Former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick CNS photo/Paul Haring

Editorial: Blame to share

  • November 26, 2020

In the weeks since the Vatican released its report regarding disgraced former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the blame game has been in full swing.

How is it possible, both critics and friends ask, that such a man as McCarrick could ever rise to the highest levels of the Church? It’s a good question, with not a lot of good answers.

The 460-page report does not lay blame on any one person or group. Instead, it has carefully followed the trail of facts and communiques inside and outside the Vatican regarding who knew what and when and how about the allegations of sexual misconduct against McCarrick. The issue of guilt isn’t addressed in the report; that had been decided by an investigation two years ago that found “credible” evidence against him. He was subsequently removed from the priesthood.

At the heart of the report compiled over two years is the Vatican’s response to the rumours and allegations that had been circulating about McCarrick for years. It’s clear the Vatican was guilty of turning a blind eye, ignoring warning signs and siding with the accused. The good news is that it has chosen not to keep its missteps hidden from public view.

Three popes are central to this story of course, because that’s where the buck stops. John Paul II fares the worst. He heard reports of McCarrick’s behaviour, ordered an investigation, but ultimately chose to believe his denials of wrongdoing, perhaps swayed by his own history in Poland of seeing people unjustly accused. Pope Benedict put restrictions on McCarrick that were largely ignored. Pope Francis was more proactive, ordering further investigation after more claims of abuse surfaced in 2018 and laicizing him last year. McCarrick is now 90 years old, whereabouts not publicly known, and there are no criminal charges filed against him.

All tolled, it took more than 20 years for the Vatican to come to grips with the truth about McCarrick and deal with it properly. The chronology is littered with evidence of poor judgment and incomplete investigations by both U.S. bishops and the Vatican. Worse, the evidence points to victims being dismissed or ignored.

There is no bright side to this sad saga, though it’s worth acknowledging that the Church is living up to the Francis’ promise of dealing with abuse issues with complete transparency.

Significantly, the report ends on a note of contrition, taken from Pope Francis’ letter to the faithful in 2018: “Looking back to the past, no effort to beg pardon and to seek to repair the harm done will ever be sufficient. Looking ahead to the future, no effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such situations from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated. The pain of the victims and their families is also our pain, and so it is urgent that we once more reaffirm our commitment to ensure the protection of minors and of vulnerable adults.”

It’s a vow, long overdue, that can never be forgotten.

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