Five take-aways from the Vatican’s explosive McCarrick report

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New York: The Vatican has released a massive report investigating how Theodore E. McCarrick, a disgraced former cardinal and archbishop of Washington, rose to the heights of the Catholic Church, despite leaders receiving reports that he had sexually abused minors and adult seminarians over the course of decades.

Here are five takeaways from the report:

Pope John Paul II knew of allegations

St John Paul II personally made the decision to elevate McCarrick even after an American cardinal warned that he had been accused of sexual misconduct.

Then archbishop of Washington Theodore Edgar McCarrick, right, greets Pope John Paul II in 2001.Credit:AP

In 1999, when McCarrick was being considered to take over the Archdiocese of New York, Cardinal John O'Connor of New York wrote a six-page letter to the Vatican's ambassador to the US. He raised concerns that McCarrick had asked young adult men to sleep in his bed with him and that some priests had experienced psychological trauma from McCarrick's inappropriate behaviour.

"I regret that I would have to recommend very strongly against such promotion, particularly if to a Cardinatial See," O'Connor said. "Nevertheless, I subject my comments to higher authority and most particularly our Holy Father."

Vatican leaders shared the assessment with John Paul. But the pope dismissed the allegations after McCarrick wrote him a letter directly denying them, and he elevated McCarrick anyway to the Archdiocese of Washington, one of the most prominent positions in the country. "McCarrick's direct relationship with John Paul II also likely had an impact on the Pope's decision making," the report said.

The Vatican blames three American bishops

John Paul initially requested an investigation into the allegations, but the Vatican now suggests it was deceived by three bishops in New Jersey, who provided "inaccurate and incomplete information" to the Holy See, the report said.

"This inaccurate information appears likely to have impacted the conclusions of John Paul II's advisors and, consequently, of John Paul II himself," the report said, shifting some blame.

The allegations were dismissed as "rumour," the report said, and "McCarrick's denial was believed." The bishops were also asked to keep that inquiry a secret.

The report also describes a disturbing account from a New Jersey priest, Monsignor Dominic Bottino, who said he had witnessed two of the New Jersey bishops watch McCarrick touch a man's crotch in 1990, and neither informed the pope of that incident.

Pope Benedict XVI ousted but declined to investigate McCarrick

Soon after Benedict became pope in 2005, he quickly extended McCarrick's tenure as archbishop of Washington.

But he reversed course by the end of the year, based on "new details" about allegations against McCarrick, and "urgently sought" to replace McCarrick in the role. By Easter 2006, McCarrick was out.

A group with Catholic Laity for Orthodox Bishops and Reform, gathers to pray, left, as John Wojnowski, right, holds a sign outside the Apostolic Nunciature of the Holy See in Washington last year.Credit:AP

Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, an official in the Holy See's Secretariat of State, wrote two letters in 2006 and 2008 urging a church investigation of rumours about McCarrick. Instead of formally investigating the claims, however, Benedict authorised a Vatican official to "appeal to McCarrick's conscience" and ask him to "maintain a lower profile and minimise travel." But this request was not a formal command, and McCarrick continued to freely travel the globe on behalf of Catholic causes and institutions.

Vigano became the Vatican ambassador to the US in 2011 and was asked to conduct an inquiry to determine whether the allegations against McCarrick were credible. The report says that "Vigano did not take these steps."

Francis did nothing until 2017

Pope Francis was aware there were rumours of wrongdoing, but until 2017, the report said, no one provided him with any documentation of the allegations. Francis believed everything had already been reviewed by John Paul. He also knew that under his predecessor, Benedict, McCarrick had remained active, so he saw no need to alter the church's approach.

Pope Francis reaches out to hug Cardinal Archbishop emeritus Theodore McCarrick in 2015.Credit:Washington Post

In June 2017, the Archdiocese of New York learnt of an allegation of sexual abuse by McCarrick of a minor decades earlier. Soon after, Francis requested McCarrick's resignation from the College of Cardinals.

Unusual for the Vatican to investigate its highest leaders

Francis first promised a "thorough study" of the Vatican's handling of the McCarrick case in 2018. The long-awaited result is a highly unusual public investigation of abuses and cover-ups spanning decades and reaching to the highest levels of the Vatican's own ranks.

The report will have wide implications for a global church that has been roiled for decades over its mishandling of sexual abuse by clergy.

John Paul is not just a pope — he is also a saint. At his fast-tracked canonisation mass in 2014, Francis praised him as "the pope of the family".

The church now has to reckon with the fact that one of its most beloved pontiffs is implicated is one of its most notorious scandals.

The New York Times

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