While the Vatican’s decision to laicize Theodore McCarrick was a valuable step, it is not, and cannot be, the end of the affair. Mr. McCarrick was the elephant in the room at the recently concluded Vatican summit. We still don’t know who promoted McCarrick’s rise and whose careers benefited from McCarrick’s protection. At least one person has the power to bring this affair to a more satisfactory conclusion: Mr. McCarrick himself.
Ever since Archbishop Viganò made his explosive charges about McCarrick, all eyes have been on Pope Francis. “The Holy Father should respond to these charges.” “Pope Francis could release the documents that would answer these questions once and for all.” And it is quite true that Pope Francis could take steps that would resolve at least some of the questions.
It is also true that the greatly anticipated book by gay French atheist Martel, In the Closet of the Vatican, essentially confirms the most damaging of Archbishop Viganò’s claims: Pope Francis knew about McCarrick’s homosexual activity. According to Martel’s sources, “Francis was initially informed by Viganò that McCarrick had had sexual relations with over-age seminarians, which was not enough, in his mind, to condemn him.”
We forget that there is one other person in a position to know the full truth of Viganò’s charges: Mr. McCarrick himself. McCarrick could confirm or deny some or all of the suspicions. McCarrick could answer the tough and important questions. How did he rise through the ranks? Who protected and promoted him? Whom did he protect and promote?
I’m not saying I expect a full confession from McCarrick, or that he could “heal” the Church or anyone else. He could, of course, repent. But at this late date, who in his right mind would take him seriously? If Mr. McCarrick started, all of sudden, professing contrition and sorrow, we’d all wonder what he was angling for. God can know the truth of McCarrick’s heart and heal anyone of anything. The rest of us would need more than words.
On the other hand, he might inadvertently do something constructive, as a side-effect. Assume for the sake of argument that McCarrick really did use his fundraising abilities and his power in the Church to promote the careers of men of homosexual sympathies. Assume that Pope Francis was aware of this. Assume further that some of McCarrick’s power arose from the power of secrets. He had dirt on a lot of people. The people who had dirt on him didn’t want to reveal it, because he might reveal the dirt he had on them.
This system of mutual secret-keeping is a bit like the old Mutual Assured Destruction strategic balancing act from the Cold War. Once one side fires a missile, the other side has an incentive to retaliate. The mutual fear of total annihilation kept both sides from pushing that big red button. As crazy as that system sounds, it did keep peace, albeit an uneasy peace, for quite a few years.
Apply that same logic to McCarrick and his friends. The Mutual Assured Secret-Keeping game is now over. McCarrick’s old friends and allies kicked him to the curb. All those people whose rise to power he engineered, all those people who owed him their careers, all those people whose secrets he kept, they all betrayed him. They offered him up as a scapegoat to make the public outcry over clergy sex abuse go away. Why should he keep their secrets now? He might as well retaliate.
He could get revenge. He could make a lot of money, selling exclusive rights to his tell-all memoirs to some enterprising journalist or publisher. As an added benefit, the public would finally get a fuller picture of what actually happened. He has nothing to lose now by spilling his guts. (If he does have something to lose, that suggests another whole layer of deception about even more deeply hidden costs and benefits. But that is purely speculation at this point.)
He does have an interest in exaggerating things that make his enemies look bad, or downplaying things that make himself look bad. But the names he would reveal would be substantially correct. He would have an incentive to skewer those who let him twist in the wind in his hour of need. That might include the senior cardinals whose promotion he promoted, or even Pope Francis himself. He might, in the end, corroborate Viganò’s charges.
On the other hand, who would believe Mr. McCarrick if he tried to frame someone completely outside the orbit of homosexually inclined or heterodoxy-inclined senior prelates? “I, Theodore McCarrick, secretly aided the rise of Cardinal Burke. Bishop Athanasius Schneider and I used to secretly hang around together. Cardinal Sarah and I are old pals.”
That type of frame-up job just wouldn’t fly. If he had sexual dirt on any of his orthodox former colleagues, such as the dubia cardinals, he would have revealed that information a long time ago.
The best possible end to the McCarrick Affair is that Mr. McCarrick tell all he knows. He might do it for all the wrong reasons: revenge, greed, spite. He might not do it for the good of the Church or his immortal soul. No matter. People often do the right thing for the wrong reasons. The entire Body of Christ would benefit, whether McCarrick intends it or not.
Please, someone: Offer Mr. McCarrick a book deal.
Jennifer Roback Morse, Ph.D. is the founder and president of the Ruth Institute and the author of The Sexual State: How Elite Ideologies are Destroying Live and How the Church has been right all along.