'Uncle Ted' McCarrick is on the move again: Is this a major Catholic news story or not?
By Terry Mattingly
January 8, 2020
So, let’s say that there is a major piece of news that breaks concerning the life and times of the man previously known as Cardinal Theodore “Uncle Ted” McCarrick.
This is something that happens quite frequently, even though the disgraced former cardinal moved into the wide open spaces of West Kansas, living as a guest in a Capuchin friary.
Ah, but is he still there?
That leads us to this simple, but important, headline at the Catholic News Agency: “Theodore McCarrick has moved from Kansas friary.” As I write this, I am not seeing follow-up coverage of this development at any mainstream media websites. Here’s some of the key CNA material:
A spokesman for the Capuchin Franciscan Province of St. Conrad told CNA Jan. 7 that McCarrick left St. Fidelis Friary in Victoria, Kansas, just days ago. He has moved to a residential community of priests who have been removed from ministry, senior Church officials told CNA.
The former cardinal made the decision to leave the Kansas friary himself over the Christmas period, sources say, adding that his continued presence in the friary had become a strain on the Franciscan community that was hosting him.
The story notes that McCarrick’s new home remains unknown or a secret and that he is paying his own rent. So why move now?
Sources familiar with McCarrick’s situation told CNA that both the Kansas friary and McCarrick had been concerned that a forthcoming report on the former cardinal’s career, due to be released by the Vatican in the near future, would bring disruptive media attention to the friary.
McCarrick apparently hopes the new “secluded” location will limit media attempts to contact him in the event of renewed interest in his case, a Church official told CNA.
So here is the question that some Catholics — repeat “some,” mainly on the left — would raise: Can this report be trusted since this story was broken by an “alternative” Catholic news source, a theologically conservative news operation linked to EWTN and the legacy of Mother Angelica?
But as our own Clemente Lisi noted last year — “It's a new fact of news life: Reporters have to start reading the alternative Catholic press” — CNA and other “alternative” news operations have been breaking major stories in recent years, reports built on documents and hard sources.
Elite secular newsrooms have, of course, broken huge stories, as well. But it does appear that journalists have been more willing to cover some aspects of the McCarrick flameout than others, strengthening doubts that some Catholic conservatives feel about this coverage.
Consider this recent Washington Post story: “Ousted cardinal McCarrick gave more than $600,000 to fellow clerics, including two popes, records show.” Here is the overture on this important story:
Former cardinal Theodore McCarrick gave hundreds of thousands of dollars in church money to powerful Catholic clerics over nearly two decades, according to financial records obtained by The Washington Post, while the Vatican failed to act on claims he had sexually harassed young men.
Starting in 2001, McCarrick sent checks totaling more than $600,000 to clerics in Rome and elsewhere, including Vatican bureaucrats, papal advisers and two popes, according to church ledgers and former church officials.
Several of the more than 100 recipients were directly involved in assessing misconduct claims against McCarrick, documents and interviews show. It was not until 2018 that McCarrick was removed from public ministry amid allegations of misconduct decades earlier with a 16-year-old altar boy, and this year he became the first cardinal known to be defrocked for sexual abuse.
The checks were drawn from a little-known account at the Archdiocese of Washington, where McCarrick began serving as archbishop in 2001. The “Archbishop’s Special Fund” enabled him to raise money from wealthy Catholic donors and to spend it as he chose, with little oversight, according to the former officials.
It is perfectly normal for priests and bishops to have “discretionary funds” (click here for my post on this topic), often using them to provide help to needy members of their congregations or other local causes. Clergy can use these funds to do good, but they have also been known to use them for shadier purposes.
What about these McCarrick gifts to St. Pope John Paul II and emeritus Pope Benedict XVI? They are important, although the Post report did note: “Experts cautioned that such gifts may also have been directed to papal charities.”
Yes, McCarrick had ties to those two popes. However, I found it fascinating that this Post report didn’t mention that this very powerful Catholic kingmaker also claimed, in a remarkable 2013 public speech, that he was part of a circle of insiders behind the scenes that actually helped elect Pope Francis.
Is that relevant in this report? Catholics on the conservative side of the news would say “yes.” Perhaps Post editors simply overlooked that angle?
At the moment, I am reading journalists and activists on the left and the right and here is the key thing I am trying to keep in mind: I am looking for hard evidence, in terms of documents and finances, and for interviews that are on the record. Yes, sometimes I am seeing interesting, on-the-record information on websites that mainstream folks (even on the right) tend to distrust.
My friend Rod Dreher offered an interesting post the other day with this headline: “In Praise Of Tabloid Catholic Journalism.” It included this well-known — but still relevant — quotation from columnist Ross Douthat of The New York Times:
[W]hen I was starting my career as a journalist I sometimes brushed up against people peddling a story about a network of predators in the Catholic hierarchy — not just pedophile priests, but a self-protecting cabal above them — that seemed like a classic case of the paranoid style, a wild overstatement of the scandal’s scope. I dismissed them then as conspiracy theorists, and indeed they had many of conspiracism’s vices — above all, a desire to believe that the scandal they were describing could be laid entirely at the door of their theological enemies, liberal or traditional.
But on many important points and important names, they were simply right.
Be careful out there. But also know that some journalists continue to have different takes on issues linked to the life and legacy of McCarrick. It helps to read news produced by scribes on both sides of that divide.