Back in the days of John Paul's pontificate, it seemed possible for a Catholic to disagree with some or even much of what a pope was doing, but still admire him. In my case, I admired John Paul enough to co-author a book about his inspiring pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2000.
And so, it is disappointing to read in this report just how much he knew about the man he made a cardinal -- a prince of the church empowered to play a pivotal role in its governance.
Despite his knowledge of McCarrick's alleged behavior, John Paul installed him as archbishop of Washington and then as a cardinal in 2001. His successor, Pope Benedict XVI, took what turned out to be some ineffective steps
: "the decision was made to appeal to McCarrick's conscience and ecclesial spirit by indicating to him that he should maintain a lower profile and minimize travel for the good of the Church," the report says, adding that the approach to the situation approved by Benedict "did not include a prohibition on public ministry." As a result, McCarrick's activities were concealed from the Catholic faithful.
The report speculates that
John Paul may have disregarded the allegations -- which New York's Cardinal John O'Connor brought to him -- because of his experience in Poland, where communist authorities had tried to smear priests to weaken the church as a political force. It's a sad commentary that the pope would regard high-level ecclesial politics in the United States and the Vatican as potentially rife with lies as communist Poland.
And yet, the report discloses that alerts from some particularly credible whistleblowers had reached the pontiff. One of them is Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons, a Pennsylvania psychiatrist the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey, called on in 1996 to examine a priest who had "self-reported his sexual abuse of two teenage males." The doctor was troubled when the priest told him he'd witnessed McCarrick "engage in sexual conduct with another priest and that he himself had been sexually assaulted by McCarrick in a small apartment in New York City."
Fitzgibbons called a "respected priest-psychologist" at the New York archdiocese. Both became convinced that the priest was telling the truth and the second psychologist told O'Connor that. O'Connor notified a Vatican official of the allegations in 1999 and they "were shared with Pope John Paul II shortly thereafter," the report says.
At that point, Pope John Paul was considering McCarrick, then the archbishop of Newark, as the next archbishop of New York, one of the US Catholic Church's most prestigious posts.
Meanwhile, Fitzgibbons had even traveled to Rome to speak with a Vatican official about his concerns with McCarrick.
The report quotes a signed letter from Fitzgibbons that the Vatican official requested at that meeting on March 7, 1997. Fitzgibbons wrote that the priest had gone on a fishing trip with McCarrick. "At the end of the first day, the young priest was shocked as he walked into the bedroom and found Bishop McCarrick engaging in sexual relations with another priest," he wrote. "The bishop, upon seeing my patient in the bedroom, asked him if he wanted to be next. The priest refused. My patient noted that the bishop and the other priest later administered the Sacrament of Reconciliation to each other," that is, a confession that by church law had to be kept secret.
Fitzgibbons learned of another priest-patient who related in group therapy "the sexual trauma he suffered from Bishop McCarrick," and yet another patient corroborated this. "This was the most troubling history I have heard in over 20 years of practice as a psychiatrist," he wrote.
This report should occasion a deep look at the culture where this can happen, an end to an ecclesial politics of resentment, and a new era of transparency. It's not too much to hope for.