance for sexual abuse that the American bishops had made in 2002. After all, they made that commitment in direct consultation with Vatican officials, including then-Card. Ratzinger.
I figured, therefore, that Pope Benedict recognized that he betrayed that principle with his “hide McCarrick” strategy, but that the pope felt he had no choice. McCarrick had just served as the public face of the Catholic Church in America during the biggest sex-abuse scandal ever. That made McCarrick ‘too big to fail,’ so to speak.
I speculated that Benedict thought to himself: “Yes, it is wrong for us to cover this up. We ought to judge and condemn McCarrick openly. But we can’t, because that would destroy the Church in the U.S.”
Now, I don’t mean to say that I thought such a line of thought made sense. To the contrary, in my speculations I concluded that Pope Benedict deserves the lion’s share of the blame for the McCarrick catastrophe. But I still managed to give the pope emeritus too much credit.
Pope Benedict apparently experienced no interior strife over orchestrating a cover-up. The Vatican report shows that he never really grasped the implications of the supposed zero-tolerance policy in the first place.
Benedict did as pope the same thing he had done as Archbishop Ratzinger of Munich, in the early 1980’s. The same thing that countless bishops have done, all over the world–thereby reducing our Church to the state of zero credibility: He pushed the whole business away from himself. He refused to deal with it. He left if for others. While the McCarrick case lingered, unresolved, for a decade, Pope Benedict focused on writing his books.
Pope Benedict had, after all, received a large bribe from McCarrick: $200,000 cash, in the spring of 2005. The Vatican McCarrick report insists, on page 4, that:
The examination [of all records involving McCarrick] did not reveal evidence that McCarrick’s customary gift-giving and donations impacted significant decisions made by the Holy See regarding McCarrick during any period.
This may be the most truly laughable sentence in the report.
We still, however, have not brought into focus the precise whitewash used in this report.
To return to St. Thomas’ principle: In cases of doubt, it is better to be deceived by a wicked man than to think ill of an innocent man. The supposed ‘doubt’ in the McCarrick case was: Some say he has acted inappropriately, that he has harassed, that he has abused. He states categorically that he has not.
But this much was never in dispute, never in doubt: McCarrick slept in the same bed with seminarians, young men, even teenage boys. With none of these bedfellows did McCarrick have any blood kinship.
McCarrick acknowledged the truth of this set of facts repeatedly; the written record of this acknowledgement begins with his August 6, 2000, letter to Pope John Paul II’s personal secretary (see page 169 of the Vatican report). McCarrick knew he could not deny his bed-sharing and remain even remotely credible, because too large a circle of people knew about it.
As I tried to explain in an earlier post, no honest person in the 1980’s, 90’s, or 2000’s could construe these facts as ‘innocent.’ An Archbishop sleeping in the same bed with a young priest of his diocese, or a seminarian, or a young man, or a teenage boy: that was, in and of itself, clearly wrong. An abuse had occurred. Even if no other facts were known, the bed-sharing was enough to justify the conclusion that McCarrick deserved clear and decisive punishment.
In other words, the popes, their ambassadors to the U.S., and their department heads in Rome never actually found themselves in the situation considered by St. Thomas in ST II-II q60 a4 reply1. They had enough evidence to clear up any doubt. They had this evidence all along.
Now, none of the popes, nor their close co-workers, have been dumb or naïve men. They all knew that you cannot really extend the benefit of the doubt to someone who has himself acknowledged sleeping in the same bed with his subordinates and with minors.
The Vatican report expects the reader to reject this clear fact from his or her mind. The report only makes sense if you take refuge in a dream world where popes and experienced priests can calmly think that McCarrick shared his bed with his targeted victims just like the sisters shared a bed in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.
The popes and Vatican officials did not, in fact, think that. They knew better. That’s the ugly reality hidden beneath the whitewash. Scrape away that whitewash, and we see:
With its McCarrick report, the Vatican clearly declares to the world that bishops may freely abuse their subordinates, so long as there’s no big stink about it. Just don’t get caught. Keep it quiet. As long as you manage to keep it quiet, the Successor of St. Peter and his men will gladly look the other way.
9 thoughts on “The Exact Whitewash Used in the Vatican McC Report (with Compendium)”
In retrospect, I think the supporters of Father Mark White were naive to think that he would ever get anything resembling a fair hearing of his case before the Vatican. Drain that swamp, and swamp it is.
With each passing day i realize more and more how thoroughly and deeply imbedded has become the layer of lies, cover-ups and sinful behavior of so much of the hierarchy and how willing they are to ignore it, cover it up with more and more lies, even as they spout meaningless words extolling us all to believe they are doing all of this for the “good of the Church.” The hierarchy has “looked the other way” for many years to save their own hides and now our beloved Church is paying the price. We are at battle with evil and let us not pretend it is otherwise or close our eyes to what is so obviously wrong in the Church. May God give us the strength and wisdom to confront and fight against those attempting to destroy the faith of the Catholic Church.
A question similar to my other question, Fr. Mark, and I thank you for that answer with which I totally agree. Here, you write, “They all knew that you cannot really extend the benefit of the doubt to someone who has himself acknowledged sleeping in the same bed with his subordinates and with minors.”
But where in the Report (or elsewhere) does McCarrick admit to bed-sharing with minors? All I see is his express denial of this on p. 311 that “In no case were there minors involved.” See also note 131.
Please understand, I’m not defending McCarrick in any of this, nor am I saying that it was okay to make him a cardinal because he only shared a bed with subordinates that were over 18 (which is, it appears, what the shameless Vatican IS saying, and before the entire world). I just want to make sure you don’t undermine your righteous cause by saying something about the hierarchy that isn’t entirely fair.
Thank you for another good question. I appreciate your insistence on precision here. Let me qualify what I wrote with this:
Section X.A of the report includes anonymous letters explicitly accusing McCarrick of pedophilia. We know now that those accusations were just and true. Cardinal O’Connor enclosed these letters with his letter to the Holy See in Oct. ’99. Cardinal O’Connor’s letter does not in any way stipulate that McCarrick preyed only on adults. He does not explicitly accuse him of preying on minors, either, but he does not exclude such predation, and the enclosed anonymous letters make that explicit accusation.
On pg. 149 of the report, we read in Bishop McHugh’s letter to Nuncio Montalvo that McCarrick “would invite young men…to visit and occasionally spend an overnight at the Cathedral.” On page 157, Bishop Smith refers to the overnights and mentions “college age boys.” As you note, the Newark priest quoted in fn. 131 stipulates that the guests were all adults, not minors. That said, McCarrick’s letter of August 6, 2000, does not stipulate that his bedfellows were all adults. And we should not underestimate the effect on the anonymous Newark priest of the Vatican party line on this matter, that is, the insistence on strict demarcation at 18 years of age. The party line likely colored the Newark priest’s memory when he gave his recent testimony. He also was almost certainly trying to cover HIMSELF when he said that his youthful, naive veneration for bishops kept him from ever thinking twice about the overnights. In other words, the anonymous priest of fn 131 is hardly a fully reliable witness to the facts.
Granted, McCarrick’s summer 2000 letter, which does NOT introduce the under/over-18 idea, tries to elide the issue completely. McC acknowledges only that he “made mistakes and lacked in prudence.” But it seems to me that if he thought he could get away with insisting that he never had any bedfellows under 18, he would have done so. I think he did not do that in 2000 because he knew he could not get away with it–Smith mentioned in his letter of that year that “some priests of the Archdiocese and the lay help were aware of the overnight guests” at the cathedral rectory.
On the other hand, over eight years later, after a complete changing of the guard in Rome, in the letter you refer to (page 311), McCarrick may have taken more liberties with the truth, since he knew it was much less likely that he would get caught in a lie at that point, and he knew that introducing the 18-year-old distinction would save him from actually getting punished.
The fact is that McCarrick had abused numerous minors by the year 2000, and a lot of people knew that he had forced minors to sleep in the same bed with him–parents, brothers, and sisters of those minors, at least. McCarrick knew better than anyone the exact number of people who knew the facts about that. The accusation of pedophilia sat squarely on the table in the year 2000. He did not explicitly admit to sleeping in the same bed with minors, but neither did he deny it. I think that’s because he cannily feared a potential witness who could catch him out. He did not want that to happen. The Holy See blithely let him get away with papering the whole thing over.
Judy rightly speaks of fighting. But who is fighting the hierarchy? The bishops have lied for decades about sex abuse and are still lying. Mark fought and the bishops put him down. Fighting would hurt the bishops and destroy their power; fighting would be ugly. I don’t see anyone in the Catholic Church willing to fight ugly and for real. Therefore I see no end to the corrupt, deceitful, malevolent hierarchy of the Catholic Church in the U.S.
Several thoughts have entered my mind as I read your message, Fr. Mark.
The first is that Jesus told us Himself that the gates of hell will not prevail against His church. He knew we would need his reassurance and that the deep confusion within the Church and Hierarchy could make people doubt the church and lose their faith.
The second thought was Jesus’ statement, “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s.” It seems like the almighty dollar has been trying yo replace God Almighty in our church in these recent decades. I can’t recall the last time I heard a stirring homily about God, but when the Bishops Lenten Appeal or other fundraising events roll by the mass is fifteen minutes longer because the celebrant gives his best to convincing the parishioners to give, give, give!
The third thought was Jesus’ condemnation of those who scandalize the innocent, that they would be better off to have a millstone tied to their necks and be tossed into the sea. (wow, don’t they believe in Jesus? Or do they become priests because they think it is an easy job?) A Priest I knew once said that being a priest is the hardest job in the world if you do it right, but one of the easiest one to fake one’s way thorough.
The fourth thought was perhaps the answer to this dilemma is to hold back the funds. It seems $$$ is the only thing that gets attention. So if people keep their wallets zipped tight, maybe we will get the Hierarchy to step back and give us some ‘shepherding.’
There are plenty of places to learn about and work for social action, community activities, etc. But where else can we get Jesus/God/religion but at church?
Thank you for your courage and standing up to the tyrants.
One can not help but notice that the same corruption that inflicts civil society and its establishment figures also inflects our religious institutions. The environments change but the shortcomings of humanity seem to remain. In both areas there are those seeking power and authority by promising to change the system. The insincere do little or nothing. The sincere who make the effort but are blocked and then crushed by those in power and who mean to keep it. Those of us in the pews and the voting booths are manipulated like pawns on a chess board and are doomed to accept what ever is thrown at us. Little wonder that in countries and institutions when revolt does come, its effects are most often as painful as what preceded them.
“As I tried to explain in an earlier post, no honest person in the 1980’s, 90’s, or 2000’s could construe these facts as ‘innocent.’ An Archbishop sleeping in the same bed with a young priest of his diocese, or a seminarian, or a young man, or a teenage boy: that was, in and of itself, clearly wrong. An abuse had occurred. Even if no other facts were known, the bed-sharing was enough to justify the conclusion that McCarrick deserved clear and decisive punishment.”
What’s your insinuation? They either:
1. Knew he was committed grave sexual sins and didn’t care.
2. Dismissed any signs of wrongdoing due to cognitive dissonance.
Option 1 would obviously have put them in a state of objective sin. Option 2 would be negligence, perhaps culpable but not obviously sinful. But the truth is that good people are going to disagree on what crosses the line of certain boundaries. Your mere statement “no honest person in the 1980’s…&c.” seems credible, but you’re already starting out from the presupposition that the Vatican is corrupt, everything was whitewashed, etc. How do you know what you would have done in a certain situation? The truth is that, short of any of us having kept a detailed diary of our every thought/opinion, or having actually faced a situation in a certain time frame, NONE of us KNOWS for sure what we would have done about a certain kind-of-sketchy-but-not-obviously-evil-thing in 1995, 2005, etc. The truth is that good people can sit by and, because of naivete, foolishness, or something else, allow really bad things to happen under their watch. I have a relative who grew up in the 40s and 50s and who married in the ’50s. This relative told his in-laws about the physical abuse he’d suffered from his parents. His in-laws were just upstanding folks, the kind of people who would help anyone out. And they just didn’t believe him–they thought he was making stuff up, because sure NO ONE could ever do such things to a child. And to certain people that are upstanding and live holy lives, it seems inconceivable that someone could do the things McCarrick did, and then practically perjure himself denying it. Never underestimate the power of cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is how abusers become so powerful, and can almost cast a spell on those around them. No one wants to believe the worst about someone, so even strong evidence is sometimes ignored. It might makes leaders foolish, it might make them naive, and it might even make them negligent, or they might be none of these; they might just be garden-variety victims of their own cognitive dissonance, but it doesn’t make them evil. Yet you jump in with your fair certainty that they’re not dumb or naive. They HAD to have known. Yet as much as you have studied about abuse, you must be aware of the role that cognitive dissonance plays in helping abusers along. An uncle is a bit “touchy-feely” with her kids, so the mother dismisses that nagging feeling. After all, the kids love going to visit him, and he watches them for free. Then the kids get abused. Would you assume the mother believed the kids were being abused all along and just didn’t want the headache of a confrontation? Obviously not, yet you’re thinking things much worse about the leaders in your Church. People dismiss evidence of wrongdoing all the time because they don’t want to believe the worst. It doesn’t have anything to do with being naive or being an idiot. Our emotional brains just aren’t good at weighing evidence, so we tend to put less “weight” on evidence that is damning towards people we really like. It’s human nature. You don’t extend a lot of charity to others in this case, Father, yet you’ve decried those who you feel have denied charity to you. You at least seem to be insinuating that these people must have been evil and purposefully covering things up. That, I think, is what would go against St. Thomas Aquinas’s teaching which you mentioned. It’s a very grave thing indeed to make these kinds of charges against Bishops. If you’re wrong, it’s calumny. (I’m not saying that some bishops weren’t complicit in sin by not reporting or passing things along. The McCarrick report itself names a few deceased bishops who were apparently negligent in not reporting McCarrick’s wrongdoings. But to insinuate that a bunch of high clerics in the Church are evil because they didn’t do what your armchair psychologizing suggests they should have done is a harmful way to approach life in general. Not everybody is evil just because evil happens under their watch, and we should pray all the more for our leaders because the burden they bear is grave and heavy. I’m just a layperson, but I would not want to be a bishop for half a second, as I would foul everything up).
I appreciate you thoughtful comment. That said, I never called anyone evil, or a grave sinner. You have extrapolated that from points I made, points that you concede are true. Then you accuse me of failing in charity because you find your own extrapolations uncharitable.
“Cognitive dissonance” may indeed affect many of us, when it comes to not wanting to believe bad things about people we like. But that doesn’t excuse us from fulfilling our responsibilities towards innocent victims of crime. I think you have described the problem well: Grown men, intelligent and worldly wise, who simply refused to think clearly about the facts before them. For McCarrick to insist that a subordinate share his bed was not “sketchy;” it was evidently wrong and demanded an immediate sanction. The Vatican did not want to see that and STILL doesn’t want to see that.
I never claimed to have better judgment than the men in authority who took refuge in cognitive dissonance. I am just as guilty, in other contexts, of the same fault, and I beg the Lord’s mercy for it. None of that was my point.
The reality of papal and episcopal irresponsibility revealed by the McCarrick report is appalling. You can’t blame me for that; I didn’t cause this reality to exist. I just want to see it clearly for what it is. God will judge the sins involved.