I do recommend that you read it, because as they say, those who do not learn the lessons from history and doomed to repeat it.
There are sections of the report that have lodged in my memory for various reasons, and deserve comment. I will try to go through those sections in chronological order. Many of these things have already been mentioned in online analyses.
Lest we be tempted to judge anyone mentioned in the report too harshly, we must recall that they had to view everything that came to them with the presumption of McCarrick being innocent. We read this report with the hindsight of knowing that he was guilty, beyond reasonable doubt, of exploiting power over minors, vulnerable adults, and maybe more besides, and that these activities were pre-meditated.
And it is difficult to keep this in mind.
As you would expect, I am reading the McCarrick Report through my own lens, which includes observed behaviour of at least one convicted priest, and the dodgy behaviour of many others.
A previous, particularly strict, parish priest had a policy of ignoring any information he was given unless it was attributable to a real person. Anything anonymous went straight into the bin.
In the light of the McCarrick report, such a policy must be completely re-thought.
The agonies Mother 1 went through, knowing that she had to alert the church authorities, yet being legitimately fearful of reprisals towards herself and her family, are real. Taking the only option she had, she sent her concerns in an anonymous manner.
The 1992 and 1993 letters which appear in the report in all capitals, are as we know now, telling the truth. Thankfully someone didn’t throw these ones away, but others were thrown away. But no investigation into the merits of these accusations was done. The excuse was the anonymity of the writer.
None of them should ever have been thrown away, but kept by an independent body, until fully investigated. Not that such investigations are easy, because no one wants to become the whistleblower or scapegoat or to be retaliated against for speaking up.
In the report, persons in authority took the stance that if allegations were credible, then the persons alleging should provide details. No one put themselves in the shoes of a possible seminarian or ex-seminarian or ‘nephew’ and considered that providing details would be the same as agreeing to martyrdom.
I recall a blog I read a few years back where an ex-seminarian shared his story. He had been out of public view for several years, yet he was still tracked down, and subjected to the most vile reprisals for having spoken out, both by former friends and colleagues as well as the general public, so much so that he couldn’t leave the house.
The court of public opinion normally sides with the very clever, very charming, perpetrators, who have only ever shown their best side to the vast majority of people.
I put it to you, that when it comes to the abuse of power, expecting a whistleblower to expose himself or herself to that kind of public martyrdom is completely unreasonable. Therefore all allegations, especially the anonymous ones, must be investigated.
Yes, there may be some unfounded accusations made for malicious purposes, but in the main, if someone has gone through the kind of soul searching that Mother 1 did, and that the writers of the 1992 and 1993 letters did, and have risked quite a lot to even put those thoughts in writing, then it is far better to take them seriously than to ignore them.
Yet, I really feel for Mother 1, because when you have a known problem at curial and therefore bishop level in your own diocese, where do you go, where should you go, to report it and ask for it to be fixed?
Our sacramental programme for children had major theological errors in it (it still does). Who do you write to? How are us people in the pews supposed to know which Vatican dicastery is the correct one to contact? I recall sending a full dossier to a retired cardinal, who sent it back. Not his bailiwick. And that is the same general response if you try and ask another bishop or higher, for assistance in fixing something in another bishop’s diocese.
The more I think about this problem, the more I want to see an independent body set up, one that does not contain any hierarchy, one that is only answerable to the Pope, but one which has real investigative expertise, and one that has sufficient authority to take real action, and to persevere until the issues are truly resolved. It may need to be a new order of religious, who not only work through the problems entrusted to them, but also pray through them too. Due to the long-term nature of many situations, I lean in favour of a new religious order.
Since as we read in the McCarrick report, part of the problem was how frequently the position of Apostolic Nuncio to the United States of America was replaced with a new person.
The lack of full handover from predecessor to new incumbent was also a significant factor. Not only with the Nuncio, but also with the bishops and archbishops. If you have known situations that may or may not explode during the reign of the new incumbent, then the new incumbent should be warned.
But the standard procedure with the clergy seems to be dropping one’s fellow clergy member in it. I see it all the time. Cleric A agrees to fill in at a Mass for Cleric B, in Cleric B’s parish. But does Cleric B inform Cleric A that the particular Mass he is helping out at also has associated commitments for the sacrament of reconciliation, or for benediction etc, or how to find the list for the roster of Mass offerings, or how to work the complicated sound system? No.
95%, if not more, clergy drop their brother priests in it without any handover of relevant information.
If the habit forms at priest level, a habit like that it isn’t going to be undone at bishop, archbishop or nuncio level. This standard operating procedure just has to change. First of all it isn’t a loving thing to do. Secondly, it does permit sub-optimal transfers of authority to take place.
As we have seen in the McCarrisk report, it is very easy for the hierarchy to get compromised. They, like the rest of us, are vulnerable to flattery, and vulnerable to manipulation through favours, gifts, and inside information. Vigano is getting a bad rap in the report, because at times he was looking into McCarrick’s errors, and at times he was ignoring and not following up on them. As Nuncio, he was a sitting duck, because McCarrick went out of his way to be charming, take him out to dinner, and provide him with useful contacts, inside information and reports. None of us are immune. But if you are outside the hierarchy, you have more chance of not being compromised.
However, it is what is lacking in the McCarrick report that really fills me with dismay. We see that the only things that motivated the hierarchy to action were loss of reputation, and public scandal. Please, God, may that change, and be forever changed. At no point is there any reference to concern or care for those who had been abused or mistreated. To me, this is the greatest problem of all, because it shows that a shepherd’s primary concern is for the welfare of other shepherds, and that there is no concern for the sheep at all.
If there had been concern for the sheep, then proper investigations would have happened when the first anonymous allegations arrived, because the thought that the sheep were being preyed on, that any sheep was being preyed on, should have been motivation enough for action.
Up until this point, the release of the McCarrick report, most of us lived under the illusion that it was a duty of the bishop to protect and safeguard the members of his diocese from predators of all kinds.
I’d like for a moment to talk about glamour and holiness. Secular glamour is easy for us to pick up on. I remember being at an event when Bob Hawke and Blanche D’Alpuget walked in. The physical impact of their presence dimmed the impact of everyone else at the event. All of us have encountered people like this from time to time. Holiness is similar, but different. True holiness makes a similar impact, however it doesn’t draw us to the person, but it draws us to God.
When glamour is seen in a member of the clergy, it is easy for us to mistake it for holiness. Any of you who have met Cardinal Wuerl would acknowledge that he makes an impact that makes you pay immediate attention. How much of that is glamour, and how much is holiness, I don’t know; all I know is that I couldn’t put a finger on why I was unsettled by it. But it does make those in the inner circle look like the ‘haves’ and everyone else feel like the ‘have nots’. I suspect that McCarrick was similar. The thing is, that when someone is part showman, that they can pull a magician’s trick and redirect your attention elsewhere while they do deeds of darkness. It is only the extremely likeable people who get away with heinous crimes. Whereas if that attraction isn’t present, we easily go after and investigate the people we don’t like.
There’s yet another reason why an independent investigative body is necessary. It goes like this. The average diocesan curia develops a sense of elitism. Maybe that’s the wrong word, but the net effect is, that of you don’t approach them according to their unwritten protocols, then whatever you try to communicate with them gets discarded. Maybe an analogy would help. At the time that I was attempting to deal with a diocesan curia on what I considered important stuff, I was also playing an online game, and the parallels were striking. In the game there was a regular level of play, but then there were other upper echelons as well, where deals were done in alliances with regard to ownership of territory. On the face of it, if a territory was vacant, it should be up for grabs to all comers. But in this upper echelon, certain areas of territory ‘traditionally’ belonged to certain tribes from certain alliances. If you had been part of the upper echelons for a while, you knew these unwritten rules. Those who didn’t know or comply with these unwritten, non-publicly declared rules, were jumped on from a great height. The curia was working in a similar way, if you didn’t abide by the unwritten rules, there was no comeback. Pew dwellers like me, and like most of the people who may need to pass crucial information up the food chain from time to time, don’t know these rules. However, an independent body shouldn’t be nearly so precious, and should act on any piece of information, no matter how crudely or how unsophisticatedly it was presented.
The McCarrick report does show that we do everyone a disservice if we break existing protocols. At the beginning the only red flag showing for McCarrick’s candidacy for the episcopate was ambition. That flag should have been enough to sideline him. When you read through Church history, and through the lives of the Saints, it was those who did not want to become bishops who were the best bishops. Anyone who sets a true store on the value of his soul would shudder and dread being given the responsibility for the welfare of so many souls, because he knows God will call him to account for the eternal destination of all of them. I also recall the story of a man who called at the door of a monastery and said that he wanted to be a priest. He was sent away forthwith. Some time later, the same man returned with a degree of fear and trembling and said, I believe God wants me to be a priest. This time he was admitted.
I also want to ask how McCarrick could possibly have been considered a candidate for the episcopacy when he didn’t have any time as parish priest in a parish. Yes, you need the further advanced degrees, but observed success in pastoring a parish is another normal requirement, under the biblical tradition of being promoted to higher things after having been successful and faithful at smaller things.
The protocols for investigation prior to elevation to an archdiocese that carries a Cardinal's hat should not have been waived. They were there for this precise reason.
The waiving the protocols of the canonical punishments for ordaining without due permissions, should never have been done either.
I am also struck at how astute McCarrick was from the get-go. The wisdom that made him alert to participation in projects that would make him noticed by the higher-ups. It would be good to have answered where the funds for the finishing school in Switzerland were obtained, by gift, by own funds, by scholarship or award, and who the benefactors were and what the criteria for selection were. I am only making an hypothesis here, but McCarrick could have had a mentor during these years, presumably a mentor well aware of McCarrick’s weaknesses, perhaps more than one mentor.
Given this fixation on ‘uncle’ and ‘nephew’, a further hypothesis is that McCarrick had some predators in his formative years, and with whom touchy-feely activities were just ‘normal’.
Fundraising, administrative paperwork and the odd bit of head-kicking (a.k.a. having disciplinary conversations), are things that the majority of clergy shy away from. Someone who likes doing those unpleasant tasks will win favour, even if they don’t win trust.
The few references to lack of candor in the responses that were part of the investigation before being made an auxiliary bishop do take on a whole new light in hindsight. Again I come up against this reluctance to speak the whole truth, lest there be some kind of retribution. Anyone with a modicum of intelligence suspects that these confidential reports may one day find themselves in the hands of the person about whom they were written. Lack of candor means an ability to deftly steer conversation away from its intended trajectory, and an ability to perhaps disclose part of the truth, but not the full truth that should have been disclosed.
We can only hope that in the light of the McCarrick report that those on the selection teams will ask further questions of any respondent who has the slightest reservation about a candidate, and seek details of the incident/s which led the respondent to make those judgements.
We can only hope that the protocols of no sleepovers, and of only sending out seminarians in pairs will continue. But to this should also be added a ban on alcohol. Far too many stories in decades past of seminary antics have reached me, and even within the last 12 months rumours of lateness at important functions due to celebrations including alcohol have reached me. As Mother 1 noted, alcohol decreases inhibitions, and exposes drinkers to the risk of some kind of predator taking advantage.
Risk taking behaviour comes in many forms, and all of us need to be aware of the need to speak out when we notice it. Take for example a parish priest who seeks out the company of vulnerable women; older single women of marriageable age, and single mothers. Spending time close to the thrill of temptation is always a risky strategy, and it never ends well. Either the temptation gets given in to, or hearts get too involved and broken, or both.
It looks like McCarrick also lived a high risk, ‘close to the wind’ life. It was, after all, the 'work hard, play hard' era. He sought opportunities to be close to vulnerable young men, and was known to be touchy-feely (other people would call it groping). But if you have a predilection for young adult male company, getting a feel for whether there is a flight, fight, freeze or welcome response, is a selection process. He made sure that he only went ‘so far’ and ‘no further’, other than the times he forgot and expunged from memory, so that he could in good conscience make the Clinton-Lewinski defence, ‘I never had sexual relations with that woman’ – using a definition that only included completion of the act, and not the many preludes prior to the act.
What we must realize is that as soon as you overstep someone’s sexual boundaries without permission, that you cause trauma. There will be many degrees within the levels of overstepping those boundaries, but they will all cause levels of trauma, of discomfort, of trust being violated. Being repeatedly molested in pre-adult years damages a person, and the more sensitive and vulnerable they are, the worse the trauma will be, even if there was no deposit of bodily fluids.
Yet any of us who have watched enough detective shows on TV will know, over time a predator will seek higher risks because the lower risks don’t satisfy any more. They call it ‘escalation’. We can see this progression up until the time the sleepover ban came in and the episcopal request to stop whatever he was up to, which all ceased as the possibilities for episcopal advancement increased.
However, the little hidden apartment speaks to me of pre-mediation, as does the cancelling of beach house visits if there were insufficient guests to provide bed-sharing.
What gets to me is that such high risk behaviour normally doesn’t cease as much as it morphs. Perhaps it morphed into more consensual arrangements, but I worry that it may have morphed into high risk activities conducted only when he was in third world countries. This is only an hypothesis, but if it is hard to bring forward an allegation in English, how much harder would it be to bring forward an allegation in a third world language?
Another predatory behaviour is the going on the offensive, and the re-framing of the narrative. I’ve seen this in action; the plea to feel sorry for the predator and to plea to believe in his innocence, and the belittling of those who have made allegations. It begs others to see the predator as a victim, and one that needs protecting, thus inviting others to unwittingly join in the cover up. To call something an indiscretion or lapse of judgement when it was premeditated and had traumatic consequences for others, is part of the iniquity of sin, where we keep telling ourselves that what we did was excusable, and not so bad after all.
As always, the litmus test of holiness is obedience. To be asked by the reigning pontiff to retire to a life of prayer and penance for the good of the church is serious stuff. True obedience doesn’t require a formal order, the request made, and made for such a particular purpose, should have been sufficient. Instead what do we hear? Echoes of the serpent, ‘Did God really say?’, ‘Did the pope really mean me to curtail everything?’ Not only that, flaunting disobedience at every opportunity, even at World Youth Day, knowing that no one likes to create a public scene of conflict. This flaunting of the papal request alone should have been enough for further investigations of the sexual misconduct allegations to be made. ‘I will not obey’ is the mantra of the evil one.
I do maintain a concern that many of these unauthorized international trips had more than their outward agenda. Yes, there was the perceived personal need to remain seen, and active, and relevant, by gathering inside information and sharing it. But what if there was some spy craft afoot as well? Hypothesis only, at this stage. And/or the freedom to engage in high risk behaviour? (And we know this didn’t cease, because even in his 80s living in seminary quarters he was still perceived as touchy feely (ie grope-y).
“The cardinal is always agitated, nervous; he does not feel himself if he does not travel and if he does not have people around him”. This report bothers me. A moving target is always harder to hit than a stationary one. It is this report that makes me hypothesize that there was more to these international trips than we realise.
Are there other McCarrick’s out there? Probably.
Here’s why. I vividly recall in the mid 80’s, when some religious orders were already being called to account for sexual abuse-tour, visiting the mother house of an order, and being so proud of these men because there hadn’t been any scandal attached to them. Now several are serving custodial sentences. So I put it to you that the easy cases get found first, and that the more difficult cases get found second, and that the most heinous cases only get found out last.
Here’s another why. No one is yet investigating the other clergy problems, gambling, inappropriate relationships with women, alcohol, homosexuality, abuse of power. Very few people have the stomach to start draining the swamp, because they are legitimately afraid of what they will uncover. Very few don’t have their own private secrets.
Here’s a third why. There are many rumours of these high risk behaviours being organized and of intricate networks of rings of corruption. I can point to two elusive situations, one where I felt my siblings and I being watched and evaluated by an unknown third party; the other when a visiting international priest got a bit touchy-feely (my unproven gut feel on this, in hindsight, is that such actions wouldn’t have happened unless a previous predator had bragged/shared in a network). None of these kinds of rings and networks have been exposed yet. May God grant that they will be, that those in authority will be given the guts to deal with it, and that these levels of corruption in the Church be expunged forever.
Will there be further McCarrick’s? Probably. But they will be even cleverer at hiding their high risk behaviours, and even more astute at dealing with dysfunctional hierarchies.
May God have mercy on us, and upon His Church, even if it needs to be a severe mercy. Amen.