Cardinals McCarrick, Wuerl, and Farrell: A Web of Sex Abuse, Bribes, Financial Misconduct and Cover-ups

By Betty Clermont
Open Tabernacle blog
August 8, 2019

These men claim to be religious leaders, spiritual guides, moral authorities. They are addressed as “His Eminence.” The man who appoints and promotes them is addressed as “Holy Father” and his government is the “Holy See.”

Theodore McCarrick, Donald Wuerl and Kevin Farrell were among the officials who received thousands of dollars from West Virginia Bishop Michael J. Bransfield. Bransfield was seeking to “purchase influence” with “those whose opinions carry weight with the Vatican” according to a recent Washington Post investigation.

In September 2018, one of Bransfield’s closest aides “came forward with an incendiary inside account of years of sexual [with priests] and financial misconduct.” The Post provided evidence that “senior Catholic leaders in the United States and the Vatican began receiving warnings about Bransfield as far back as 2012 [but] his conduct went unchecked.”

Church law requires bishops to turn in their resignation to the pope when they turn 75; the pope has the option of accepting or rejecting it. Pope Francis accepted Bransfield’s resignation when he turned 75 in September 2018.

“Bransfield spent $2.4 million on travel, often flying in private jets, as well as $4.6 million in all to renovate his residence” using diocesan funds in one of the poorest states in the country.

As head of the Wheeling-Charleston diocese, “Bransfield maintained a prominent public profile” noted The Post. “He regularly traveled to the Vatican while serving as treasurer of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and as [an official] on the board of trustees for the Papal Foundation.”

The Papal Foundation’s response to a request by Pope Francis for a $25 million donation to a crime-ridden Vatican-owned hospital is only part of a narrative that shows – when it comes to bribes, cover-ups, sexual and financial misconduct – Bransfield is only the tip of an iceberg.

 The Papal Foundation

The Papal Foundation was co-founded in 1988 by then-Archbishop of Newark Theodore McCarrick. Since 1990, the Philadelphia-based foundation has given over $100 million to support “programs and projects” that are particularly significant to the pope.

The Foundation is supported by donors known as stewards. “In order to be considered a steward, one must commit $1 million to be paid in no more than ten years, at least $100,000 a year.”

A Board of Trustees administers Foundation funds. American cardinals are the controlling members of the board. Archbishops, bishops and elected laity serve as trustees.

Istituto Dermopatico dell’Immacolata, a Vatican-owned hospital

The Istituto Dermopatico dell’Immacolata (IDI) was founded by the Italian Province of the Congregation of the Sons of the Immaculate Conception (Picfic). “The Vatican’s involvement began in 1925 when the Holy See sponsored the expansion of the health care project,” explained Claire Giangravé.

“A 2012 financial inquiry found that [m]oney was being funneled out of the hospital to tax havens around the world and even to fund oil extraction projects in Africa,” according to Giangravé.

At that time, “the Vatican refused to provide any financial assistance and a Rome court certified the hospital as insolvent,” the Guardian reported. Pope Francis was elected in March 2013.

On April 4, 2013, Italian police put three IDI executives under house arrest including Fr. Franco Decaminada, a Picfic priest.  40 others were indicted “on 144 counts of bankruptcy fraud, money laundering and embezzlement.” reported ANSA. Picfic, the religious order, “declared bankruptcy and went into receivership in May 2013.”

A Vatican official, Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, asked the Vatican Bank to loan $50 million to the IDI. The bank president declined telling Versaldi the loan would be imprudent, Giangravé reported. So Versaldi borrowed the $50 million from the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA). APSA manages the lion’s share of Vatican investments.

A partnership of Picfic and the Vatican purchased the IDI on April 14, 2015, reported Kevin Jones. It operates the hospital through the Luigi Maria Monti Foundation, “which is nothing other than [Picfic] under a different name.”  But “IDI’s troubles were far from over,” Giangravé wrote.

In March 2016, Decaminada and other hospital officials were indicted for “repeated plundering behaviors” of the IDI, tax evasion and embezzlement.

“The consensus among the lawyers, economist, accountants and prelates” Giangravé consulted is that “the hospital is likely to remain a financial hole … as long as the current management and the Vatican is involved.”

“Many wondered why the Vatican is so committed to the survival of the [IDI] and questioned its ties with the ‘chameleon congregation,’” noted Giangravé.


In June 2017, Pope Francis asked Cardinal Donald Wuerl for $25 million to help save the IDI from collapse.  As chairman of the Papal Foundation’s Board of Cardinals, Wuerl asked them to make a grant – initially for only $8 million.

Wuerl “moved to take up the matter outside of the Foundation’s normal grant cycle. He convened an executive session of the cardinals’ board, including Cardinal McCarrick, who also lobbied for making the grant,” reported Michael O’Brien.

Meanwhile, in May 2017 just weeks before Wuerl received the request from Pope Francis, the Archdiocese of New York was notified by a victim that he had been sexually abused by McCarrick when he was a boy. “Before the archdiocese could investigate the charges, it had to receive authorization,” noted O’Brien. Accusations of sex abuse of a minor by a bishop are investigated by the Congregation for Bishops. But only the pope can approve an investigation of a cardinal.

McCarrick stood to benefit personally if [by helping to secure the $25 million requested by Pope Francis], he could win leniency in how he handled his sex abuse case,” noted O’Brien.


Bransfield and McCarrick had ample reason to believe that favorable outcomes from the Vatican could be secured with money. “Money paved way for Fr. Marcial Maciel’s influence,” wrote Jason Berry, co-author of Vows of Silence: The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II.

In January 2019, the trusted Vatican reporter Edward Pentin “revealed that the Vatican knew about sexual abuse allegations against the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, Marcial Maciel, since at least 1943. Maciel founded the religious order of priests based in Mexico in 1941. This means that from the very beginning, Maciel was engaged in horrifying predation …. He not only abused seminarians for decades, but fathered children with various women – and then raped those children, too,” Steve Skojec wrote.

“Maciel ingratiated himself with Vatican officials, including some of those in charge of offices that should have investigated him, as he dispensed thousands of dollars in cash,” Berry noted. “The trail of money he reportedly gave cardinals raises profound ethical questions about how money circulates in the Vatican,” Berry concluded.

In 2006, Pope Benedict XVI ordered Maciel into an unenforceable, and therefore voluntary, retirement from active ministry two years before his death at age 87.

In addition to Maciel, there were two others “who always showed up at the Vatican with lots of money,” according to Rod Dreher. One was the notorious pedophile-protector Cardinal Bernard Law, given a cushy Vatican appointment after he was forced to resign in 2002 as archbishop of Boston. The other was McCarrick.

The Papal Foundation Pays

In August 2017, the Papal Foundation sent $8 million to the Vatican without assurances as to how the money would be tracked and spent, noted O’Brien.

It wasn’t until their annual meeting on December 12, 2017, that Wuerl asked “the Foundation’s entire tiered board – cardinals, bishops, and laymen – to approve the full $25 million (including the already-sent $8 million),” O’Brien reported.

Both Giangravé and O’Brien agree that the votes in favor of granting the full $25 million were split – generally the prelates in favor and the laymen against. “The former chairman of the Foundation’s audit committee, businessman James Longon, called the grant an ‘irresponsible and immoral stewardship of funds.’”

Both Giangravé  and O’Brien reported that the full $25 million has not yet reached the IDI. The matter “remains shrouded in mystery,” according to Giangravé.

McCarrick Exposed

On June 20, 2018, New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan announced that the Archdiocesan Review Board found the allegation of sex abuse of a minor by McCarrick was “credible and substantiated.” Earlier the same day, McCarrick made a statement to the press that “some months ago” Dolan had informed him of the allegation, thereby confirming he had known he was under a papal investigation.

After the June 2018 announcement:

“McCarrick’s former staff members told [the independent] Catholic News Agency about McCarrick’s habit of visiting Rome and distributing cash or personal checks to senior officials,” stated Ed Condon.

“The cardinal is reportedly planning to appeal the finding to Rome,” Rocco Palmo reported.

“The Papal Foundation was a huge point of leverage for McCarrick in terms of going to Rome,” Steve Schneck, head of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at Catholic University, told The Post.

Additional sex abuse by McCarrick

After Dolan’s June 2018 announcement, at least two other accusations of abuse of minors by McCarrick were reported. One was the child of McCarrick’s friends who said he was sexually abused for years beginning when he was 11 years old. “The Vatican also received accusations of sexual abuse of a boy who was 13 when it began and from a number of seminarians,” according to Condon.

It was agreed that, among Church insiders, “everyone knew” about McCarrick’s sexual predation of young priests and seminarians. An excerpt from an “open letter” to Pope Benedict XVI, written in 2008 by the sociologist Richard Sipe who specialized in studying clerical celibacy, stated: ‘It has been widely known for several decades that Bishop/Archbishop now Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick took seminarians and young priests to a shore home in New Jersey, sites in New York, and other places and slept with some of them.’”

Pope Benedict XVI accepted McCarrick’s resignation as Archbishop of Washington D.C. in May 2006. He had turned 75 in July 2005. But the cardinal remained very active and influential in the Vatican and U.S. In 2008, Pope Benedict imposed restrictions on McCarrick’s travel and ordered him “to resign from all rolls at the Vatican and within the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops” because of his sexual misconduct with seminarians and priests. Gradually, the restrictions were ignored.

Pope Francis accepted McCarrick’s resignation from the College of Cardinals in July 2018. In February 2019, a week before his much-publicized Vatican “summit” on child sex abuse, Pope Francis made headlines by laicizing (defrocking) the 89-year-old McCarrick.

McCarrick’s misuse of a charitable fund

“The former cardinal’s reputation for [distributing cash] has come under renewed scrutiny following recent revelations concerning former Wheeling-Charleston Bishop Michael Bransfield.” While head of the Washington D.C. archdiocese, “McCarrick used his position as a board member on various grant-making foundations to assign regular five-figure grants to the Archbishop’s Fund, with two such foundations alone registering donations totaling $500,000,” Ed Condon wrote. The Fund is archdiocesan money meant for “charitable purposes” or “miscellaneous expenses.”

“McCarrick funnelled hundreds of thousands of dollars through the Archbishop’s Fund and reportedly made gifts to senior Vatican officials,” reported Condon.


Recall that when Pope Francis wanted $25 million for the IDI, he turned to Wuerl for help. Wuerl had done the Vatican’s bidding before. Seattle Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen “embodied the ideals of the reformist Second Vatican Council” during the 1980’s. Then-Cardinal (later pope) Joseph Ratzinger “stripped Hunthausen of pastoral authority in five key areas. The authority was given over to Donald Wuerl, an auxiliary bishop, trained in Rome and marked for advancement.” From there, Wuerl was promoted to Bishop of Pittsburgh until 2006 when he was named as McCarrick’s successor.

Wuerl is known as “the pope’s man in Washington.” Because he is close to Pope Francis, Wuerl is “seen as the consummate insider”  noted Michael Warren Davis. Members of the Bishops’ Synods held in Rome are usually elected by their fellow bishops. Pope Francis appointed Wuerl as a member of both the 2014 and 2015 synods.

After the sex abuse allegations against McCarrick were widely reported, questions were raised about Wuerl’s knowledge of his predecessor’s actions. Wuerl repeatedly denied that he knew anything about it.

However, one of McCarrick’s ex-aides gave Crux News the cardinal’s emails and private letters over the period 2008-2017. In reference to the restrictions imposed by Pope Benedict, “McCarrick claims that Cardinal Donald Wuerl, then the Archbishop of Washington, was aware of them and involved in conversations about their implementation …. The correspondence obtained by Crux also illustrates attempts by McCarrick to exercise influence on Pope Francis.” Which may have happened considering McCarrick’s “travels accelerated with the election of Pope Francis.”

In July 2018, “a Pennsylvania grand jury report detailed allegations of widespread predatory behavior by more than 300 priests against more than 1,000 children. The report is critical of Wuerl who served as the bishop of Pittsburgh for 18 years and describes him as one of the bishops who helped cover up abusive behavior.”

“Wuerl said in a statement that the report ‘confirms that I acted with diligence, with concern for the victims and to prevent future acts of abuse.’ Josh Shapiro, the Pennsylvania attorney general, said in a statement to CNN, ‘Cardinal Wuerl is not telling the truth. Many of his statements in response to the Grand Jury Report are directly contradicted by the Church’s own documents. Offering misleading statements now only furthers the cover up.’”

“Wuerl travelled to Rome to consult Pope Francis …. He asked the Holy Father’s permission to retire from the episcopacy. [Wuerl is 78 years old.] On October 12, it was granted,” Michael Warren Davis reported.

“In his letter accepting Wuerl’s resignation, the Holy Father praised Wuerl effusively.” The pope implied that Wuerl’s accusers were like Satan “trying to hurt the shepherd.” Pope Francis “depicted his retirement as an act of Christlike self-sacrifice. It was Wuerl’s ‘nobility’ that compelled him to step down, for which the pope says ‘I am proud and thank you.’” Wuerl’s influence on Pope Francis is “unlikely to weaken,” Davis concluded. “It’s hard to call this retirement at all.”

“Wuerl is now able to retire seemingly with no consequences for his actions,” Attorney General Shapiro told NBC News.

John Delaney, a survivor of clergy sexual abuse, said he sat and cried after reading that the pope had called Wuerl a “noble man.” “That’s such a huge slap in the face to victims,” said Delaney.

Pope Francis left Wuerl as administrator of the Archdiocese of Washington until a replacement could be named seven months later. Wuerl retains his positions in the influential Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith “which not only oversees doctrinal disputes but, since 2001, has also been the lead department in the fight against clerical sexual abuse” and the Congregation for Bishops, “which recommends new bishops around the world.”

Wuerl also remains a supervising cardinal of APSA, the department that gave $50 million to the IDI.

Wuerl’s replacement

Given Wuerl’s closeness to Pope Francis, it is reasonable to assume that he had  influence in naming his successor. Atlanta Archbishop Wilton Gregory, who is also on the Papal Foundation’s board of trustees, was installed on May 21, 2019 as head of the Washington archdiocese.

“Gregory has a less than stellar history with child sexual abuse cases.” In 2004,  he refused a court order to turn over the secret records of a priest who abused at least five kids, impregnating one of them, recalled the Survivor’s Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).

As head of the Atlanta archdiocese, “he refused to post predator priests’ names on Church websites. He’s made deceptive claims about his dealings with pedophiles,” SNAP reported.

Had it not been for a March 23, 2014, front-page article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Gregory would have been living in a $2.2 million home he built for himself in Atlanta’s wealthiest neighborhood using money that had been donated “for charitable causes.” Within a month, “the Archdiocese of Atlanta issued a news release that the mansion would be sold after Gregory moves out next month.”

Gregory is now head of the archdiocese refusing to release those records naming the individuals, including bishops and senior Vatican figures, “to whom McCarrick made payments from the Archbishop’s Fund;” also “the sources, sums, and uses of the money,” Condon reported.


Kevin Farrell was ordained as a Legionary of Christ in 1978. He was chaplain at the Catholic University of Monterrey in Mexico. Monterrey was the center of Maciel’s activities, wrote Carlos Ramirez.  Maciel’s “close ties with the elite are most evident in Monterrey,” according to a Reuters report.

Farrell also “acted as general administrator of the Legionaries of Christ with responsibilities for seminaries and schools in Italy, Spain and Ireland,” noted Patsy McGarry.

Yet, when asked what he knew about Maciel being a sexual predator, Cardinal Farrell said, “Maybe I would have met Maciel once or twice, but I never suspected anything.”

Farrell left the Legionaries and became a parish priest in the Washington D.C. archdiocese. When McCarrick became the archbishop, he appointed Farrell as Vicar General in 2001. The same year, Farrell also was appointed as McCarrick’s auxiliary bishop.

Although Farrell had lived with McCarrick in the same residence and had been his second-highest official, he told the AP, “Never once did I even suspect” McCarrick of sexual abuse. Farrell held the same positions under Wuerl until he was appointed Bishop of Dallas in 2007.

In a lawsuit filed against the Diocese of Dallas, “John Doe” alleged that Fr. Timothy J. Heines, “sexually, emotionally, and physically abused” him beginning when he was 12 years old. In 2015, the plaintiff reported Heines to the diocese and Bishop Farrell removed the priest from ministry. But “it’s a big problem that Farrell made the decision to not report that abuse to the police,” said Turley Most, Doe’s attorney.

On May 15, 2019, Dallas police raided three locations of the Dallas Diocese. Detective David Clark said that “Church officials had ‘thwarted’ his investigations into allegations of sexual abuse by priests.” He wrote in a search warrant affidavit that the diocese hid records from the police.

“At the center of the affidavit is Edmundo Paredes, the longtime pastor at St. Cecilia, who had been credibly accused of molesting three teenage boys. Police said the allegations against Paredes had been known by Church officials since at least 2006.” Dallas police issued an arrest warrant for Paredes after a new accuser emerged. Unfortunately, “officials believe that Paredes had fled to his native country, the Philippines.”

Like Bransfield, Farrell also served the U.S. Bishops’ Conference as treasurer and was a trustee of the Papal Foundation. In August 2016, Pope Francis appointed Farrell as Prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, one of the new “super-dicasteries” created by the pope, making Farrell the highest-ranking American in the Vatican. When  Farrell moved to Rome, he “received two checks from Bransfield totaling $29,000 for expenses,” reported The Post.

Pope Francis also elevated Farrell to cardinal in 2016 appointing him as a cardinal supervisor of APSA where he serves along with Wuerl.

“In 2016, Cardinal George Pell, prefect of the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy, identified money laundering and fraud risks related to the APSA …. As much as €7 billion” was held in two private Swiss banks, reported Edward Pentin. “It became clear that there was a hub of corruption within APSA related to these two banks,” according to Pentin, and “that the events discussed in this article comprise just a small sample of the misconduct in play.”

Pope Francis made Farrell “a key figure” in the 2018 Synod of Bishops.

In February 2019, the pope named Farrell as camerlengo, the prelate in charge of managing the Holy See in the period between a pope’s death or renunciation and the election of a new pope. “The selection of Cardinal Kevin Farrell as camerlengo was noteworthy – not because the cardinal will have new influence at the Vatican, but because the appointment confirms the influence that he already enjoys,” observed veteran Catholic journalist, Phil Lawler.

“The timing of the appointment was absolutely stunning. To promote one cardinal at the same time that his sponsor [McCarrick] is defrocked, suggests a complete indifference to public perceptions …. The prominence given to Farrell is another reminder that some Vatican officials have gained influence despite their negligence in responding to abuse,” Lawler wrote.


As regards Bransfield, on July 19, 2019, the pope’s ambassador to the U.S made this announcement:

“The Holy Father has decided the following disciplinary measures for Bishop Emeritus [emphasis mine] Bransfield: 1. the prohibition to reside in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston. 2. the prohibition to preside or to participate anywhere in any public celebration of the Liturgy. 3. the obligation to make personal amends for some of the harm he caused; the nature and extent of the amends to be decided in consultation with the future Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston.”

While McCarrick’s activities are constrained by his age, there is no supervision, enforcement or follow-up of the “disciplines” against the 76-year-old Bransfield.

Unlike the pope, the West Virginia attorney general Patrick Morrisey wants effective action. Morrisey “’called on the diocese to comply with subpoenas issued as part of state probe of the Church’s handling of the case.” The attorney general had filed suit against the diocese and Bransfield in March alleging they knowingly employed pedophiles.

As the group BishopAccountability pointed out on their web page, “Bishops Accused of Sexual Abuse and Misconduct: A Global Accounting”:

“Despite the extensive harm done by abusive Church leaders, few have been severely disciplined. Only seven have been laicized [including McCarrick].

“All of the remaining bishops named below [about six dozen accused of sexual abuse of minors including Bransfield], even those found guilty under canon law, have been allowed to retain the title of bishop and to be called emeritus, a status that confers continued prestige and power. According to the Congregation for Bishops, when a bishop becomes emeritus, he merely is beginning ‘a new phase of his ministry.’ Though relieved of administrative duties, he retains his membership in the college of bishops and continues to ‘collaborate in the governance of the Church.’”


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