The McCarrick Report’s Unanswered Questions

A NOTE FROM OUR PUBLISHER: Document represents one important step in fostering authentic renewal.

Answers must continue to be gathered in response to important questions.
Answers must continue to be gathered in response to important questions. (photo: Unsplash)

The long-awaited McCarrick Report, detailing the rise and fall of the former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, was finally released Nov. 10. First promised two years ago, the report makes for grim and difficult reading. It reveals cunning manipulation by McCarrick and the devastating weaknesses of an internal Church culture that failed to hold him accountable as his actions harmed scores of young men, many of whom were priests. 

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state, summed it up, writing, “We publish the Report with sorrow for the wounds that these events have caused to the victims, their families, the Church in the United States, and the Universal Church.”

There has, indeed, been immense suffering because of Theodore McCarrick. That this type of report has been released publicly is an unprecedented step in the Holy See’s attempt to address the wounds of abuse and pursue justice. It also makes clear how necessary was Pope Francis’ motu proprio Vos Estis, which for the first time established clear procedures for reporting abuse related to vulnerable adults and also for dealing with accusations of misconduct against bishops or of negligence in handling misconduct of those in the bishops’ charge. And it also sheds light on the Holy Father’s move to improve transparency concerning the pontifical secret on complaints, trials and decisions concerning cases of abuse of children and vulnerable people. 

These and other initiatives are key steps in rooting out the plague of sexual abuse and the abuse of power and corruption that allowed someone like McCarrick to go unchecked for so many decades. 

This report, however, remains only one step in bringing about authentic reform and renewal. While the Church’s administrative protocols now provide a structure for greater accountability, procedures alone will not root out the poison. Renewal will only come about when, throughout the Church, the commitment to clerical celibacy is lived faithfully, holiness is sought and lived, and trust is regained. 

As I wrote in 2019 at the time McCarrick was laicized, “Only by identifying the poisons of predatory homosexuality, licentiousness of every kind, poor formation and worldliness, and ultimately the abuse of power that has shielded all such behavior among clergy and professed religious can these scourges be removed. The Church identified the poison in McCarrick, but there are many more toxic situations yet to be uncovered and dealt with decisively.”

The report confirms that many leaders within the Church, including good and holy men, were often too willing to take the master manipulator McCarrick at his word. They gave him the benefit of the doubt because he was a brother bishop who was seen as hardworking and talented, but they failed to follow the commonsense adage that where there is smoke, there is fire. In doing so, even if they were unaware of specific accusations of harassment and abuse against him, they overlooked the culture of immorality that swirled around McCarrick during periods of his life. We must ask: Has Church leadership in the U.S. truly and effectively dealt with other such toxic situations? 

The McCarrick Report was released only days ahead of the fall meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. 

The bishops themselves must now use this opportunity to demonstrate their own commitment to transparency and renewal as well as a willingness to continue to ask how McCarrick’s deceitful ways continue to influence the Church in the U.S. 

Is there more to learn about the countless lives he damaged, the vocations he destroyed and the spiritual carnage he caused because of his manipulation? How can these victims be supported?

There is also the very serious question of Church leaders whose causes and careers were promoted by McCarrick and who might even now be in positions of influence and authority. What does that mean for transparency and true reform? 

Robert George, the esteemed law professor at Princeton University, has rightly asked, “Are there influential and powerful leaders in the Church in America and in the Curia in Rome who have their positions at least in part due to Theodore McCarrick’s influence? Who are they? Why did McCarrick use his influence to advance their careers?”

One of the most crucial actions will be a thorough look into McCarrick’s financial dealings, including his discretionary bank accounts, which supported the lavish gifts he gave to other bishops and officials in the Vatican, as well as the infamous beach houses he used while the archbishop of Newark, New Jersey. The financial side of the McCarrick case received insufficient attention in the report and deserves more thorough investigation and transparency, especially from the dioceses where he served.

Finally, we must all continue to pray for the victims of abuse and work for the renewal and purification of the Church. Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, the president of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference, said it well in response to the release of the report: “This … underscores the need for us to repent and grow in our commitment to serve the people of God. Let us all continue to pray and strive for the conversion of our hearts, and that we might follow Jesus Christ with integrity and humility.”

God bless you!