As I noted shortly after it dropped, much of the real story in the McCarrick Report will likely emerge from the footnotes. This will be no easy or swift task. There’s always more than one way to join up the dots. There’s a fine line between a flight-of-fancy conspiracy theory and a genuine investigative insight.
(And let’s not forget here that several ‘blogger–journalists’ – all too easily dismissed as conspiracy theorists – who broke parts of this story, long before ‘respectable media outlets’ joined the fray. Take a bow, Matt Abbott: see footnote 802).
As it stands, the Report raises a number of questions. No doubt most – perhaps all – of them have anodyne, innocent answers. However corrupt McCarrick is, it’s clearly not true that everything he ever did, everyone he ever helped, every cheque he ever wrote, every friendship he ever had was utterly nefarious.
Quite the contrary: a huge part of his MO relied on people who thought they knew him well not being able to believe that so kind, generous, self-effacing, pastoral-hearted, and hard-working a man as Uncle Ted could possibly be capable of the things they had heard or seen or experienced. The ‘benefit of the doubt’ can be very powerful, and McCarrick was sure to give lots of people – up to and including canonized saints – plenty of reason to doubt.
With that in mind, however, here are three possible red flags arising from a further, closer reading. Maybe they’re nothing. But then again…
Footnote 81: While a New York auxiliary, Bishop McCarrick lived in an apartment at the New York Foundling hospital on the Upper East Side. Given that the archdiocese’s charities and social programmes (of which the Foundling was and is one) was within his remit, there’s nothing so strange about that: bishops must live somewhere. Odder though, is the statement that ‘After he left the Archdiocese of New York in 1981, McCarrick did not keep the apartment, but the hospital kept for him a guest room, with a bathroom, that he “was able to use… from time to time when [he] came to New York.”’
Now the ‘Foundling hospital’ in those days was at 1175 Third Avenue and – as reported by the NYT in 1985 – its main focus was on ‘children with multiple handicaps, victims of child abuse and troubled young mothers’. The building was sold that year to, err, Donald Trump. (An irrelevant titbit here, but you see how easily ‘just asking questions’ could slide into tinfoil-hat conspiracy-theorizing?). Now maybe I’m too influenced here from digging into the Jimmy Savile affair (there are a number of analogues, I might add), but ‘serial sexual predator with ready and trusted overnight access to premises frequented by vulnerable young people’ raises a few concerns, does it not?
Footnotes 285 and 127: McCarrick was careful to maintain excellent relations with the police – e.g., ‘he “always made a big deal over the police and they made a big deal over him”’ (fn. 285). As anyone who’s seen The Untouchables knows, that’s just good business; it was a key part of the Jimmy Savile playbook too. More interesting though, is the extent to which McCarrick was on ‘good relations’ with the FBI – to the point of them asking him to be a formal ‘asset’ (fn. 127). (There’s a Le Carré-esque backstory here, that we needn’t get into.) He certainly gave the proposition serious consideration. The Report leaves the reader with the tantalizing sentence: ‘It is not clear, however, whether McCarrick ultimately accepted the FBI’s proposal, and no record reflects further contact with the KGB agent.’
Footnote 131: Less an investigative lead this one, more one of the head-shaking, WTF-ing moments that the Report is chock-full of. McCarrick’s cultivation of his ‘nephews’ – including sons of his cousins or (usually well-to-do) friends, favoured seminarians, and young priests – is a major theme, and we learn of his regular habit of inviting one over for dinner (as his ‘plus one’?) with some potential donor or other, plying him with drink, then inviting him to his ‘private quarters’ after the other guests had left. Said nephew-du-jour would leave early the next morning. So far, so horrifyingly familiar to veteran McCarrick-watchers…
The real eye-opening revelation comes in a quotation from an unnamed ‘former priest-secretary’: “Obviously they were sleeping together [but I] didn’t read it [as sexual]… I could not imagine that something incorrect might be happening… it did not dawn on me that there could have been something strange going on.” Now either this ‘former priest-secretary’ is lying, or he’s being damningly honest about his powers of perception. There’s no good option, frankly. The bigger question, though, is this: what precisely does this tell us about the kinds of priests that McCarrick picked as his secretaries … and what sorts of careers have they made?
Consulting editor for the Catholic Herald, Stephen Bullivant (@SSBullivant) is Professor of Theology and the Sociology of Religion at St Mary’s University, Twickenham.
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