The report does not document, or seem even to consider seriously, how McCarrick’s ambiguous and unmonitored financial situation enabled his decades of abuse. It mentions briefly his ability as a fundraiser, but offers no forensic analysis of his discretionary accounts. U.S. dioceses maintain records of those accounts, and to date have given no indication they plan to release them.
The report addresses bishops who lied for McCarrick and about him to the Holy See, but it does not ask why those bishops were willing to lie. It does not give serious attention to McCarrick’s social networks and their influence on the life of the Church - mention is made of a friend leaking high-level documents to McCarrick in the Vatican, but no attention is given to what influence networks that friend has. Many analysts have said it does not address whether there remain in ministry bishops who were gravely negligent, or even who compounded or facilitated cover-ups.
It brings many things to light, but the report is not a complete account of the McCarrick affair. A complete account may never emerge. Further, the Vatican's report does not seem to consider present-day implications of McCarrick’s life and ministry, nor to draw lessons for the Church beyond McCarrick.
Questions remain, and those questions are very likely to go unanswered. Catholics who hope to see particular individuals brought to justice are likely to go disappointed.
And new scandals will inevitably emerge.
Since the retirement of Theodore McCarrick, there have already been some institutional reforms designed to prevent a situation like his from happening again. Institutional audits in U.S. dioceses, review boards, the promulgation of Vos estis lux mundi. Pope Francis or the U.S. bishops may well add more layers of policy reform.
But Pope Francis has emphasized that policy reform can not substitute for personal integrity. And the McCarrick Report demonstrates how much personal integrity actually matters. The report will likely bring statements from bishops committing to that personal integrity, and it might even inspire real conversion to that effect among some bishops and Church leaders.
Inevitably, though, there will be new failures in the Church’s life, because the Church is both human and divine: The mystical Body of Christ protected in certain ways by the Holy Spirit, and a community of sinners, each of them in need of a savior, few of them yet saints.
The Church is always and everywhere holy— its members are not usually so.
That paradox is a challenge to every believer.
But the future for the Church in the U.S. seems to depend a great deal on how ordinary Catholics respond to disappointment, discouragement, and somewhat unresolved scandal.
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Religious disaffiliation is on the rise in the U.S. - a growing number of Americans identify themselves with no religion, or have no religious practice. And many ordinarily practicing Catholics are out of the habit of going to Sunday Mass, because of the pandemic. It will be unsurprising if the McCarrick scandal exacerbates religious disaffiliation, especially among young Catholics, who say in surveys that they prioritize the perceived personal integrity of leaders ahead of institutional affiliation.
Within the Church, there is a small but growing pocket of Catholics who are increasingly strident toward the authority of the pope and of U.S. bishops. In crises past, pockets like those have eventually become schisms. That seems practically unlikely in the contemporary U.S., but it is not impossible or unprecedented — there are more than 25,000 members of the “Polish National Catholic Church,” a schismatic group that began in the U.S in the early 20th century.
The point is that scandals have the capacity to discourage the practice of the faith, to foster cynicism, anger, bitterness, or indifference.
Hence the personal narrative.
My own experience has taught me that confronting the oft-disappointing humanity of the Church is an exercise in accepting that disappointment is real, and that it can be only be relieved by embracing the cross, and the Crucified Savior.
In the spiritual life, moments of disappointment present a choice: One can nurture anger or indifference, or one can turn to Christ on the cross.