Mapping out McCarrick's "personal community" includes a total of 43 living bishops, including "significant nodes" like Cardinal Kevin Farrell, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Bishop emeritus Martin Holley of Memphis, Archbishop emeritus John Myers of Newark, and Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark. The model also shows "direct ties" between individual bishops who are themselves separate nodes in McCarrick's cluster.
The researchers' data from July 2018 did not include deceased bishops. McCarrick retired as Archbishop of Washington in 2006 at the age of 75. The pope laicized him in February 2019.
Bullivant acknowledged that the model is limited. Factors that align McCarrick and another bishop "in no way implies guilty by association." The network analysis is not a "forensic tool."
"The fact you have a number makes it sound scientific, but this is the barest bones of anything," he said. "This is a first step really to try to understand the kind of inner logic of how this culture works, and how power gets brokered through it."
Bullivant believes the model has its uses.
"If there were a predatory sociopath, which I think McCarrick clearly was, or something like it, then the way in which the system is built enables the kinds of failures to deal with that, as we've seen," he said.
Bullivant and Sadewo discussed their social network analysis of the U.S. bishops and the bishops of England and Wales in their paper "Power, Preferment, and Patronage: Catholic Bishops, Social Networks, and the Affair(s) of Ex-Cardinal McCarrick," published July 15 at the pre-print site arXiv, which is moderated but is not a peer review process.
The paper suggested the hypothetical example of bishops who had all "served as vicars general, chancellors, and/or auxiliary bishops for each other," and helped promote and support the favorite bishop candidates of each other's chanceries. It is also important to consider whether a bishop's proteges have served under each other, or under the bishop's own mentor.
"Should one of the senior bishops in this group then be rumored to have committed crimes while in office, it is not hard to imagine how others in the network might seek a 'quiet' solution to the problem, to prevent either themselves or their patrons becoming implicated, even if by association, to varying degrees," the paper said.
"(T)hese kinds of network dynamics may have contributed, directly and indirectly, to both individual and institutional failures (and/or crimes) in adequately dealing with accusations of sexual abuse."
The model suggests how bad practices, like poor responses to clergy accused of sex abuse, could propagate through like-minded bishops of a similar background or cluster.
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While the Pennsylvania attorney general's report on sexual abuse by Catholic clergy spoke of a "playbook" in covering up abuse, Bullivant said this model does not require "a shadowy meeting to decide what to do" about an abusive priest. Rather, influential bishops set "the way we do things" based on prior cases handled by others in a bishop's cluster, and this diffuses through a network to become its standard practice.
Possible countermeasures, Bullivant said, could use social network analysis to speculate about which clusters had good practices, even though the analysis could not prove good practice in itself.
"If it came out that there had been certain dioceses where we hadn't had cover-ups of abuse," he said, reformers could consider "what's going on in those dioceses at a structural level that seems to have shielded them."
The analysis can also suggest which potential bishops are external to a cluster, like Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington. In the wake of the controversies over the McCarrick revelations, Pope Francis named the former Atlanta archbishop and past president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to succeed Cardinal Wuerl in the Washington archdiocese.
"Knowing nothing else about Archbishop Gregory, his appointment to D.C., based purely on the network map, looked like a good one," Bullivant told CNA. "The way we mapped out on those criteria, he seemed to be at least a 'partial outsider' from that particular cluster of that network of people."
"It looked like the kind of appointment where you'd think 'that looks like it'd have a better chance than some others'," he said.