McCarrick Report: American Catholics urge ‘truth and transparency’

Theodore McCarrick hands Credit  Marco Di Lauro Getty Images 1 Then-cardinal Theodore McCarrick at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, April 2005. Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images

The release of the McCarrick Report Tuesday has been given a cautious welcome by lay American Catholics, who urged continued concern for the victims of sexual abuse and commitment to transparency by Church authorities.

The Vatican released its lengthy 461-page report on Nov. 10, detailing the Church's institutional knowledge and decision-making on McCarrick over his decades as a priest, bishop, archbishop, and cardinal. He was laicized by Pope Francis in 2019 because of credible allegations of the sexual abuse of minors and adults.

In his years as a priest, bishop, and cardinal, McCarrick rose to the highest ranks of the Church, including leading the archdioceses of Newark and Washington. He also held influential positions at Catholic organizations including The Catholic University of America, where he was Chancellor, and the Catholic University of Puerto Rico. 

The president of The Catholic University of America, John Garvey, addressed the report in a letter to the university community on Tuesday.

"We offer our prayers and pastoral support for the survivors, that they and their families encounter healing and peace," Garvey wrote. "And I recommit this University to addressing sex abuse in the Catholic Church with courage and tenacity."

McCarrick had long-standing ties to Catholic University, first as a student, assistant chaplain, Dean of Students, and an administrator and fundraiser at the university between 1958 and 1965. He later served on the university's Board of Trustees and as chancellor of the school while he was Archbishop of Washington from 2000 until 2006. The university bestowed an honorary degree on him in 2006.

When the Archdiocese of New York announced in 2018 a credible accusation of child sexual abuse had been made against McCarrick, "the news hit our University community close to home," Garvey said. The university rescinded McCarrick's honorary degree that year.

Some lay Catholics expressed their disbelief at the report's revelations--particularly the lack of a canonical investigation into the allegations against McCarrick until 2018, despite decades of accusations against him.

"To me, one of the things that's so hard to read, as a Catholic and as a lay person, is that so many innuendos or concerns were never followed up on," Dr. Susan Timoney, pastoral theologian at The Catholic University of America, told CNA on Tuesday. 

"It's unbelievable to think that the concern-any kind of concern of the kind of things going on in a seminary-wouldn't be better investigated."

Dr. Robert George, a law professor at Princeton University, said that the report does not adequately treat the matter of McCarrick's proteges, or bishops and cardinals who attained significant positions in the Church because of McCarrick's influence. 

"Are there influential and powerful leaders in the Church in America and in the curia in Rome who have their positions at least in part due to Theodore McCarrick's influence?" George asked rhetorically. "Who are they? Why did McCarrick use his influence to advance their careers?"

But Catholics also pointed to progress the Church has made in dealing with clergy sex abuse, and said the report is a necessary first step toward greater transparency and accountability within the Church on the matter.

Timoney noted the universal establishment of diocesan child protection offices in the United States over the last two decades, as well as Pope Francis' work to establish better accountability for accusations of misconduct against bishops worldwide. The report's publication "does show a better commitment to transparency," she said.  

In 2018, Catholic University launched its own special project unity to respond to the clergy abuse crisis as well as other relevant Church matters.

Stephen White, executive director of The Catholic Project at The Catholic University of America, said that, while a single report could not undo the damage by McCarrick, "truth and transparency are necessary steps toward healing those wounds and repairing the trust that has been broken."

White said that Catholics should manifest "a spirit of penance and humility" amid "our anger and pain at the injustices committed by our clergy, and the sense of betrayal brought about by shepherds who failed to protect the flock."

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As they read the painful revelations in the report, Catholics should not forget "all of the work that the Church does at the grassroots level" to serve people, Timoney said.  

"This isn't the whole story of the Church," she said, noting that "we are making a positive impact in a lot of peoples' lives, day in and day out, through all of our ministries and agencies."

McCarrick was ordained a priest in the Archdiocese of New York in 1958 before becoming auxiliary bishop of New York in 1977. He then became bishop of the new Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey, in 1981, before becoming Archbishop of Newark in 1986, and then Archbishop of Washington in 2001, where he was made a cardinal by Pope St. John Paul II.

In 2006, he submitted his letter of resignation at the age of 75, as required by the Church of all bishops at that age. 

After accusations that McCarrick had abused minors and seminarians over a period of years were made public in June 2018, Pope Francis ordered McCarrick to observe a life of prayer and penance and demanded his resignation from the College of Cardinals. 

McCarrick was laicized in 2019, following a canonical process at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which found him guilty of "solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession, and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power."

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