The McCarrick Report and Pope John Paul II: Confronting a saint’s tarnished legacy

America Magazine

November 10, 2020

By James T. Keane

The release of the long-awaited “McCarrick Report” by the Vatican this morning provided significant information about Theodore McCarrick’s abuse of minors and adult seminarians, as well as a long and shameful history of church leaders ignoring complaints and concerns about Mr. McCarrick. It also raised the inevitable questions of who knew what and when, including regarding three popes: John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. John Paul II was canonized by Pope Francis in 2014, less than 10 years after his death.

Mr. McCarrick, once a priest and an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of New York (full disclosure: Mr. McCarrick was the homilist at America’s 100th anniversary Mass at St. Ignatius Church in New York City in 2009), served as the first bishop of the newly formed Diocese of Metuchen in New Jersey from 1981 to 1986, as archbishop of Newark from 1986 to 2000 and as archbishop of Washington from 2000 to 2006. He was made a cardinal by Pope John Paul II in 2001.

In June 2018, he was removed from ministry after the Archdiocese of New York deemed an allegation that he had abused an altar boy decades earlier “credible and substantiated.” In the weeks following, further allegations emerged of inappropriate behavior with minors and adults, including seminarians, and officials in the Archdiocese of Newark and the Diocese of Metuchen admitted that both had reached financial settlements with alleged victims of Mr. McCarrick over a decade earlier. He was finally removed from the clerical state by Pope Francis in February 2019 after a canonical trial and an unsuccessful appeal by Mr. McCarrick of the guilty verdict.

Today’s report largely avoids blaming Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI for the lack of oversight and restrictions on Mr. McCarrick, saying that Benedict and Francis both assumed that John Paul II had determined that Mr. McCarrick was not guilty of any crimes. In the case of John Paul II, the report argues that he was naturally suspicious of accusations of sexual misconduct against bishops because he had seen similar tactics used in his native Poland under Soviet rule. “Several prelates familiar with Pope John Paul II’s thinking opined that the Pope believed that allegations of sexual misconduct against important clerics were often false and that this belief was grounded in his own prior experience in Poland,” the report states, “where rumors and innuendo had been used to damage the reputations of Church leaders.”

A similar rationale was offered by many church leaders in the case of the Rev. Marcial Maciel, the founder of the Legion of Christ, who was removed from ministry by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006 after multiple allegations of sexual abuse of minors, repeated affairs with adult women and decades of financial malfeasance while serving as head of the religious order. Father Maciel was close to John Paul II, who beatified Father Maciel’s uncle, Rafael Guízar (Pope Benedict XVI canonized Guízar, in 2006), and the priest was a prominent financial donor to the Vatican for many years.

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