The news broke very early this morning (about 9:30AM Rome time) that Theodore McCarrick, once the Cardinal Archbishop of Washington, DC, powerful Church fundraiser, and a kingmaker in ecclesiastical politics — including the election of Pope Francis — had been found guilty of depraved crimes by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) and forcibly defrocked.
As punishments for clergy go, this is one of the most severe. It was necessary. And yet, as initial reactions to the news show, it’s not nearly enough to placate the outrage and sense of injustice among the faithful, who are beyond weary at the disgusting corruption that has infected not just the Catholic clergy, but the highest echelons of leadership in the Catholic Church.
The CDF, having investigated claims against McCarrick since he was first revealed last summer to have a credible accusation against abuse of a minor from decades ago, issued a decree finding him guilty of “solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession, and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power.” All of these are, of course, serious, but there’s a particular sacrilegious dimension to solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession. In a 1962 secret instruction of the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office — since made public and available on the Vatican website — the “unspeakable crime” of solicitation is described to have occurred:
whenever a priest – whether in the act itself of sacramental confession, or before or immediately after confession, on the occasion or under the pretext of confession, or even apart from confession [but] in a confessional or another place assigned or chosen for the hearing of confessions and with the semblance of hearing confessions there – has attempted to solicit or provoke a penitent, whosoever he or she may be, to immoral or indecent acts, whether by words, signs, nods, touch or a written message, to be read either at that time or afterwards, or he has impudently dared to have improper and indecent conversations or interactions with that person (Constitution Sacramentum Poenitentiae, §1). [emphasis added]
The proceedings, the instruction warns, were to be kept absolutely confidential, and the penalty of automatic excommunication was attached to the breaking of that silence.
While these rules were in place to avoid scandal and the needless destruction of reputations, this approach, in hindsight, was arguably one of the biggest problems with how the pre-conciliar Church dealt with such matters — and perhaps why a code of silence about abuse continues to this day. We have since learned that we can’t kill this disease by keeping it in the darkness. It must be exposed to the light.
Are we in a better place now because of transparency? Yes and no. It is demoralizing to be made aware of just how bad things have become, and how depraved the actions of some members of the clergy have truly been. Transparency is also being used to manipulate perception. The timing of the McCarrick announcement, for example, shows it to be an obvious public relations ploy. The global gathering of episcopal conference heads begins next week in Rome to discuss the clerical sex abuse crisis, and we have already been told to lower our expectations for any results. It appears they think that rushing to reach a decision, and announcing it just before the meeting gets under way, is going to fool us into thinking that they take all of this very seriously.
The truth is, as I discussed in the most recent 1P5 Minute, McCarrick was of no use to the regime any longer. At the age of 88, he is approaching the end of his life, and is ineligible to vote in the next conclave. It’s true that advanced age and voter ineligibility didn’t stop him from openly (and successfully) canvassing for Bergoglio at the last conclave, but under the weight of credible allegations of abuse — and other, less verified but still plausible accusations that came out later — he has become politically radioactive. His influence has not just been reduced, but nullified. And any man who acquires so much power while abusing so many with such impunity necessarily collects an impressive array of enemies. They could do nothing while he was still on the top of the heap, but once he was finally vulnerable, it is no surprise that swift retribution followed.
More to the point, by means of the explosive testimony of Archbishop Viganò, McCarrick became a massive liability to the man he helped elect to the papacy. And Francis, despite his showy geniality and camera-friendly humility, rules not as a shepherd, but a vindictive Latin American despot who does not take kindly to those who fail him or stand in the way of his power.
McCarrick had to go, and it cost the establishment in Rome absolutely nothing. If there is no honor among thieves, do we really expect it from the ranks of clergy who have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of sins that cry out to heaven for vengeance? Or those who, like Francis, surround themselves with such “men”?
This is a move that cannot — must not — deflect our attention from the accountability that none of us can reasonably expect to emerge from the meeting next week in Rome. As Archbishop Viganò said in his most recent statement, “I am praying intensely for the success of the February summit,” but there is “no sign of a genuine willingness to attend to the real causes of the present situation.” And as of yet, there has been no response to his urging that the pope — whom he accuses of having covered up for McCarrick’s crimes — “tell the truth, repent, show his willingness to follow the mandate given to Peter and, once converted, to confirm his brothers (Luke 22:32).”
Eminent Vaticanista Marco Tosatti asks the question more bluntly today, saying that the questions raised by Viganò in his testimonies
remain without any answer from the Pope, and strangely they have never been asked by any journalist after the frustrated attempts by colleagues Anna Matranga and Cindy Wooden. They may be easily summarized:
When did you know that McCarrick was a perverse man, a serial homosexual predator?
Is it true or false that Archbishop Viganò informed you of it on June 23, 2013?
And if so, why did you use McCarrick as your unofficial representative in the United States and around the world, and as a “suggester” of nominations for bishops in the United States and elsewhere?
A little note: when the McCarrick scandal exploded, the pontiff’s “magic circle” of journalists tried to raise doubts about whether Benedict XVI had really imposed restrictions on McCarrick. Cardinal Ouellet’s [October 7] letter, a real “own goal”, denied them blatantly. Now, the Vatican apparatus is trying to say that in reality they were just “suggestions”… Such as: “Your Eminence, it might be good if you could…try to restrain yourself.”
Good Catholics swallow everything, they think.
Of course, fewer and fewer good Catholics still buy into the “Francis was innocent and didn’t know” narrative. Even the most generous and charitable people have their limits.
An Abuse Victim Finds Some Measure of Justice
Long time McCarrick abuse victim James Grein, who said in an interview last year that he never came forward because he was afraid that McCarrick would have him killed, released a statement today. In it, he says:
For years I have suffered, as many others have, at the hands of Theodore McCarrick. It is with profound sadness that I have had to participate in the canonical trial of my abuser. Nothing can give me back my childhood and I have not taken any pleasure in testifying or discussing what happened to me. There are no winners here. With that said, Today I am happy that the Pope believed me. I am hopeful now I can pass through my anger for the last time. I hope that Cardinal McCarrick will no longer be able to use the power of Jesus’ Church to manipulate families and sexually abuse children.
This great historical and holy situation is giving rise to all Catholics and victims of abuse across the world. It’s is time for us to cleanse the church. Our Lady’s work is in process.
McCarrick has haunted the church for the last 50 years. A church which has been cut off from Jesus. Run by men who have chosen to worship money, power, greed. The exact opposite of God’s Holy Teaching.
This has to change. It’s Jesus’ Church – I want to return.
After thanking those who helped him through the process, Grein turns his attention to the ongoing civil investigations into clerical abuse:
We must continue to pressure state AGs and senators to open the statutes of limitations. It’s these SOLs that has kept all of the abuse hidden from us. Hundreds of priests, bishops and cardinals are hiding behind man made law. It is Time that we opened the books and expose the pure evil of these men.
It certainly is. Past time.
For those who have been watching this case unfold from the beginning, questions remain. Foremost among them is: where is there any sign of repentance from Theodore McCarrick? Some are asking why, if he will not admit to his many crimes, he not faced the penalty of excommunication for such an egregious abuse of the power and influence of his clerical state, and the corruption of seminarians and minors?
Others want to know if there is any actionable civil crime that could land McCarrick in a prison cell for the rest of his life. Thus far, however, it appears that his abuses happened long enough ago to shield him through the very statues of limitations Grein mentions.
Questions arise too, about the fact that the McCarrick’s laicization coincides almost simultaneously with the announcement that one of his protégés — Cardinal Kevin Farrell — has been given the position of camerlengo at the Holy See. This means that Farrell — who has denied any knowledge of McCarrick’s illicit activities despite serving as McCarrick’s auxiliary bishop and living with him for years — would have administrative power to keep the Holy See running during an interregnum caused either by the death or abdication of the pope. Though largely ceremonial, the position of camerlengo is one given to men of particular influence and stature. There is no question that it should be perceived as a vote of confidence from Pope Francis, despite Farrell’s incredible claims of ignorance about McCarrick.
But this is a pattern for Farrell, who also denied knowledge of the horrific crimes of Fr. Marcial Maciel, despite having spent years in an influential position within the Legionaries of Christ and acting as a driver used by the Legion to chauffeur influential figures important to Maciel’s designs — a position of trust. According to another former Legionary priest who knew Farrell well, the Irish-born Cardinal had a much closer relationship to Maciel than he would like the public to believe.
Farrell may face troubles of his own if certain information comes to light. It was reported last September by Italian journalist Francesca Fagnani that Farrell has a dossier “similar” to that of McCarrick in the files of the CDF. Thus far, neither this dossier, nor a 300-page report on the so-called Lavender Mafia commissioned by Pope Benedict XVI (which Fagnani claims to have seen) have been released. She indicated at the time, however, that “If the public became aware of the content of the report, it would be a disaster for the image of the Church, already devastated throughout the world by sexual scandals.”
If Fagnani and her publication, Il Fatto Quotidiano, were waiting for a special occasion to release what they know, there is no time like the present. But with Francis closing ranks around his allies and Archbishop Viganò living in hiding for fear of his life because of his own testimony, perhaps the truth was deemed too dangerous to risk taking public.
Whatever the case, with prelates like Cardinals Farrell, Blase Cupich, and Joseph “Nighty Night Baby” Tobin in positions of power and influence as the sex abuse crisis unfolds, the disgraced McCarrick successor Cardinal Donald Wuerl not yet removed from his position of influence both in Washington, DC and the Congregation for Bishops, and the accused-of-neglect-in-clerical-abuse Cardinal DiNardo still running the USCCB — just to name a few — it’s hard to imagine our expectations for the summit — or for the Church’s general response to the abuse crisis — being much lower.
A McCarrick laicization does nothing to change that.
This post has been updated.
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Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have eight children. You can find more of his writing at his Substack, The Skojec File.