The Catholic Herald offers this piece by international editor and Rome bureau chief Christopher Altieri, in anteprima, ahead of our December issue.
There is a popular misconception – one to which even old Vatican hands are frequently tempted – according to which the architects of the McCarrick Report intended it to be an exhaustive account of the McCarrick Affair. It is not. The McCarrick Report was never meant to be any such thing.
The McCarrick Report is a review of the documentary evidence on file in the Vatican and various other places. Investigators apparently went beyond the originally stated purpose of their work – and although one can criticise their efforts in that regard, they do appear to have conducted some extensive interviews and searches of archives and other document troves. The architects of the Report are nevertheless primarily concerned with how Uncle Ted got where he did and stayed for so long.
The McCarrick Report is little more than 400+ pages of frequently gruesome fluff, with a soupçon of blame avoidance and scapegoating.
The McCarrick Report doesn’t precisely answer that question in a really meaningful sense. It identifies several bad actors, but the worst of the lot are already dead. Only a few living Churchmen come in for any really harsh criticism. No currently serving high curial official has come in for any to speak of, beyond the report itself.
The full title of the thing is: Report on the Holy See’s institutional knowledge and decision-making process related to former Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick, 1930 to 2017. Despite its title’s promise, the McCarrick Report mostly tries to explain how very few people really knew anything in the strict sense. When it comes to decision-making, the Report offers mostly conjecture (or disclaimer) and leaves things to the surmise of readers.
In that regard, the McCarrick Report is little more than 400+ pages of frequently gruesome fluff, with a soupçon of blame avoidance and scapegoating. It does not at all serve as an analysis of the actual culture that allowed McCarrick to happen, or how that culture permeates the Church to this day; much less, what we might do even to begin to address the issue. In fact, it doesn’t seem to admit that there is a real, systemic problem at all. That is precisely the attitude evoked with the expression “Mistakes were made” – which more than one commentator has used to sum up the report.
If one would understand the decision-making process when it comes to McCarrick, the thing to do is look to the way in which the Churchmen with power to decide actually make decisions in the present.
There are as many as nine currently active bishops in the US hierarchy, whose careers Uncle Ted has touched somehow. Whether he has exerted influence in favour or against any others cannot be a matter of indifference to leadership. One would have a hard time making a blanket rule to the effect that any association whatsoever with the man should put an effective end to the rise of any ecclesiastical personage. That it should end the careers of some can hardly be doubted. At any rate, it surely must trigger investigations.
“A right fool”
The most egregious case is that of Cardinal Kevin Farrell, currently serving as Prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life. He began with two strikes against him: a former Legionary who never suspected anything was amiss with the criminally perverse founder of that inexplicably extant religious congregation; a former auxiliary to Uncle Ted, Vicar General of Washington DC and housemate of the criminal pervert who was his principal there.
“Never once did I even suspect,” the Associated Press quoted His Eminence as saying in July of 2018, a few days after McCarrick resigned from the College of Cardinals. “Now, people can say ‘Well you must be a right fool that you didn’t notice.’ I must be a right fool, but I don’t think I am. And that’s why I feel angry,” Farrell said.
Here’s the thing: When a guy is given a choice between copping to abject idiocy or copping to involvement in monstrous criminal evil, smart money is always on his choosing Door #1. If he is a fool, as he himself says, then how does he yet rise?
Francis, who has given Cardinal Farrell offices of trust since the McCarrick business began to come fully into the light, is not likely to put anyone under his sword, let alone make anyone fall on his own.
In the army of ancient Rome, decimation was an exemplary punishment of last resort: every tenth legionary would go under the sword, without respect to personal guilt. Civilised society no longer operates such measures, but some serious accounting is in order. More than two years ago, the US bishops fairly implored Pope Francis to investigate them. Francis flatly refused the request. Instead, the US hierarchy is not even being treated to Chile redux. Recall that Francis invited the bishops of that country to his house so he could yell at them a little for running their Churches as criminal enterprises. Then, having secured the resignations of the lot of them, Francis sent them back to their sees (eventually removing or retiring about seven of them).
The Viganò Report?
Editorial director Andrea Tornielli couched the McCarrick Report as a reply to Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò. “The investigation carried out during these two years was commenced toward the end of summer 2018,” Tornielli wrote in an editorial released to journalists before the Report, “during weeks of considerable tension culminating in the denunciation by the former Apostolic Nuncio in Washington, Carlo Maria Viganò, who, in an international media campaign, publicly called for the resignation of the current Pontiff.”
Tornielli went on to say: “The Report demonstrates that in this period, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, in his capacity as delegate for Papal Representatives, had reported information about McCarrick’s possible involvement with adults that had arrived from the nunciature to his superiors in the Secretary of State, highlighting its seriousness.”
Tornielli’s editorial mentions Archbishop Viganò once more, to say that Viganò “received instructions from the Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops to investigate [McCarrick],” but didn’t. “[T]he Report shows that he did not carry out all of the investigations that had been asked of him,” Tornielli continues. “Furthermore, continuing to follow the same approach used until that moment, he did not take significant steps to limit McCarrick’s activity, or his national and international travels.”
What that is supposed to prove, except that Archbishop Viganò was a high cleric who behaved like one, never becomes entirely clear. Then, there should have been other takeaways more significant than the role of the Nuncio in not doing what nobody else did either. In the main, the report confirms the bones of Viganò’s original brief.
There is one exception: Viganò says he privately told Francis of McCarrick’s depraved character in 2013. Francis is on record as saying he can’t recall whether his nuncio told him one of the most powerful kingmakers in the already scandal-riddled US Church was a pervert. At page 404 of the Report, we read:
Pope Francis was questioned closely regarding the 23 June and 10 October 2013 meetings [with Archbishop Viganò]. Whether due to the extraordinary level of activity during the Summer and Fall of 2013, or due to how the information was communicated, Pope Francis did not recollect what Viganò said about McCarrick during these two meetings. However, because McCarrick was a cardinal known personally to him, Pope Francis was certain that he would have remembered had Viganò spoken about McCarrick with any “force or clarity.”
Francis was also certain that Viganò never told him that McCarrick had committed “crimes” against any person, whether adult or minor, or described McCarrick as a “serial predator,” or stated that McCarrick had “corrupted generations of seminarians and priests.” Prior to the allegation made to the Archdiocese of New York in 2017, the Pope was never informed by anyone that McCarrick had sexually abused or assaulted any person, irrespective of age.
That’s an awful lot of certainty to acquire in the span of a very short time, and at significant remove from the events, regarding matters that were a blur when they occurred. I have noted elsewhere that the certainty with which Archbishop Viganò has insisted upon his precise recollections is itself suspect for similar reasons. Not to put too fine a point on it: What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
What the report does make clear is that Francis did learn of the “rumours” regarding McCarrick’s ambiguous behaviour sometime after his election in 2013. “At the time he was elected in March 2013,” the Report reads at page 394, “Pope Francis had never heard rumors related to McCarrick’s past conduct and did not know that McCarrick had previously received indications to change residence, minimize travel or reduce his public profile.”
At page 13, however, the report states: “Pope Francis had heard only that there had been allegations and rumours related to immoral conduct with adults occurring prior to McCarrick’s appointment to Washington.” So, he learned of McCarrick’s highly ambiguous behaviour, at least, between the time of his election and 2017. “Believing that the allegations had already been reviewed and rejected by Pope John Paul II, and well aware that McCarrick was active during the papacy of Benedict XVI,” the McCarrick Report continues at page 13, “Pope Francis did not see the need to alter the approach that had been adopted in prior years.”
You’ll recall that Viganò dropped his original J’Accuse! on the last day of Francis’s 2018 trip to Ireland.
Neither Pope Francis nor Archbishop Viganò seem to realise it, but Viganò may actually have done him a favour. The headlines would have been worse. They deserved to be, at any rate. The entire island of Ireland is in open and naked rebellion against the faith because, as they see it, her bishops used their power and resources to enable a child sex trafficking ring for a hundred years, and expected the Irish people who bled and starved for the Catholic faith to thank them. Francis went to visit an Ireland in the throes of that crisis, and if it is too much to say he tried to skip the abuse crisis entirely, it is certainly fair to say he wanted to let bygones be bygones.
Francis did not start the abuse and coverup crisis in the Church, but he bought it when Chile blew up in his face – remember that he pulled the pin on that grenade himself – and Ireland was just an instalment.
The report is choc-full of detail, but it is not thorough in any of the possibly pertinent senses.
The McCarrick Report contains no real description of source material, for one. “[T]he documentation present in the Archives of the Dicasteries and Offices of the Holy See regarding McCarrick,” doesn’t cut ice. “The examination of documents was undertaken in compliance with the instructions of the Holy Father and under the auspices of the Secretariat of State,” we are assured. What were his precise instructions? How were they communicated? More importantly: how were they interpreted?
“No limit was placed on the examination of documents, the questioning of individuals or the expenditure of resources necessary to carry out the investigation.” In the absence of specific document and witness lists, heuristics, analytical methods, etc., that comes to a pinkie-swear to the effect that investigators left no stone unturned and spared no expense. So, how much did it cost, and who footed the bill?
With access to source material limited, the McCarrick Report isn’t meaningfully verifiable or repeatable. Likewise, authorship is undetermined. “The Secretariat of State” is not an author. One name that has been suggested is that of Jeffrey Lena, the Holy See’s attorney in the United States. Jeff Anderson, an attorney in the United States whose practice is entirely focused on representing abuse survivors, has said that Lena “conducted” the investigation. The Holy See Press Office did not reply to requests from the Catholic Herald for confirmation, and Lena isn’t mentioned anywhere by name in the Report.
Who is speaking, please?
The authorship question is not ancillary to the overarching issue of the Report’s general usefulness.
The Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report – a highly imperfect document that nevertheless does tolerably well the work it set out to do – has a collective author that is identifiable, from which the reporters speak in accessible language, of measurable matters, to a definite public.
“They might have just done a document dump,” Prof. Sam Rocha of the University of Vancouver – an experienced researcher, not a Vatican insider – archly observed to me, “and let us write the report for them.”
As we received it, the McCarrick Report largely leaves readers to trust the Secretariat of State when they tell us things like: “[N]o records support [Archbishop] Viganò’s account [of his private meeting with Pope Francis in 2013] and evidence as to what he said is sharply disputed.”
At the risk of belabouring the point, here is Pope Francis to Mexico’s Noticieros Televisa in May of 2019: “I knew nothing, had no idea. And when [Archbishop Viganò] said that he spoke to me about this on that day when he came…I do not remember if he spoke to me about that. Is it true or not? I have no idea.”
From that line, at least, it is difficult to discover any “sharp dispute” of the assertions Archbishop Viganò has made. “I do not remember,” is par for the course, one supposes. Stick “Senator” at the end of it, and one has ample points of comparison by which to measure its strength. By the time Pope Francis was being “closely questioned” regarding the June 23rd and October 10th meetings with Viganò, Pope Francis was “certain that he would have remembered had Viganò spoken about McCarrick with any ‘force or clarity’,” and also certain that Viganò never told him that McCarrick had committed “crimes” against any person.
Did investigators have unfettered access to Pope Francis’s records, to his secretaries and their records, to any others as may or might have been in the room? Which guardsmen were on duty that day? Under what compulsion did those who were interviewed give evidence — including Pope Francis, if he was “closely questioned” as part of the investigation? Were witnesses under oath? What did they swear? What questions did they answer?
The weight of one’s word
Just for abundance of clarity on the point: Archbishop Viganò does not come out of this Report looking well. I’ve said elsewhere that, as a whistle-blower, Viganò may fairly strike one as more Joe Valachi than Frank Serpico. The first I recall putting a line to that effect into the public discussion of this affair was in mid-September 2018, when I suggested the Vatican might publicly cite Viganò to appear before open ecclesiastical court to answer for himself.
Valachi was a gangster who turned federal witness against the Mafia in the 1960s. His testimony never led to the conviction of any other criminal figure – not directly – but he was the first mafioso to admit that a sophisticated international criminal organisation existed and operated in the United States, and his testimony continues to exercise influence on Mafia mythology.
Frank Serpico was a hero detective who sounded the alarm over police corruption and survived what was likely an attempt on his life orchestrated within the New York Police Department.
For the purposes of cold, hard analysis, it doesn’t matter. “[Archbishop] Viganò could be a living saint,” I wrote for the Catholic World Report in March of last year – that’s how long we’ve been talking about this – “but, if his recollection is not accurate, then he would still have done grave injustice to the person of the Holy Father and serious damage to the Office of Peter, along with incalculable harm to the faith and to the People of God.” If Archbishop Viganò’s recollection is even in the ballpark, then he would have given Pope Francis a report of McCarrick’s depraved character, which Francis still should have taken seriously. That would be true, were Archbishop Viganò the devil himself.
In any case, the Report gives no indication that investigators sought Archbishop Viganò’s testimony, and Viganò himself has claimed he received no invitation to testify.
The Zanchetta method
One need not cast far and wide to find evidence that Pope Francis has ignored or discounted damning evidence against senior Churchmen better known to him than was McCarrick. He has continued to protect at least one of them: Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta. As previously reported in the Herald and elsewhere, Zanchetta is currently facing criminal trial in his native Argentina on charges of “aggravated continuous sexual abuse” allegedly committed against his own seminarians.
As of summer 2020, Bishop Zanchetta had returned to his tailor-made role inside the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA), which is roughly and readily the Vatican’s central bank, even though Zanchetta is also accused of financial irregularity during his time as bishop of Orán (the see to which Francis appointed Zanchetta in 2013). Zanchetta denies all charges.
As reported by the Herald and others, the bones of the Zanchetta Affair are that Pope Francis appointed him to the diocese of Orán in 2013, and began receiving complaints about him backed by documentary evidence (including pornographic images involving “young people” and compromising images of Zanchetta himself) as early as 2015. Francis summoned Zanchetta and demanded an account. Zanchetta claimed his phone had been hacked, and that the rumours regarding his behaviour came from quarters ill-disposed to Pope Francis.
Pope Francis sent Bishop Zanchetta home to continue in the governance of Orán diocese. Two years and several further complaints later, Zanchetta resigned and Francis sent him for psychological evaluation. After that, Francis appointed Zanchetta “assessor” to the APSA, a position that did not exist until Zanchetta needed a job.
In January 2019, the more lurid details of the story began to come before the worldwide public.
The Press Office of the Holy See issued a statement: “At the time of his resignation [in 2017],” the statement said, “there had been accusations of authoritarianism against [Zanchetta], but there had been no accusation of sexual abuse against him.” Not to put too fine a point on it (again): Only very careful parsing will save that take on the business from a charge of mendacity.
Pope Francis eventually ordered an ecclesiastical investigation. There’s no word on where that investigation stands. In the May 2019 interview with Noticieros Televisa, however, Pope Francis offered this: “[T]he preliminary investigation came to me,” Pope Francis said. “I read it, and I saw that it was necessary to make a judgment. Then I passed it to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, [and] they are making the judgment.”
“So, why do I tell you all this?” Pope Francis went on to say. “To tell impatient people – who say, ‘He did not do anything,’ that the Pope does not have to go around publishing every day what he is doing, but from the very first moment of this case I’ve not [once] stood staring.” Indeed.
The final chorus
If the methodological explanation of the McCarrick Report was wanting, so too were the conclusions.
Truth be told, the “conclusions” are little more than recapitulations of facts in evidence. They do not really say much about the decision-making process regarding Uncle Ted. Statement of institutional “lessons learned” is conspicuous by way of its absence. The conclusion proper – contained in Section XXX of the Report, on the 449th and final page of the document – is little more than half a page in length, the lion’s share of which is occupied by a quote from Pope Francis.
From a strictly tactical point of view, it appears that the authors of the McCarrick Report simply decided there was no way they were willing to do the hard thing that would satisfy the requirements they themselves put on the project, so they decided to make lemonade of what lemons they could glean from Archbishop Viganò’s trees, lay most of the blame for the institutional failure at the feet of some dead men, sell a geriatric outsider who deserved it anyway – Pope St. John Paul II’s long-serving personal secretary, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz (now emeritus of Krakow), I mean – down the river, declare victory, and otherwise kick the can.
Operationally, there is little indication of designs to clean house or even study ways in which to effect change within the institutional culture.
Strategically, the McCarrick Report is practically destitute of any indication there is or will be in the foreseeable future a plan to pursue threads left untied: the role of Uncle Ted’s prodigious fundraising abilities in preserving his pristine public character for so long is one example.
This is far from over.
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