- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 10, 2020

St. John Paul II dismissed allegations of sexual misconduct by former Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick when, as pope, he appointed him archbishop of Washington in 2000, according to a long-awaited report from the Vatican released Tuesday.

Titled “Report on the Holy See’s Institutional Knowledge and Decision-Making Related to Former Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick (1930-2017),” the 449-page report notes that the Archdiocese of Washington did not find out about the sexual misconduct claims against Mr. McCarrick until his successor, Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, hired a law firm in 2018 to investigate explosive public claims by former seminarians.

But the report scrutinizes the role played by John Paul II in Mr. McCarrick’s rise to the highest echelons of the Roman Catholic Church and subsequent fall as a disgraced and defrocked clergyman.

John Paul II, when he was archbishop of Krakow, Poland, first met Mr. McCarrick when he visited New York in 1977, and they became friends, the report says. It suggests that the pontiff enabled Mr. McCarrick by dismissing multiple sexual misconduct claims against him when he was archbishop of Newark, New Jersey.

“Mr. McCarrick’s direct relationship with John Paul II also likely had an impact on the Pope’s decision-making,” the report concludes.

The report is a densely footnoted document published by the Secretariat of State of the Holy See, summarizing a tranche of records scoured from Vatican archives and interviews with more than 90 witnesses, including many clerics.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin opens the report with a letter saying that Pope Francis authorized its release “for the good of the Universal Church” and hopes to set out the “relevant facts” that help explain the rise of Mr. McCarrick, who was defrocked in early 2019, six months after allegations aired that he had sexually abused seminarians and other young men for decades.

John Paul II and Mr. McCarrick’s paths crossed occasionally over the years, and Mr. McCarrick kept a “significant volume of letters” to the Holy Father, according to one aide’s account. In 2000, when he was the archbishop of Newark and was being considered for the Archdiocese of Washington, Mr. McCarrick appealed directly to John Paul II in a letter he sent to the pope’s personal secretary, Bishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, attempting to clear his name of rampant allegations of sexual misconduct.

“In my seventy years of my life, I have never had sexual relations with any person, male or female, young or old, cleric or lay, nor have I ever abused another person or treated them with disrespect,” Mr. McCarrick wrote.

According to testimony from Bishop Dziwisz, the letter moved the pope, who believed the accusations could be dismissed as “gossip.” In November 2000, he appointed Mr. McCarrick to one of the more powerful positions in the U.S. Catholic Church, as leader of the Archdiocese of Washington.

The report also reveals that three of four New Jersey bishops contacted by the Vatican to confirm sexual misconduct allegations against Mr. McCarrick gave false information, though they did tell the Vatican that Mr. McCarrick shared a bed with young men in a New Jersey beach house owned by the Diocese of Metuchen. The report calls the bishops’ responses “inaccurate and incomplete.”

Indeed, the report finds allegations first emerged as early as the 1980s, including a series of anonymous letters sent to diocesan leaders, U.S. bishops and the apostolic nuncio in Washington. One mother of boys describes sending an anonymous letter years after walking in on Mr. McCarrick, then a priest in the Archdiocese of New York, massaging her son’s inner thighs.

“I did not have the language to explain it,” said the mother, whose anonymity is maintained with the pseudonym “Mother 1.” “I did not use any fancy words when I wrote the letters.”

“This is another tragic chapter in the Church’s long struggle to confront the crimes of sexual abuse by clergy,” Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said Tuesday in a statement. “To McCarrick’s victims and their families, and to every victim-survivor of sexual abuse by the clergy, I express my profound sorrow and deepest apologies.”

The massive report released Tuesday further describes how Mr. McCarrick would befriend families with boys and often encourage children to call him “Uncle Ted.” His reported abuse of seminarians and other young men is detailed.

In one instance, a monsignor described an awkward dinner in 1990 when then-Archbishop McCarrick fondled a seminarian under the table in the presence of Auxiliary Bishop James T. McHugh.

The report also details Mr. McCarrick having sexual relations with an anonymous priest at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City and supports claims raised in a lawsuit this summer by sexual abuse victims’ attorney Jeff Anderson that Mr. McCarrick used a beach house in the 1980s owned by the New Jersey diocese to seduce young men. All the while, his rise continued.

Reaction poured in Tuesday from victims’ groups to Catholic leadership.

“This report … is historic in one particular way,” Mr. Anderson said during a news conference. “It is the first time ever that an outside nonclerical investigator has been deployed to unearth that which has been concealed and hidden … by the Vatican and all the top officials.”

Officials with Mr. Anderson’s law firm later confirmed to The Washington Times that the dossier was compiled by a Vatican attorney.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) slammed the report, saying “no child nor seminarian is safer because of this report.” It also held out John Paul II for special responsibility, noting “Pope John Paul II was aware that McCarrick had been accused of abusing both seminarians and children. The Pope promoted him anyway.”

U.S. Catholic pundits defended John Paul II’s role in Mr. McCarrick’s rise to prominence. On social media, Catholic broadcaster EWTN personality Raymond Arroyo tweeted: “The #McCarrickReport is a sad whitewash.” He said the report suggested faulty reporting by New Jersey bishops, not error by John Paul II.

The 90-year-old Mr. McCarrick was last interviewed in 2019 by Slate while living in a Kansas friary. He defended himself by saying, “I’m not as bad as they paint me.” It was announced earlier this year that he had moved to an “undisclosed location.”

Mr. McCarrick was removed from the priesthood in February 2019 after an investigation by the Roman Curia’s top canonical office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Pope Francis had ordered an investigation into Mr. McCarrick in the fall of 2018, months after reports aired in the media.

According to Tuesday’s report, the first “known allegation of sexual abuse by Mr. McCarrick of a victim under 18 years of age,” which took place in the 1970s, first came to the attention of the Archdiocese of New York in 2017.

The report also suggests that “no records support” Cardinal Carlo Maria Vigano’s claim that he raised Francis’ attention to Mr. McCarrick in 2013, five years before the news reports. Francis, who signed off on the dossier’s release, claimed ignorance of Mr. McCarrick’s reported crimes.

“Pope Francis had heard only that there had been allegations and rumors related to immoral conduct with adults occurring prior to Mr. McCarrick’s appointment to Washington,” the report said.

With respect to Pope Benedict XVI, the report says the now-retired pontiff “reversed course” and pressured Mr. McCarrick to step down in 2006 after new information came to light by a priestly accuser. But Benedict did not “initiate a formal canonical proceeding,” the report notes.

The rise and fall of Mr. McCarrick already had left an imprint on the church. In 2019, Francis issued an apostolic letter issued to shore up accountability at the centuries-old church known for secrecy and extrajudicial affairs.

But even that document, which required earlier intervention by bishops in abuse cases, but failed to demand church leaders report abuse to civil authorities and frustrated survivors groups.

“His removal from the priesthood in early 2019 after being found guilty of the sexual abuse of a minor was a necessary sanction at the time,” said Boston Archbishop Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley. “However, the release of the Vatican’s report today reveals the depth of the suspicion and the clericalism that allowed him to rise to the level of bishop and cardinal in the face of those allegations.”

For many faithful, however the report represented a relief after years of anticipation about its contents.

“The report is long and a long time coming,” John Carr, director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University, told The Washington Times. “I am grateful to Pope Francis, who promised this report, and those that have worked to help the truth come out.”

• Christopher Vondracek can be reached at cvondracek@washingtontimes.com.

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