Farrell is not known to have raised objections to McCarrick's move into a seminary, his employment of seminarians as drivers and secretaries, and his continued vocations work in the Archdiocese of Washington, presumably because, as he said, he had neither knowledge nor suspicion of McCarrick's proclivities.
But when he said in 2018 that he neither knew or suspected anything about McCarrick's misdeeds, journalists of all stripes suggested that Cardinal Farrell's claim strained credulity.
Journalists, priests, and Catholic academics have said they heard rumors about McCarrick during the time Farrell was his second-in-command. And McCarrick himself was informed of the allegations against him, and of subsequent settlements, while he lived and worked with Farrell.
Still, Farrell has insisted that he knew nothing about the numerous sex abuse allegations and payouts surrounding his boss.
And this month, Farrell received his second major promotion since the McCarrick scandal began; his first was the appointment as camerlengo in February 2019.
Of course, some observers have questioned the wisdom of appointing to such important leadership positions a person who failed to hear, notice, or suspect an issue with McCarrick, even as legal settlements began to stack up. But that prudential judgment is a matter for the pope to decide. Of more general interest is what the Vatican's report on McCarrick will say about a bishop who is suspected by some of being less-than-forthcoming about his former boss, and has been promoted anyway.
Since Farrell was just promoted, it seems obvious the report will not find he was complicit or willfully silent in a cover-up of McCarrick's misdeeds. This means the report will either take the cardinal at his word, acknowledge the issue but reach no conclusion, or ignore the matter entirely.
It may be that Farrell actually had no idea about McCarrick, as he has said. But the McCarrick report is expected to do more than take denials at face value while moving through the long list of people who might have known something about McCarrick and failed to intervene.
If the report doesn't seriously examine the plausibility of Farrell's denial, it will almost certainly be accused by some Catholics of perpetuating the kind of clericalist cover-up it is expected to expose.
If the report examines the issue, and is inconclusive about what Farrell knew or didn't know, the wisdom of his promotion will be called into question, and the scandal of the appointment will be raised. Some commentators will wonder whether the Holy See has appreciated the kind of mistrust garnered by the McCarrick scandal, and how often the Farrell denial has been a focal point of those who are having trouble trusting the Vatican's commitment to transparency.
The Holy See will be expected to answer those questions, and their answers could give important insight into the pope's approach to those in close proximity to scandal.
(Story continues below)
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
At Catholic News Agency, our team is committed to reporting the truth with courage, integrity, and fidelity to our faith. We provide news about the Church and the world, as seen through the teachings of the Catholic Church. When you subscribe to the CNA UPDATE, we'll send you a daily email with links to the news you need and, occasionally, breaking news.
As part of this free service you may receive occasional offers from us at EWTN News and EWTN. We won't rent or sell your information, and you can unsubscribe at any time.
But if Farrell is not raised at all in the report, at least some commentators will wonder if the report had any intention of examining the networks of silence and complicity surrounding a serially abusive cardinal who damaged the integrity and credibility of the Church, or whether it was announced and produced to placate angry American Catholics, with little intention of holding enablers to account.
Some, no doubt, will ask whether the Holy See really is serious about transforming ecclesial culture, and excising enablers from the ranks of Church leadership.
There has been keen interest among some U.S. Catholics in the McCarrick report, whose publication has now seemed imminent for nearly a year. But whether the promotion of a key McCarrick collaborator has deflated that interest, and with it hope for Vatican accountability, remains to be seen.
J.D.Flynn served as Catholic News Agency's editor-in-chief from August 2017 to December 2020.