Analysis: Why the McCarrick report could be delayed

McCarrick Getty CNA Theodore McCarrick at the Vatican, March 11, 2013 | JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images

The news that Theodore McCarrick recently moved from the Kansas friary where he had been living has fueled speculation that a report from the Vatican's internal investigation on McCarrick will soon be released.

But while the report may be completed in Rome, its release may not be imminent, and some U.S. bishops may be quietly hoping for further delays.

The report is the fruit of an internal Vatican investigation into the career of McCarrick, who was a cardinal and the archbishop of two major American sees before he was found canonically guilty of serial sexual abuse and laicized.

In October 2018, just months after sexual abuse allegations against McCarrick first emerged, the Vatican said that Pope Francis had commissioned a study of the Vatican archival files on McCarrick, "in order to ascertain all the relevant facts, to place them in their historical context and to evaluate them objectively."

Since the study was announced, American Catholics have called for the release of its findings. In recent months, the report's release has become highly anticipated.

In November, Cardinal Sean O'Malley told the U.S. bishops' conference that the Vatican intended to publish the report "soon, if not before Christmas, soon in the new year."

O'Malley said that he had seen a "hefty document," which was being translated into Italian for the benefit of Pope Francis, before its imminent release.

"The long wait has resulted in great frustration on the part of bishops and our people, and indeed a harsh and even cynical interpretation of the seeming silence," O'Malley acknowledged.

In December, Bishop Earl Boyea said he had told been told by the pope that the report would be issued "probably after the beginning of the new year."

And McCarrick's January move to an undisclosed priests' residence was apparently motivated, at least in part, by a desire to avoid media attention when the report is released. That move has led to speculation that the report could be issued at any time.

But some U.S. bishops may not be eager for the report to be made public, at least not yet.

Some, of course, might be concerned about their own connections to McCarrick. But the saga of Fulton Sheen's beatification suggests that some bishops might have other reasons to consider asking for the McCarrick report to be postponed.

Last month, the Diocese of Peoria, Illinois announced that the beatification of Archbishop Fulton Sheen, which had been set for Dec. 22, had been indefinitely delayed.

CNA soon reported that the delay was caused by an intervention from Rochester's Bishop Salvatore Matano, who asked the apostolic nuncio in the U.S. to postpone the ceremony. Sources close to the Rochester diocese told CNA that among Matano's concerns was the possibility of lawsuits against Sheen, who was Rochester's bishop from 1966 to 1969.

New York is in the midst of a "window" that allows lawsuits related to sexual abuse that fall beyond the normal statute of limitations. That window closes in August.

New Jersey is also in a statute of limitations window, which began in December and ends in 2021. McCarrick served as a bishop in both New York and New Jersey, during the period in which he committed acts of sexual abuse and coercion.

In light of the Sheen beatification delay, it is reasonable to wonder whether some bishops in New York and New Jersey might borrow a page from Matano's playbook, and ask that the McCarrick report be delayed, at least until August, when the New York window closes.

More in Vatican

Obviously, no bishop would want to make such a request publicly. But the bishops of New York and New Jersey cannot be eager to face the litigation that could follow the McCarrick report. Some of them might decide to ask the apostolic nuncio, or the Secretariat of State, to consider the potential financial implications of releasing the McCarrick report during the litigation window.

According to Boyea, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin is already apprehensive about public fallout from the McCarrick report. The cardinal might be disposed to look favorably on a request for a delay, or to tie up the report in bureaucracy until after the New York window has closed.

Of course, any such request would presume that the report will offer new and significant details about the former cardinal's career, protectors, and abusive behavior. It might not.

Veteran Vatican journalists are already predicting that long-time Vatican power broker Cardinal Angelo Sodano will not figure into the report, despite his significant influence during the John Paul II papacy. Some have also suggested that Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, John Paul II's long-time secretary, could also be mostly absent from the report.

While Pope Francis promised in 2018 to "follow the path of truth wherever it may lead" on McCarrick, there is little indication how much of that truth will be made available for public consumption. Politics, horse-trading, and the reflexive Vatican tendency not to stir up trouble will doubtlessly be factors in negotiations over the report.

American Catholics are eager for a report telling them who promoted McCarrick, and who protected him.

Whenever it is actually released, the Vatican's report may offer few satisfying insights into those questions.

(Story continues below)

Our mission is the truth. Join us!

Your monthly donation will help our team continue reporting the truth, with fairness, integrity, and fidelity to Jesus Christ and his Church.