Double-barreled McCarrick news perfectly captures accountability challenge


May 30, 2019

By John L. Allen Jr.

Sometimes the fates who govern the news business have a wicked sense of timing. After a long stretch of relative quiet regarding Theodore McCarrick, the ex-cardinal who was defrocked over sexual misconduct and abuse charges, Tuesday brought not one but two major new developments.

Crux, along with CBS, published correspondence from McCarrick confirming that he was placed under Vatican restrictions in 2008, claiming that Cardinal Donald Wuerl (the Archbishop of Washington at the time) was aware of those restrictions despite his denials, and also revealing that McCarrick played a major role in backchannel diplomacy with China under Pope Francis.

Roughly an hour after our story broke, a new interview with Francis by Mexican journalist Valentina Alazraki made the rounds, in which the pontiff insisted “I knew nothing, obviously, nothing, nothing,” about accusations against McCarrick.

To be clear, the two stories do not contradict one another. While the correspondence at the heart of the Crux report clearly suggests that senior officials under Pope emeritus Benedict XVI knew about the informal restrictions and did not obstruct McCarrick from gradually returning to his activities, they do not speak to what Francis or his team knew.

However, the double whammy of these two stories coming at once does neatly illustrate two of the major questions left hanging by the McCarrick case, which in turn encapsulates the meta-narrative of the entire saga.

One of those hanging questions, obviously, is what Wuerl knew and when he knew it.

One piece of the correspondence in Tuesday’s Crux piece is an August 25, 2008, letter from McCarrick to the late Italian Archbishop Pietro Sambi, at the time the Vatican’s ambassador in the U.S., referring to an earlier letter in which the Vatican restrictions were outlined. McCarrick said he wanted to discuss some points in that letter “having shared it with my Archbishop,” meaning Wuerl.

In comments to Crux, however, a spokesman for Wuerl denied that Wuerl ever knew about the restrictions. The clear implication is that McCarrick was lying in his letter to Sambi, misrepresenting the extent to which Wuerl was informed and supportive.

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