Pope John Paul II knew of the extensive sex abuse allegations against American cardinal Theodore McCarrick but still promoted him to archbishop in Washington DC and later a cardinal, a Vatican investigation has found.
McCarrick, 90, was defrocked by Francis last year after decades of allegations that the globe-trotting envoy had sexually molested adults as well as children.
The Vatican took the extraordinary step Tuesday of publishing its two-year, 400-plus-page internal investigation into the prelate’s rise and fall. It details how McCarrick often shared a bed at his New Jersey home with teenagers he made call him ‘uncle Ted’ and puts the lion’s share of blame on a dead saint: Pope John Paul II.
Disturbing testimony in the report details how McCarrick called the teenagers who were studying to become priests his ‘nephews’. One describes feeling ‘frozen and trapped’; another described being ‘ensnared and could feel that McCarrick was sexually aroused’. A third said he was ‘conflicted, confused and afraid’ after sexual activity at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City.
The report says the U.S. Church hierarchy was aware of these claims but he was still promoted by Pope John Paul II to archbishop of Washington D.C, one of the most prestigious posts in the U.S. Church, in 2000. John Paul naively believed McCarrick’s last-ditch, handwritten denial, the report adds.
McCarrick, who hobnobbed with world leaders and shone as a star fundraiser for the Church, says he has no recollection of child abuse and has not commented publicly on allegations of misconduct with adults. Now aged 90, he is living in isolation.
The report says: ‘Pope John Paul II personally made the decision to appoint McCarrick.’ That was despite a letter from the archbishop of New York, Cardinal John O’Connor, which alleged McCarrick engaged in sexual conduct with another priest, had shared a bed with young adult men and also said he had committed pedophilia with his ‘nephews’.
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Pope John Paul II, left, knew of the extensive sex abuse allegations against American cardinal Theodore McCarrick, right, but still promoted him to archbishop in Washington DC, a Vatican investigation has found. The two men are pictured in 2001
Pope Francis greets U.S. Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican in 2014. McCarrick, 90, was defrocked by Francis last year after decades of allegations that the globe-trotting envoy had sexually molested adults as well as children
McCarrick, pictured in 2000, said he had no recollection of child abuse and has not commented publicly on allegations of misconduct with adults. Now aged 90, he is living in isolation
What disturbing testimony in the report reveals:
- McCarrick called teenagers who were studying to become priests his ‘nephews’
- One describes feeling ‘frozen and trapped’ during alleged abuse
- Another described being ‘ensnared and could feel that McCarrick was sexually aroused’
- A third said he was ‘conflicted, confused and afraid’ after sexual activity at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City
- One alleged victim describes how McCarrick ‘told me how everyone knows him and how powerful he was’. He said: ‘The archbishop kept saying ‘Pray for your poor uncle.”
- McCarrick is said to have ‘shared a bed with young adult men in the Bishop’s residence in Metuchen and Newark’ and ‘shared a bed with adult seminarians at a beach house on the New Jersey shore’
- A former altar boy came forward in 2017 alleging that McCarrick groped him when he was a teenager during preparations for Christmas Mass in 1971 and 1972 in New York
Timeline of Cardinal McCarrick’s downfall
1958: Ordained a priest in New York
1977: Ordained as an auxiliary bishop
1981: Installed as bishop of Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey
1984: Buys beach house where alleged abuse takes place
1986: Installed as archbishop of Newark
Late 1980s: Two seminary professors speak with superiors about McCarrick’s behavior
1988: New Jersey man tells Pope John Paul II he was sexually abused by McCarrick
1994: Further allegations of abuse surface
1995: He hosts Pope John Paul II
1999: Allegations are included in a letter from Cardinal O’Connor, then the Archbishop of New York
2000: appointed archbishop of Washington by Pope John Paul II
2001: McCarrick is promoted to cardinal
2005: Settlements reached with a former seminary student who alleged abuse; remains a secret until 2018
2006: McCarrick retires from the Washington Archdiocese
2008: Private restrictions put in place by Pope Benedict XVI officials
2018: McCarrick removed from ministry after credible allegation he sexually abused a child
2019: McCarrick is defrocked
2020: Vatican report is released
The report says that ‘credible evidence’ that McCarrick had abused minors when he was a priest in the 1970s did not surface until 2017.
Although the archbishop of Washington D.C. is not traditionally the most powerful or prominent American Catholic, a role invariably filled by the archbishop of New York, McCarrick found himself in a high-profile role in 2004 when Pope Benedict ordered that politicians who support abortion must be refused communion.
McCarrick instead used his role in the Conference of Bishops to dilute that, saying it was up to individual dioceses to make that decision and could not be considered a blanket rule, which allowed that year’s Democratic nominee, John Kerry, to continue to receive communion.
In 1999, Cardinal John O’Connor advised Pope John Paul II, who died in 2005 and was declared a saint in 2014, that it would be imprudent to promote McCarrick because of ‘rumors’ of sexual misconduct with seminarians in Metuchen and Newark dating back to the 1980s.
The report said his willingness to believe McCarrick’s denial was likely influenced by his experience in his native Poland when the communist government used ‘spurious allegations against bishops to degrade the standing of the Church’.
After he was elected in 2013, Pope Francis became aware of ‘allegations and rumors’ concerning McCarrick’s past behavior, the report said.
‘Pope Francis had heard only that there had been allegations and rumors related to immoral conduct with adults occurring prior to McCarrick´s appointment to Washington,’ the summary says.
‘Believing that the allegations had already been reviewed and rejected by Pope John Paul II, and well aware that McCarrick was active during the papacy of Benedict XVI, Pope Francis did not see the need to alter the approach that had been adopted.’
Francis changed course after a former altar boy came forward in 2017 alleging that McCarrick groped him when he was a teenager during preparations for Christmas Mass in 1971 and 1972 in New York. The allegation was the first solid claim against McCarrick involving a minor and triggered the canonical trial that resulted in his defrocking.
While the summary provided new details about what the Vatican knew and when, it did not elaborate on the internal culture that allowed McCarrick’s behavior to continue unchecked.
Catholic cardinals and bishops have long been considered beyond reproach and claims of homosexual behavior have used to discredit or blackmail prelates, so often are dismissed as rumors. There has also been a widespread but unspoken tolerance of sexually active men in what is supposed to be a celibate priesthood.
President Bush, left, laughs with Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick Archbishop of Washington, D.C., center, and Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts, in 2005. A new report says the U.S. Church hierarchy was aware of abuse claims but still promoted McCarrick to archbishop of Washington D.C, one of the most prestigious posts in the U.S. Church, in 2000
President Bill Clinton presents Archbishop Theodore Edgar McCarrick of Newark, N.J. with a 2000 Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights in 2000. McCarrick hobnobbed with world leaders and shone as a star fundraiser for the Church
In this Oct. 12, 1988 file photo, President Ronald Reagan, center, and Newark Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, right, attend a Republican party campaign stop in West Orange, N.J
In this Feb. 21, 2001 file photo, Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick, archbishop of Washington D.C., wearing the three-cornered biretta hat, embraces Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. Disturbing testimony in the report details how McCarrick called the teenagers who were studying to become priests his ‘nephews’
The church has long considered sex by priests with other adult men or women as sinful but consensual, with flags only raised in recent years when minors were involved.
But the McCarrick scandal, which erupted during the #MeToo era, has demonstrated that adult seminarians and priests can be sexually victimized by their superiors because of the power imbalance in their relationships. And yet the church´s legal system has had no real way to address that type of abuse of authority.
James Grein, whose testimony that McCarrick abused him for two decades starting when he was 11 was key to McCarrick´s downfall, said he was pleased the report was finally being released. He said he was hopeful it would bring some relief as well as a chance to ‘clean’ up the church.
McCarrick elevates the holy host during a Mass in St. Nereus and Achilleus Church in Rome. The Vatican is taking the extraordinary step of publishing its two-year investigation into the disgraced ex-Cardinal McCarrick, who was defrocked in 2019 after the Vatican determined that years of rumors that he was a sexual predator were true
‘There are so many people suffering out there because of one man,’ Grein said. ‘And he thinks that he´s more important than the rest of us. He´s destroyed me and he´s destroyed thousands of other lives. … It´s time that the Catholic Church comes clean with all of its destruction.’
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state whose office prepared the report, said it will have an impact going forward, especially on how bishops are selected.
‘Reading the document will show that all procedures, including the appointment of bishops, depend on the commitment and honesty of the people concerned,’ he said. ‘(It will make) all those involved in such choices more aware of the weight of their decisions or omissions.’
Francis commissioned the report after the retired Vatican ambassador to the U.S., Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, issued a blistering expose of the two-decade-long McCarrick cover-up in 2018, naming around two dozen U.S. and Vatican officials who knew of his misconduct but failed to effectively sanction him.
Vigano cited former seminarians who had described the harassment and abuse they endured while ‘Uncle Ted,’ as McCarrick liked to call himself, was their bishop in New Jersey, forced to sleep in his bed during weekend trips to his beach house.
Vigano´s most explosive claim was that Francis himself lifted ‘sanctions’ imposed by Benedict and made McCarrick a trusted adviser. Vigano demanded that Francis resign, claiming he had warned the pope in June 2013 that McCarrick had ‘corrupted generations of seminarians and priests.’
Several of Vigano´s central assertions were confirmed, but not the ones involving Francis. ‘No records support Vigano´s account and evidence as to what he said is sharply disputed,’ it said.
In this June 29, 1977 file photo newly-ordained Roman Catholic Bishops are seated among others participating in their ordination ceremonies in New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The bishops are, from left, Theodore E. McCarrick, Austin B. Vaughn, and Francisco Garmendia
McCarrick attends a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican in 2005. the McCarrick scandal, which erupted during the #MeToo era, has demonstrated that adult seminarians and priests can be sexually victimized by their superiors because of the power imbalance in their relationships
The summary also cites a previously un-reported case in which Vigano in 2012 allegedly failed to act on Vatican instructions to investigate new claims against McCarrick by a Brazilian-born New Jersey priest.
‘Vigano did not take these steps and therefore never placed himself in the position to ascertain the credibility,’ of the priest´s claims, the summary says.
The report drew on documents from five Vatican departments, four U.S. dioceses, two U.S. seminaries and the Vatican´s U.S. embassy. Investigators interviewed 90 people, including McCarrick´s victims, former seminarians and priests, officials from U.S. charities and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
It was released a few days before U.S. bishops gather for their annual fall meeting, which has been overshadowed by the McCarrick scandal for two years.
And it was published on the same day the Vatican faced another reckoning over an influential prelate brought down by allegations of homosexual misconduct: The former Vatican ambassador to France, Archbishop Luigi Ventura, went on trial Tuesday in Paris, accused of groping and inappropriately touching young men – charges he denies.