That June 20 came and went quietly effectively communicates the current status of the Vatican’s long-anticipated report on the fall from grace of former American cardinal Theodore McCarrick.
The date marked two years since McCarrick’s Vatican-ordered removal from active ministry, 16 months since his laicization and more than seven months since we heard that the coming of the document detailing the findings of the Vatican’s investigation was imminent. It has yet to see the light of day.
To refresh your memory: In the summer of 2018, the Archdiocese of New York made public a report that McCarrick was alleged to have sexually abused a 16-year-old boy in the 1970s. McCarrick denied the allegations, but a lay review board subsequently described them as “credible and substantiated.” McCarrick was removed from active ministry on June 20, 2018. More allegations that he had abused minors, as well as claims that he had sexually harassed and assaulted priests and seminarians, came forth in subsequent months. The Vatican’s decision to laicize McCarrick, which was made public in February 2019, completed the downfall of the former churchman who once led one of the most prominent American archdioceses and had a high profile in ecclesial circles at home and abroad. But questions lingered as to how his career had been able to advance amid such activity, and a report from the Vatican was promised with relevant details.
The last formal announcement on the McCarrick score was on Nov. 11, 2019, when Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley of Boston told the U.S. bishops gathered for their plenary in Baltimore that the Vatican’s report on McCarrick would come out by Christmas or early 2020. Then, speaking to a group of journalists at the start of February, Cardinal Parolin said that he believed the report would come out soon, but that Pope Francis “must give the final word.” Still we wait.
In November, Cardinal O’Malley said that the American bishops had “made it clear to Cardinal (Pietro) Parolin at the leadership of the Curia that the priests and the people of our country are anxious to receive the Holy See’s explanation of this tragic situation, how he could become an archbishop and cardinal, who knew what and when.” And he acknowledged that “the long wait has resulted in great frustration on the part of bishops and our people and indeed a very harsh and even cynical interpretation of the seeming silence.” This continues to be the case.
As regular readers will know, this editorial board has spoken out repeatedly in the past two years regarding a need for transparency and truth-telling in all aspects of the Church but in the McCarrick matter in particular. That the Vatican continues to delay only makes room for more frustration and disillusionment on the part of the People of God.
We renew our call to release the investigation of the circumstances that allowed McCarrick to commit crimes with impunity for nearly 50 years. Because the Church claims to be an institution based upon the Truth, our hesitancy to identify past failings endangers our very mission. Being transparent and honest about the circumstances that allowed McCarrick to act as he did for decades will be a signal to the faithful that the Vatican is serious about preventing similar abuses from ever happening again. And this will help keep people in the Church.
Because here’s the thing: There are numerous signs that once the pandemic is behind us, many Catholics either will not return to Mass or will stop practicing the Faith altogether. Perhaps they will have grown used to watching Mass on TV, or perhaps they will simply slip away due to inertia. But there will be some Catholics who will stop practicing the Faith because it’s a convenient time to make a difficult choice they’ve been pondering for a while — possibly because of abuse. The release of the McCarrick report now could help restore the faith of Catholics in the institution of the Church and help keep them within the fold. Until then, we continue to wait.
Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board: Gretchen R. Crowe, Scott P. Richert, Scott Warden, York Young