Sometimes a wade, more often a slog, the 449 pages of the McCarrick Report do not tell us much that we did not already know. The Report, however, is a trove of detail. Were this spectacle, rather than life imitating cruel farce, one could safely say the kernels and nuggets and anecdotes with which both the body and the supporting apparatus are peppered are altogether worth the price of admission.
Footnote 127 recounts how a KGB agent operating under diplomatic cover at the UN in New York approached McCarrick in the early 1980s and tried to cultivate him. The Federal Bureau of Investigation already had their eyes on the Soviet fellow, and contacted McCarrick to see whether he mightn’t be willing to let himself be cultivated, then relay what he could glean from his conversations with the KGB agent to the FBI?
“It is not clear, however, whether McCarrick ultimately accepted the FBI’s proposal,” the Report states, “and no record reflects further contact with the KGB agent.”
Some of the details are salacious, such as the boozy evening in a catering hall at which McCarrick – by accounts well in his cups – allegedly pounded the table and declared: “I deserve New York!” then refused to stand for the toast to the evening’s celebres, Bishop John Mortimer Smith (auxiliary of Newark) and Bishop James Thomas McHugh of Camden, whose episcopal consecration anniversaries the party ostensibly gathered to celebrate.
Also present were a young cleric – unnamed – and Mgr Dominic Bottino, who witnessed McCarrick move his right hand to grope the young cleric’s “crotch area” as the report states. Bottino says Bishop McHugh noticed the same and they noticed each other noticing the behaviour. “McCarrick,” Bottino observed, “mov[ed] his fingers up and down on [the cleric’s] crotch,” for some time. “[P]lenty of time,” the Report quotes him as saying, “to see what he was doing.” The report says Bottino reported that the young cleric appeared “he was paralyzed,” eyes “wide open” like “a deer in the headlights.”
This story isn’t merely salacious, though.
If Uncle Ted wasn’t a double agent, he’d nevertheless picked up some tradecraft. He knew that Bottino that afternoon had driven Bishop McHugh to a brief function in New York at the Holy See’s Permanent Observer mission, where Bottino had met then-Nuncio Renato Martino (later President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and a Cardinal).
“Soon after Bishop McHugh and Monsignor Bottino sat down,” the Report states, “McCarrick turned to speak to Bottino, referring to him as the ‘new attaché at the Mission of the Holy See at the United Nations’:
Bottino was “blindsided” by McCarrick’s words, since McHugh had never informed him that the trip to the Permanent Observer Mission in New York might relate to him, and he had “no idea until that moment” that his Bishop had made arrangements for him to begin work at the Mission. Bottino “looked over at Bishop McHugh right away and [McHugh] shook his head and crunched his eyebrows, as he often did, indicating to [Bottino], ‘Don’t say anything’.” Bottino recalled that McCarrick explained to him that the Permanent Observer regularly received a diplomatic pouch which contained, among other things, episcopal appointments for dioceses in the United States. Placing his hand on Bottino’s arm, McCarrick asked whether he could “count on” Bottino once he became the attaché to provide him with information from the pouch. After Bottino stated that it would seem that the material in the pouch needed to remain confidential, McCarrick patted his arm and replied, “You’re good. But I think I can count on you.” At that moment, Bottino gained the impression that McCarrick was inebriated. (Report, p.90)
It’s not clear whether McCarrick was just drunk and sloppy, or making a calculated attempt either to compromise Mgr Bottino before he started any stint at the Holy See’s UN mission, or trying to spike the same pre-emptively.
McHugh decided it was time to leave the party right after the crotch-grabbing incident, in any case, and there’s apparently no record of the senior Churchmen who witnessed the incident ever breathing a word of it to their superiors. In any case, a better world-in-a-nutshell illustration of the way in which sexual abuse is abuse of power will be hard to find.
The Report describes the fellow subjected to the indignities at McCarrick’s hands during the dinner as “a young cleric” but never a victim. There is, in fact, little indication here or anywhere in the Report that Churchmen thought of the adults who suffered McCarrick’s predations were victims in almost any meaningful sense, and precious little to indicate either the authors of the misdeeds and failures recounted therein or those of the Report itself – beyond preambulatory lip-service – consider the minors who were victims to be deserving of solicitude in their own right.
Conveniently, Bishops McHugh and Smith are dead, along with many of the other principals and minor characters.
Praising the courageous transparency of a highly curated and much-belated document that offers a window onto very bad decisions in the past simply will not do. It is a bridge too far, especially when there is ample evidence to suggest – viz. Cincinnati, Nashville-Philadelphia, and L’Affaire Zanchetta – that the ideas and casts-of-mind that animated those baleful decisions live very much in the present at the highest echelons of Ecclesiastical power.
For his part, Pope Francis issued no letter, nor did he make any statement of his own to accompany the McCarrick Report the day the Vatican published it. On Wednesday, the day following the report’s release, he said: “Yesterday was published the report on the painful case of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. I renew my closeness to victims of all abuse, and the commitment of the Church to eradicating this evil.”
That’s literally all he said about it, before pausing a good ten or fifteen seconds and then proceeding with his standard, end-of-audience salutations.