Ex-Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick © Bob Roller (KNA)
Following allegations of sexual abuse, U.S. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was dismissed from the clergy. Now excerpts of his correspondence have been made public, and Pope Francis is also speaking out about the embarrassing case.
New details have emerged in the affair involving former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. They confirm that the Vatican ordered the influential churchman to live a reclusive life as early as the fall of 2008 – and that McCarrick defied it.
McCarrick, best connected in politics as archbishop of Washington from 2001 to 2006, is accused of sexually assaulting underage male youths in several cases decades earlier.
After the Archdiocese of New York deemed the allegations "credible and substantial" last summer, the pope forced McCarrick out of the College of Cardinals. He also dismissed him from the clergy in February.
New insights from McCarrick's secretary
The new information, in the form of letter and email quotes from McCarrick between 2008 and 2017, comes from Anthony Figueiredo, priest and former secretary to the cardinal. He gave the material to the U.S. online publication "Crux".
Documents show that in August 2008, Vatican Ambassador Pietro Sambi urged McCarrick, then 78, to change his residence and refrain from public appearances.
The background was apparently that in his younger years McCarrick spent the night together in his bed during outings with changing priests and seminarians – which the cardinal describes in a draft letter afterwards as stupidity.
At the same time he emphasizes to have acted guilelessly. No cases had involved minors, only "men in their twenties and thirties"; McCarrick also asserts he "never had sexual relations with anyone, man, woman or child".
At the time, Washington's new Archbishop Donald Wuerl and the Congregation of Bishops in the Vatican were apparently satisfied with this account.
It remains unclear in what details Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone (2006-2013), Pope Benedict XVI. (2005-2013) and his successor Francis were involved with the 2008 sanctions.
Despite ban, McCarrick traveled to the Vatican
McCarrick names only the then-prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, as the sender of his reprimand. Despite being banned from traveling to Rome, McCarrick was able to attend consultations of the papal goods administration and a festive service at the Vatican unchallenged as early as June 2009.
As a spry retiree, McCarrick then maintained a busy travel schedule, including to church policy hotspots in the Middle East and Asia, and, as he wrote in a 2015 letter to Francis, engaged in "amateurism in the highly honorable task of the Holy See's external relations".
In initiating ecclesiastical-political contacts with China, the pope apparently owes important diplomatic successes at least in part to the scandalous Cardinal McCarrick of all people.
Francis: "I didn't know anything"
On the same day that the Figueiredo report was published, Mexico's Televisa channel ran an interview with Francis. The McCarrick scandal was also the topic there.
"I didn't know anything about McCarrick, obviously nothing, nothing," the church leader affirmed. "Otherwise I wouldn't have kept quiet."
Who knew what and when in the McCarrick case remains an open question. It's about "inappropriate behavior" that was apparently known early on, but was probably dismissed as the embarrassing quirks of a high-profile churchman. And it is about non-public sanctions, the breach of which remained inconsequential.
Back in October, the Vatican announced a thorough investigation into the McCarrick case. The investigations are, as Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin said on Wednesday, still in progress.