The retired Catholic archbishop of Washington, D.C. (2001-2006), Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, was forced to resign from the College of Cardinals because he abused his position of authority (with inappropriate touching – if not always sexual intimacy) over seminarians, that is, priests-in-training, and at least one minor.  There is an issue that has not yet been raised by the press or in Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley’s critique. (Cardinal O’Malley’s suggestions were limited to issues after there has been abuse).

Will those responsible for vetting McCarrick as he was promoted to serve as auxiliary bishop of New York in 1977, bishop of Metuchen, New Jersey, in 1981, archbishop of Newark in 1986, and archbishop of Washington in 2001, be held to account? Fort Worth Bishop Michael F. Olson has it right. We must identify enablers. 

 The College of Cardinals is that body of about 120 men at the apogee of the Catholic hierarchy who are appointed to advise the Pope on doctrine, on finances, and a host of other issues, to head Roman Curia agencies (“Congregations”), and to elect papal successors. Whatever may be the role of the laity, of priests, and of bishops, in the local country, the final recommendations to the pope for the positions of bishop and archbishop are made by the Prefect, or head, of the Congregation for Bishops. Certain archdioceses are headed by men customarily made cardinals. In the United States, these have been the archdioceses of Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, Baltimore, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. Currently, many of the traditional archdioceses do not have cardinals, and non-traditional Galveston-Houston and Newark do. When McCarrick was appointed Archbishop of Washington, D.C., it was a big deal. He was made a cardinal in February, 2001.

When McCarrick was appointed Archbishop on November 21, 2000, there had already been two settlements with victims of his abuse. Julie Zausmer and Chico Harlan, “Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Facing Sexual Abuse Reports, Resigns from the College of Cardinals,” Washington Post, July 29, 2018,  My purpose here is to identify the man, or men, who recommended Bishop McCarrick as Archbishop to Pope John Paul II in 2000. They need to answer about what they knew or failed to know. We will also want to know the names of people on his (or their) staff, and we will want to know the names of the people in the United States who also engaged in any vetting.

With respect to the events of 2000: Cardinal James A. Hickey, the Archbishop of Washington, retired on turning age 80, November 21, 2000. Obviously, people in the U.S. and at the Vatican knew in advance of this occurrence. Indeed, McCarrick was appointed on the same day as Hickey’s retirement. In the last half of 2000, Cardinal Lucas Neves, of the Dominican order, was the Prefect of the Congregation of Bishops. He and his staff would have done some vetting for the expected retirement before he retired on September 16, 2000, at age 75. (He died in 2002.) Neves had previously served as vice-president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, 1974-1979, and as the Secretary of the Congregation of Bishops for eight years, 1979-1987. He had a lot of experience in vetting candidates for bishop and archbishop. 

On the same day that Cardinal Neves retired, Bishop Giovanni Re was appointed at age 66 to replace him as head of the Congregation for Bishops. He, too, had served as Secretary of the Congregation, 1987-1989. Re continued to serve as Prefect until 2010. He was papabile, that is, a supposed candidate for pope, in the papal elections of 2005 and 2013. In 2017, he became vice-dean of the College of Cardinals and is age 84. So, Cardinal Re is alive, healthy, and available for questioning. 

As we learn more facts, we may need to identify and interrogate those who vetted McCarrick earlier in his priestly career, such as those working on behalf of New York Cardinals Spellman and Cooke -- in 1977 and in 1981, and indeed prior to his ordination to the priesthood in 1958. 

In Catholic churches throughout the world on Sunday, July 22, this excerpt from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah (chapter 23) was read out loud. We could say it was prophetic: 

“Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of My pasture, says the LORD. 
Therefore, thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, against the shepherds who shepherd My people:
You have scattered My sheep and driven them away. 
You have not cared for them, but I will take care to punish your evil deeds.”

I’d like to offer some consoling words, not only to Catholic readers, but all readers of good will who are scandalized when people of faith do not live up to their supposed ideals. I sent these words earlier this year to an attorney who, as you might imagine, had become disheartened while defending Catholic dioceses against civil lawsuits concerning abuse. It is an an excerpt from a sermon on Psalm 30(31) preached by the famous St. Augustine (354-430 A.D.), bishop of Hippo, North Africa (translated by Father Edmund Hill in 1959):  

“The bad Christians who take part in sacraments and mysteries live worse lives than those who never come near them—Well, why shouldn’t I say [this] openly in plain English for once…If I mustn’t dare say it at other times…How many people do you suppose there are, my friends, who would like to become Christians, but are put off by the bad habits of Christians? They are our neighbors, and to them we have seemed to be an excessive disgrace…When a man sees so many leading evil lives, hears of people he thought well of being found out in wrongdoing, he begins to be afraid that perhaps all good people—all he thought were good—are in fact bad. ‘A man of such good standing too! Just fancy his falling as low as that, and getting mixed up in that scandal, that dirty business, that criminal affair! Are they all like that, do you think?’ ‘Ah, but unless you flattered yourself that you weren’t like that, that you would never do such a thing, perhaps you wouldn’t have these doubts about everyone else. So you are afraid they are all rotten, eh? Are you rotten?’ ‘No.’ ‘No, you lead a good life of course, eminently respectable. And do you imagine that you are the only one?’ …So never go and say that you are the only one…the one remedy among all the scandals that disfigure the Church is not to think evil of your brother. Be in all humility what you would like him to be, and you won’t think that he is what you hope you are not…”

Spero News columnist James Thunder is an attorney who practices in Washington D.C.



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