November 11, 2020
By Michelle Boorstein and Sarah Pulliam Bailey
A new Vatican report’s revelations that Pope John Paul II disregarded reports about ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s sexual misconduct had Catholics on Wednesday debating the legacy of one of the modern church’s towering figures. The report triggered questions about whether John Paul was rushed through the saint-making process, and whether the author of contemporary Catholic teaching on human sexuality didn’t understand the complex nature of the topic.
The 450-page report released Tuesday is an unprecedented effort by the church at full transparency, a rare window on internal Vatican decision-making that showed that not only John Paul but also popes Benedict and Francis knew McCarrick had faced multiple accusations. Each pontiff was aware of different aspects of the accusations against McCarrick, but the initial years of the case came under John Paul’s 27-year reign.
John Paul, who died in 2005 and was made a saint in 2014, elevated McCarrick to archbishop of Washington and summarily to cardinal despite the allegations. Under Benedict, McCarrick was asked to step down as archbishop of Washington when he reached the standard retirement age of 75 and told to keep a lower profile. Francis assumed his predecessors had already vetted the allegations against McCarrick, but took action once a credible accusation surfaced involving a minor. McCarrick was laicized in 2019.
Reactions to the revelations about John Paul have been emotional and divided. Some saw a man perhaps naively believing a scheming friend. The report’s authors raised the possibility that John Paul’s judgment was heavily colored by his experience in the Eastern Bloc, where negative propaganda about priests was used to weaken religious organizations. Others felt his decisions were potentially disqualifying for the high moral honor of sainthood.
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