Action Alert!

McCarrick may be sanctioned, but the cover-up continues

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Feb 12, 2019

According to multiple reliable sources in Rome, former cardinal Theodore McCarrick will soon be laicized—defrocked—in punishment for multiple instances of sexual misconduct.

The Vatican will announce the penalty, apparently, just before the long-awaited meeting of the sex-abuse problem. That’s not a coincidence. The spin-control experts in Rome will say, in effect: “See? Now even a powerful cardinal has been held accountable. We’re really getting serious.”

Not so fast.

The sentence of laicization will be imposed on McCarrick, and McCarrick alone. What about the many other prelates who knew of his misconduct for years, did nothing to curb it, and even advanced his ecclesiastical career? If justice is to be served, they too must be held accountable.

The penalty on McCarrick, as John Allen has observed in his own perceptive handling of the story, “is mostly symbolic.” He retired thirteen years ago, he has already been suspended from ministry and stripped of his dignity as a cardinal; he is now 88 years old, still has many powerful friends, and will undoubtedly live out his remaining years in relative comfort.

More to the point, the crimes of which McCarrick has reportedly been convicted occurred decades ago. According to Archbishop Vigano, the Vatican was aware of those crimes by 2000, Pope Benedict had ordered McCarrick to retire from public life, and Pope Francis was aware of that disciplinary sanction in 2013. Still McCarrick remained in the public eye, and retained considerable influence within the Church.

Since Archbishop Vigano made those shocking disclosures, many people have questioned his motives. But no one has found any substantive error in his testimony. On the contrary, the little evidence that has emerged has supported Vigano. Msgr. Jean-Francois Lantheaume, who once served with the archbishop at the apostolic nunciature in Washington, remarked simply: “Vigano said the truth.” Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, who for years headed the Vatican office that handles such paperwork, confirmed that serious complaints about McCarrick had reached Rome at least by 2000. Even Cardinal Marc Ouellet, who scolded Vigano for airing his complaints in public, acknowledged that Pope Benedict XVI had “strongly advised” McCarrick to maintain “a discreet style of life, of prayer and penance for his own good and that of the Church.”

So why is McCarrick only facing canonical disciplinary action now, so many years later? Defenders of Pope Francis have argued that some of the blame should fall on Pope Benedict, who chose to act quietly, and even on Pope John Paul II, who raised McCarrick to the College of Cardinals. Fair enough. But the failures of those former Pontiffs do not give Pope Francis an excuse for giving McCarrick a new lease on ecclesiastical influence.

We cannot hope to unravel this scandal until we understand how McCarrick came to power. How did he escape punishment—and even climb up the hierarchical ladder—even when his misconduct was an open secret? Who were his patrons in Rome?

Archbishop Vigano has told us where to look for the answers to these questions: in the archives of the Vatican Secretariat of State and the Congregation for Bishops, in the files of the apostolic nunciature in Washington. The relevant documents are safe from subpoena by any American prosecutor; they are under the Vatican’s sovereign control. But the Vatican could make them available. And until they are examined, by trustworthy independent investigators, please don’t ask us to believe that a symbolic penalty on an aged prelate represents a new commitment to accountability.

The cover-up continues.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

Sound Off! CatholicCulture.org supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

Show 9 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: polish.pinecone4371 - Feb. 13, 2019 3:56 PM ET USA

    He should be reduced to the rank of deacon (or if it still existed, sub-deacon). That way he'll still be under obedience. Once he's laicized, no one has anymore control over him -- he's free to live and travel where he wills.

  • Posted by: [email protected] - Feb. 12, 2019 10:54 PM ET USA

    Laicize, excommunicate, throw out, all is just but wholly agree with Phil that it is without meaning until we know who knew about Mccarrick yet still supported him and even moved him up the ladder. Eveyone he supported and moved up should be forced to resign. Good examples are Cupich and Tobin. I am sure there are others in the lavender mafia. Maybe this force them to show their faces. St Michael protect us.

  • Posted by: DanS - Feb. 12, 2019 8:15 PM ET USA

    @dfp: Uncle Ted sexually assaulted at least one minor boy FOR YEARS, not to mention many seminarians! And those are the crimes we know of! I’ll leave the condition of McCarrick’s soul to Our Lord, and I won’t sweat the details of his discomfort.

  • Posted by: mary_conces3421 - Feb. 12, 2019 7:23 PM ET USA

    Wouldn’t those who helped him to power be mostly dead? Wouldn’t it be more important to investigate those he put in power,who are still there? Does he have “heirs” who carry on his “heritage”?? It would be great if he would publically repent. Otherwise, he’s history. Defrocking him is just, but no cure-all. Nor is unearthing the past.

  • Posted by: Retired01 - Feb. 12, 2019 7:01 PM ET USA

    Will we ever find out how McCarrick came to power? That is a good question. To carry on the modernist agenda, Pope Francis needs the support of the Lavender Mafia. Thus, he can only go so far in allowing the good question to be answered. Moreover, an honest answer to the good question could end up implicating him. We will have a better idea of what is going on after this month meeting in Rome.

  • Posted by: fenton1015153 - Feb. 12, 2019 6:49 PM ET USA

    I am always hopeful that serious and in depth action will be taken by the Church. I know that one day the Just Judge will sort the goats from the sheep. Sadly, it will be too late for the goats to work on their contrition. Pray for God's mercy to save us from hell.

  • Posted by: shrink - Feb. 12, 2019 3:41 PM ET USA

    Those who provide protection for a criminal, participate in a criminal conspiracy. He who provides protection for a criminal conspiracy is now involved in a meta-conspiracy. Unfortunately, our pontiff is a meta-conspirator, and at least a figurehead, if not the leader, of a crime syndicate within the Vatican.

  • Posted by: dfp3234574 - Feb. 12, 2019 2:45 PM ET USA

    This is yet another unnecessarily mean-spirited analysis, Phil. McCarrick "will undoubtedly live out his remaining years in relative comfort," you say. "Relative comfort" in the middle of Kansas? What would you recommend, Phil? That he be strung upside down in the public square? We get it, Phil. You (just like John Allen) want to appear "tough" on abuse and not appear that you're some "Vatican flak." Fine. But in doing so, you have thrown all fairness, perspective, and charity out the window

  • Posted by: Frodo1945 - Feb. 12, 2019 1:53 PM ET USA

    Laicization is too good for McCarrick. As a member of the lay faithful, I say we don't want an unrepentent predator. Excommunicate him if you are serious.