How Will the Church Emerge From the Shadow of the McCarrick Report?

COMMENTARY: The McCarrick Report has many words but, in the end, speaks with no one’s voice and seems addressed to no one in particular, yet what Catholics crave from this ordeal is personal accountability.

Questions remain unanswered following the release of the McCarrick Report.
Questions remain unanswered following the release of the McCarrick Report. (photo: Unsplash)

Nearly two and a half years after the former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s luciferian fall from grace, many Catholics, especially in the United States, hoped they would finally read among the horrific details the voice of a penitent hierarchy. They did not.

While the report’s revelations are real, and the details painfully gruesome, it provided little beyond a long, and at times confusing, narrative. What many Catholics longed for was, alongside a catalogue of past errors, a sense that responsibility had been taken and lessons learned. In this, they remain disappointed.

The report concludes by quoting Pope Francis, quoting St. Paul: 

“If one member suffers, all suffer together with it.”

“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.”

There is little sense in the report’s pages that the pain of victims was much felt by its authors or the ranks of Curial officials and the U.S. bishops who repeatedly dismissed, diminished or outright ignored McCarrick’s predations for several decades. 

Nor is it clear that any particular lessons have been learned from the report’s shocking chronicle of inaction.

While McCarrick’s prolific fundraising and gift-giving is acknowledged, this is dismissed as immaterial to his rise through the Church’s ranks. Though the report records that he gave large gifts to Vatican officials and his brother bishops, no names are named, and no indication is given about where the money came from — or went.

The McCarrick Report has many words but, in the end, speaks with no one’s voice and seems addressed to no one in particular. It is detailed, but it is also incurious, impersonal and ultimately without a clear conclusion or purpose.

To be sure, Pope Francis has made dramatic — even historic — strides in increasing episcopal accountability in the wake of the McCarrick scandal. The promulgation of Vos Estis Lux Mundi has proven to be anything but a dead letter, as several U.S. bishops have discovered. 

But while some U.S. Catholics may take a grim satisfaction in the fact that their leaders are being more effectively policed, what is still lacking is an authentic sense that the bishops share their pain and outrage, something crucial to rebuilding any kind of trust.

This week, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will hold a virtual Fall General Assembly. There will be, for sure, some time allotted to discussing McCarrick.

There is likely to be some statement of group remorse, group shock, group pain and group resolution to learn lessons. But, after decades of corporate mea culpas, these unanimous resolutions are likely to fall on the ears of Catholics as so much white noise. 

What Catholics crave is personal accountability, and there is not likely to be unanimous consensus for that.

The U.S. bishops’ conference will speak, as it always does, with one voice. But behind that façade of unity, there will be some who owe their careers to McCarrick’s intervention or who profited personally from his generosity and many more who never had anything to do with McCarrick and the network of patronage that sustained him for years. For the last two years, the former have found shelter in the shadow of the latter. The bishops must now ask themselves, will they continue to do so?

The McCarrick Report answers many painful questions about the former cardinal’s specific crimes. Unanswered are the questions many Catholics have about his enduring legacy among their leaders: How many of their bishops knew and did nothing? How many took money from McCarrick? How many suspected?

Answering those questions is simply something the bishops cannot do as a body. The first, best, possibly last hope of U.S. Catholics in their leaders is that some, as individuals, will be willing to break silence and break ranks.

McCarrick’s former dioceses of Metuchen, Newark and Washington all sent volumes of documents, correspondence and records to Rome for the Vatican’s investigation. Will those bishops and cardinals now release what they sent? 

Will those who knew and trusted McCarrick and profited from that relationship speak with their own voices — I, not we — and give their own honest account?

Perhaps most importantly, will the bishops who knew nothing of McCarrick, and saw nothing of his crimes or coin, continue to tolerate the silence of their colleagues who did?

While the Holy See no doubt hopes that the release of the McCarrick Report will mark a final end to the story, it will not. New details will continue to emerge. Questions the report refused to confront will be taken up by others.

What the U.S. bishops have now, again, is a narrow window to act first, to show individual moral leadership. Will they take it, at last?

Ed Condon is a Register contributor.

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