I ended each of my previous two pieces (here and here) with a not-so-subtle trailer to where, in this final instalment, I always expected I’d end up. The Report provides a wealth of detail on the deliberations that led to each of McCarrick’s episcopal appointments, including who championed his candidacy – or pointedly didn’t – in each case. Completely absent from the Report, however, is any indication of his own role on the other side of the process: that is, the role McCarrick himself played in the championing, or blackballing, of specific people, and why.
This is a game that McCarrick was, we well know, supremely good at playing. Archbishop Viganò may have popularized the image of him being ‘the kingmaker for appointments in the Curia and the United States’. But McCarrick’s track-record in this area is longstanding, even post-retirement. In 2014, Sandro Magister credited Blase Cupich’s move to Chicago to outside-the-normal-channels lobbying, ‘above all by Theodore McCarrick’. In 2016, Rocco Palmo described him as ‘the lead architect’ behind Joseph Tobin going to Newark. Earlier that year, Tobin and Cupich were made cardinals at the same consistory, prompting John Allen’s observation that ‘what one might call the “McCarrick caucus” among the American cardinals has been swelled significantly’. We might add to that group the third US cardinal made that day: Kevin Farrell.
Farrell is of particular interest here because he, unlike Tobin and Cupich, served directly under McCarrick. When McCarrick came to DC in 2001, Farrell – a former Legionary of Christ – had been a priest there since the early 1980s. Before the year was out, he was Vicar General and an auxiliary bishop – roles he retained for the rest of McCarrick’s tenure. McCarrick singled Farrell out for praise several times in his weekly newspaper columns (later collected into the not-at-all-creepily-titled Thinking of You).
As well he might have. Veterans of student digs know all too well that it pays to stay on good terms with your housemates. For yes indeed: Farrell, another auxiliary (González), McCarrick, and his priest-secretaries shared a residence, renovated ‘with the help of some friends’ of McCarrick ‘from New Jersey’. Whether these were McCarrick’s same friends who – as we also learn from Thinking of You – insisted on buying him boats is, sadly, not stated.
Now, if it sounds as though I’m trying to imply something here, I am. Lest my meaning be obscured, let me spell it out.
Farrell is a fellow one might think would have seen or heard something, anything, that might have – prior to 2018’s exposé, by which time he was (as he still is) the powerful head of a Vatican dicastery –caused him to suspect there might be something not quite right about his boss. After all, as early as 2002 rumours of credible allegations against McCarrick were circulating to the point at which the archdiocesan Director of Communications felt need to ‘grill’ him on them (Report, p. 215). Then, the 2005-6 settlements made by other dioceses (which ultimately triggered McCarrick’s retirement) were widely known and talked-about at the time, including – I understand – among senior Washington clergy. Apparently not.
As the Report makes quite plain in a long footnote on pp. 289-90 (insisted upon as ‘clarification’ by a certain curial high-up, one wonders?) Farrell knew more-or-less nothing. Helpfully, it also quotes at length from a DC spokesperson, to the effect that Farrell was really Cardinal Hickey’s protégé, and was ‘not particularly close to McCarrick’. In fact, they barely even met: it was such a ‘huge’ apartment, you understand. Besides, Farrell never emerged from his room. Oh, and McCarrick was never there either. He wasn’t even in the country most of the time, come to think of it.
(I paraphrase but, I assure you, with only very little exaggeration. Look up the footnote and see for yourself.)
Ok, let’s give Farrell the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he really, truly didn’t hear anything but ‘old rumours’ that might have sounded any alarm bells about McCarrick until 2018. Trouble is, shouldn’t he have? Oughtn’t a VG and auxiliary bishop be privy to the kinds of more-than-rumours that, as we know from other sources, were widely discussed by the end of McCarrick’s tenure?
I focus on Farrell because he is so prominent an example. This whole problem runs much more deeply, and – that face-saving footnote aside – is scarcely touched upon in the Report. Moreover, it is one that is of immediate concern.
We know that McCarrick took an interest in the future careers of his most trusted lieutenants and collaborators – his secretaries, VGs, auxiliaries, episcopal vicars. He tells us as much himself. Referring to his ex-secretaries specifically in Thinking of You, he writes: ‘I am very proud of the “alumni”, among them are a vicar general, diocesan chancellors, rectors of seminaries…’. Groomed for greatness, one might say.
McCarrick was certainly effective in placing his protégés. By my team’s count, there are currently – over fourteen years after he retired – nine active American bishops who both served under McCarrick, and were consecrated prior to his public fall from grace (after which, one hopes, he no longer gets asked to provide episcopal references). Most held key positions of trust under him.
Not all that long ago, being – and being known to be – a McCarrick protégé was a valuable bit of ‘ecclesial capital’ (h/t Pierre Bourdieu). Thus, for example, DiMarzio in this 2003 NYT piece, or Serratelli (now emeritus) as per Palmo in 2005. Not so much anymore. Given “Uncle Ted’s” penchant for family metaphors, gone too are the days of taking pride in being his episcopal ‘grandsons’.
(Incidentally, on my to-do list is an exploration of edits to US bishops’ Wikipedia pages and diocesan bios, circa summer 2018.)
Some of these, I’ve every faith, are precisely the kinds of Kevin-Costner-in-The–Untouchables-esque Shepherds that the People of God sorely need and deserve. Nevertheless, if the McCarrick Report tells us one thing, it’s that the making of bishops – like the proverbial laws and sausages – can be a rather messy process. Furthermore, with the right lobbying both to and from the right people, it’s not exactly failsafe in stopping ‘unsuitable’ candidates from winning out. McCarrick himself isn’t even our only proof of this. The already-disgraced Michael Bransfield, Ted’s own ‘very capable and outstanding rector of the [National] Shrine’ (Thinking of You, p. 203), is a case in point.
Knowing what we now know about McCarrick, it seems necessary to ask some serious questions as to what, and on behalf of whom, he got his own hands dirty … and if the helpfulness of having so powerful a patron might have helped them ‘overlook’ or ‘forget’ a thing or two.
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