CNA and other media outlets are pursuing those questions, and the media will likely begin to report findings soon. But media inquiries are not the same as official investigations.
There has been speculation that to probe those questions Francis might appoint a special investigator to the United States, as he did in Chile when scandals there become a media firestorm. Such an investigator would try to get clarity about who knew what about McCarrick, and when, and get a sense of how he advanced in an ecclesial career despite the persistence of rumors and complaints about him.
But it is also possible that the pope intends accepting McCarrick's resignation from the College of Cardinals to be his last word on the subject.
While there is focus on this story now, and bishops are speaking out about it, media attention is fickle, and it's possible that some large-scale disaster or political crisis could divert press attention. That could lead to a scaled-down response, in which the bishops at their November meeting issue a new set of policies or procedures, the pope offers some words of regret, and the Church's leaders move on to the next issue.
Two things might tip the scales toward a robust response from the Vatican and U.S. bishops:
The first is continued reporting from the Catholic and secular press about McCarrick, and the web of questions surrounding his situation. There are many threads to be pulled, probably more threads than are reporters to work on the story. But if media executives and editors decide that attention should be focused elsewhere, or if readers tire of reports on the subject, it will be easier for Church leaders to weather a momentary storm without the thorough investigation- or official inquiry- that might lead to some systemic changes in administrative procedures.
The second thing that will lead to a thorough response is for lay, seminarian, religious, and priest victims of sexual abuse, harassment, assault, or coercion to continue coming forward. If McCarrick's misdeeds were as widespread as they are rumored to be, dozens of priests might come forward to make official complaints, along with former seminarians and others. Volume speaks volumes, and demands a response.
At the same time the Vatican is deciding whether and how to conduct an investigation, plaintiffs' lawyers are likely considering what lawsuits might be filed in response to the McCarrick scandal.
The threat of possible litigation will complicate the Church's response to the McCarrick scandal. Bishops will, on the one hand, want to see victims by compensated for the harms done to them and, at the same time, want to ensure that parishes, schools, and charitable offices that had nothing to do with sexual abuse do not lose their assets. Many bishops will want to be transparent and pastoral, and, at the same time, be concerned about the effects in the courtroom of their pastoral gestures of penitence and contrition.
It is difficult to make prophetic responses to a tragedy in a litigious environment, and bishops will have to navigate that difficulty, as many of them had to do in the wave of litigation that followed the 2002 sexual abuse revelations. Some will do this well, and some, most likely, will not.
Perhaps the most significant questions have to do with the attitudes that Catholics will hold in the aftermath of this scandal, and how Church leaders will respond to those attitudes.
If lessons be learned from Ireland, and other places in which bishops have been implicated in serious negligence and misdeeds, trust in the hierarchy of the Church is likely to erode and stay eroded, and Mass attendance could drop precipitously.
Bishops have begun making pastoral statements, and more will likely come. But this crisis may prompt a greater sense of urgency about the overall decline in Catholic life in the United States, and prompt bishops to consider what mechanisms might lead to renewal.
A friend said this week that the McCarrick scandal might be the final nail in the coffin of "beige cultural Catholicism" in America.
He meant that the scandal could lead to much broader recognition that much about the current model of Church organization and parish management doesn't seem to be working- that many people leave the practice of Catholicism because of a broad crisis in catechesis, formation, and community and parish life.
This idea was part of the thrust of John Paul II's "new evangelization" paradigm, which called Catholics to "remake the Christian fabric of the ecclesial community itself."
It is certainly true that the growth areas in the Catholic Church in America are those that seem to have a clear missionary identity, or a particularly focused or intentional approach to Catholic life. Movements like Communion and Liberation and the NeoCatechumenal Way are loci of growth and energy. So too are missionary groups like FOCUS, and the communities devoted to traditional liturgy that have sprung up in places like Clear Creek, Oklahoma.
Those movements are often lay-led, and developed at some distance from chancery and diocesan structures. That means that, if trust in the hierarchy is eroding, they may be seen by many Catholics as having the integrity, authenticity, or transparency that some see as lacking among hierarchs in the wake of the McCarrick scandal.
The question now is, if decline in more typical parishes continues or hastens, whether bishops will see those groups and movements as mechanism of the "new evangelization" and welcome them, even at the cost of relinquishing some institutional and structural control.
Much remains to be uncovered about the McCarrick scandal, and much remains to unfold. But the scandal has already begun to point to changes in American Catholic life. If handled well, great good could come from those changes. "To live is to change," Blessed John Henry Newman wrote, "and to be perfect is to have changed often."