The Vatican’s report on Theodore “Uncle Ted” McCarrick, the former cardinal and serial sex abuser, is 449 pages long, clear and very detailed. It lays out a succession of unequivocally damning and embarrassing facts in a way that shows up most real media organisations. And all the signs are that it won’t change a single mind.
The US Catholic church is haemorrhaging members and very deeply split between liberals and conservatives, supporters and opponents of Pope Francis and the outgoing president, Donald Trump. The two parties have their own news media and their own narratives about what has led to the church’s decline.
The story of McCarrick played out in the context of this struggle, after Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, a former Vatican ambassador to Washington, claimed in 2018 that Pope Francis had protected and encouraged McCarrick. He demanded the Pope’s resignation.
This kind of open rebellion against a Pope was something unprecedented in modern history, but Viganò’s charges were supported by five US bishops and one archbishop, in an indication of the polarisation with the US Catholic church.
Enemies of Pope Francis called for a release of all the documents. This week’s publication is an answer to their prayers.
The liberal Catholic media and the secular press largely reported a document which was critical of Pope John Paul II and damning of Archbishop Viganò personally.
The New York Times said the report “appeared to cloud the reputation of Pope John Paul II, [whom it] sought to defend. “ ‘Pope John Paul II personally made the decision to appoint McCarrick,’ the [inquiry] report says, despite receiving a letter in 1999 from Cardinal John O’Connor, then the archbishop of New York, that summed up allegations, some anonymous, that McCarrick had engaged in sexual conduct with another priest in 1987, that he had committed paedophilia and that he shared a bed with young adult men and seminarians.”
Since the argument of traditionalists is that Pope Francis has betrayed the legacy of Pope St John Paul II, this is unwelcome.
The Catholic News Agency blamed bishops in New Jersey who had been asked about McCarrick’s behaviour in the late 1990s: “The Vatican’s Secretariat of State published Tuesday a report on Theodore McCarrick, saying that the Holy See had received inaccurate information about McCarrick from three New Jersey bishops before McCarrick’s 2001 appointment as Archbishop of Washington.”
The Catholic Herald in London noted that “McCarrick’s knack for fundraising is well-known, and is mentioned multiple times. So too is what the report a little carefully refers to ‘his customary gift-giving’: a practice which of course requires other bishops’ ‘customary gift-taking’.” What isn’t made explicit, however, is who received what and when.”
According to The Washington Post, McCarrick disbursed hundreds of thousands of dollars during his time in Washington from a personal [tax-exempt] “charity” account, including to dozens of archbishops and cardinals (not excluding six-figure cheques to both John Paul II and Benedict XVI).”
The Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), the main outlet of the Catholic right, seems to have expected that the report would entirely vindicate Archbishop Viganò’s claims. Their reporters could not honestly report this, although the anchor asked two of them as her first question what the report had to say about Pope Francis. “He seems to get a little bit of a free pass in this document,” one of them replied, and the segment moved smoothly on to the rest of the news.
A week after election day, EWTN was still running its political coverage under the banner of “The Road to the White House”, and led with the line “New developments in the Trump campaign’s allegations of voter fraud as more legal challenges are launched . . . The president now is not alone in his quest to get to the bottom of the 2020 election . . . they want to see if Joe Biden has really won.”
For liberal and centrist outlets the main news in the report was the discovery that Archbishop Viganò himself had been asked to investigate the allegations against McCarrick in 2012, and had done nothing at all. This was not mentioned in the right-wing coverage.
Viganò himself, who has recently published letters praising Trump, denouncing Bill Gates and claiming that the Covid pandemic is a conspiracy to bring about a demonic world government, also responded to the report.
He said: “The effrontery and fraudulent character shown on this occasion would seem to require, at this point, that we call this suggestive reconstruction of the facts ‘The Viganò Report”, sparing the reader the unpleasant surprise of seeing reality adulterated once again. But this would have required intellectual honesty, even before love for justice and the truth . . . the Vatican fiction continues.”
It seems unlikely that this will change anyone’s mind about his story.