With A Cardinal's Fall, The Crisis Returns Home
By Rocco Palmo
June 20, 2018
With the specter of sex-abuse returned to the fore with a vengeance across the Catholic world, the story's mounting American angle has suddenly yielded a historic, shocking development: early Wednesday, the archdiocese of New York announced that the Holy See had removed Cardinal Theodore McCarrick from all public ministry following a 47 year-old allegation of abusing a minor during his days as a priest in the city.
By far, the 87 year-old retired archbishop of Washington – who marked his 60th anniversary of ordination last month – becomes the highest-ranking US cleric to be suspended due to a report deemed credible and substantiated, and the third member of the global College of Cardinals to face a founded allegation of sexual misconduct. A fourth, Cardinal George Pell – the Australian tapped by Pope Francis as the founding head of the Vatican's Secretariat for the Economy – will face a double trial in his home country over the coming weeks on two charges of historic sex crimes; since becoming the first cardinal to be criminally charged on abuse counts a year ago next week, Pell has been on a voluntary leave from public ministry and his Roman role pending the outcome of the court process in Melbourne, where the 77 year-old served as archbishop through the 1990s.
Having remained one of American Catholicism's most influential prelates despite being well over a decade into retirement, McCarrick – who recently moved to a Washington nursing home – said in a statement this morning that he was "shocked by the report" and was "maintaining my innocence."
"In obedience I accept the decision of The Holy See, that I no longer exercise any public ministry," he said.
"I realize this painful development will shock my many friends, family members, and people I have been honored to serve in my sixty-years as a priest.
"While I have absolutely no recollection of this reported abuse, and believe in my innocence, I am sorry for the pain the person who brought the charges has gone through, as well as for the scandal such charges cause our people."
The cardinal is reportedly planning to appeal the finding to Rome; while a canonical recourse of the kind would normally be judged by the Congregation for the Clergy in the case of a priest, here it would ostensibly fall under the purview of the Congregation for Bishops, whose membership includes his successor in the capital, Cardinal Donald Wuerl.
Together with the announcement of the abuse finding, the current holders of the cardinal's first two diocesan assignments – northern New Jersey's archdiocese of Newark and diocese of Metuchen – made the joint revelation that their Chanceries had "received three allegations of sexual misconduct [by McCarrick] with adults decades ago; two of these allegations resulted in settlements." The cardinal's response made no mention of this aspect of the announcement.
On the historical front, in the lone prior case of similarly established misconduct with adults by a cardinal, in 2015 Francis "accepted the resignation of the rights and privileges" of membership in the College – an exceedingly rare act – submitted by the Scottish Cardinal Keith O'Brien, who forfeited his participation in the 2013 Conclave as the allegations surfaced. Following his renunciation, O'Brien lived in exiled obscurity in England until his death at 80 in March.
According to the New York statement, the finding of the abuse report as credible came by means of the standard process to which all allegations against priests, deacons and lay employees are submitted in the wake of the US bishops' 2002 "Dallas Charter" and Norms, which are particular law for the national church. As bishops are exempt from the remit of the Charter, the archdiocese said that the Holy See – which enjoys exclusive competence in matters pertaining to prelates – directed that the protocols applying to any other case be maintained, a decision without precedent in the case of a high-ranking cleric.
In itself, that context is extraordinary given the process' central role of a diocesan review board comprised exclusively of independent lay experts, which deemed the allegation credible and provided the basis for McCarrick's removal from ministry, a judgment carried out by the Pope's top deputy, the Cardinal-Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, on Francis' behalf.
Given the allegation's cited timeframe of 47 years, in 1971 then-Msgr McCarrick would have been freshly named as priest-secretary to New York's Cardinal Terence Cooke after a stint as rector of the Catholic University of Puerto Rico.
By tradition the most powerful post in the Gotham Chancery after the archbishop himself, the future cardinal remained at the helm of Cooke's office even after his appointment as an auxiliary bishop in 1977 at the age of 46.
Notably, while a push for the beatification of Cooke has been a passionate cause among many since the cardinal's death from leukemia in 1983, the momentum for the project has stalled in recent years amid reports that Cardinal Timothy Dolan was concerned over his late predecessor's perceived mishandling of abuse cases during his 15-year tenure, fearing that the Roman investigation into Cooke's life would resurface the issue. At the time, a source close to McCarrick relayed to Whispers that the DC cardinal was irate over the blocking of his mentor's cause.
* * *
All that said, while a development of this sort would be seismic regardless of which cardinal it involved, that sense is exponentially amplified given the outsize role McCarrick has held both on the national and global stage for more than three decades.
Even before he transformed the role of Washington's archbishop into a formidable pulpit far beyond its own turf, from his days in Newark, the slight figure in a threadbare jacket universally known as "Ted" has been and remained one of the Stateside leadership's principal forces of nature, carving out a massive profile that's extended from raising untold millions of dollars for church causes of every stripe to serving as the American church's de facto goodwill ambassador to the wider world and parachuting into more humanitarian emergencies than most folks knew existed, so much so that the long-standing quip among his priests was that "his official portrait should be taken through the window of an airplane."Along the way, his fan-base transcended borders – when George W. Bush came to the White House in 2001, his first dinner party in Washington was at the cardinal's Chancery apartment; to the expletive-laden fury of his then-counterpart across the Hudson, McCarrick prodded John Paul II to land instead in New Jersey on the now-saint's last US tour in 1995 (with then-President Bill Clinton waiting on the tarmac); as the cardinal was being treated at a Roman hospital shortly after the 2013 Conclave, the newly-elected Francis rang his cellphone to check up on him, and last summer, before a crowd of 90,000 at the capital's FedEx Field, U2's Bono dedicated "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" to "our old friend."
At the church's topmost levels, meanwhile, the legacy is no less widespread: now the senior of McCarrick's "sons," his vicar-general in Washington has joined him in the Pope's "Senate" on becoming the cardinal-head of the Vatican's organ for the laity and family life, while in his beloved Newark, it was a "Ted talk" to Francis that saw New Jersey score a red hat of its own in the form of the Pope's closest Stateside friend...
...and for now, shattering and simply unreal as all this is, it's to that "adopted son," Cardinal Joe Tobin, that the last word belongs:
Cardinal McCarrick served this Archdiocese for almost fifteen years. No doubt many of you developed strong relationships with him and appreciate the impact of his service. Those feelings are likely hard to reconcile with the news of a credible and substantiated claim of abuse of a minor. While Cardinal McCarrick maintains his innocence and the canonical process continues, we must put first the serious nature of this matter with respect and support for the process aimed at hearing victims and finding truth.
The abuse crisis in our Church has been devastating. We cannot undo the actions of the past, but we must continue to act with vigilance today. I renew my commitment to seek forgiveness and healing, while ensuring a safe environment for children in this Archdiocese. I will continue to report immediately to civil authorities any accusation of sexual abuse of a minor by clergy and will cooperate fully in the investigation and adjudication. I continue to urge anyone who was abused by clergy to come forward, as brave survivors before you have done. To the priests, religious and all other members of this community, I join you in continued prayer that God carry us together in his love with commitment to our faith and each other.
* * *
Even as today's news represents a watershed moment in the US church's three-decade journey through the scandals, McCarrick's removal nonetheless heightens the epochal nature of the days at hand.Sometime next week, the Pennsylvania attorney general, Josh Shapiro, is expected to release the most extensive civil report to date on the US church's response to abuse, the result of a two-year grand jury that's probed six of the state's eight Latin-church dioceses (Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton).
As first reported by the British daily The Guardian, the findings – drawn from extensive testimony and subpoenaed personnel-files dating back to the late 1940s – are expected to fill nearly 900 pages.
Though the sprawling text is tipped to make for an explicit drubbing of the handling of cases by prelates long since retired or deceased, Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer reported that no criminal charges will be recommended by the panel, ostensibly against neither alleged abusers nor diocesan officials.
The nation's first civil investigation of abuse to stretch beyond a single diocese, the six local churches will respond individually to the report upon its release.
SVILUPPO (4.40pm): In an unexpected ruling late Wednesday afternoon, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a stay preventing the publication of the grand jury report amid unspecified "legal challenges" to its release.
According to the two-paragraph ruling, the report's issuance has been halted "pending further order" of the seven-member court – all its members elected on party lines, currently a Democratic majority of 5-2.
No timeframe for a potential order to publish was given, and the breakdown of the justices' vote was not disclosed.