How did Cardinal McCarrick’s secret last so long?

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Jun 20, 2018

At least fifteen years ago, I wrote a confidential email message to a few trusted friends, telling them to brace themselves. Within a few days, I said, a major secular newspaper would break a sensational story about Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. To my surprise, the newspaper never ran the story—which finally came out today.

At the time, several reporters had spoken with me about the cardinal. Most had been unable to find anyone willing to go on record with complaints. Rod Dreher, one of the journalists who was investigating the rumors, now writes about the frustration he felt when witnesses refused to go public. I ran into the same brick wall; while I heard multiple accusations, without a willing witness I had only hearsay evidence. But at least one reporter found a former seminarian who was ready to tell his story—or so I was told. Yet that story never emerged— at least not in the mainstream media.

Today Rod Dreher reveals that a delegation had gone to Rome sometime before 2000, to caution Vatican officials against the rumored appointment of then-Archbishop McCarrick as Cardinal-archbishop of Washington. Their advice was ignored. In 2003, as the rumor mill churned, I heard that a bold American bishop had confronted the cardinal, urging him to resign in order to avoid a scandal. Again the plea was dismissed.

Now that the story has finally surfaced, Dreher wants to know: “Why were so many bishops willing to run cover for Ted McCarrick all these years?” That’s a good question. But I have another.

Why were so many journalists willing to let the rumors go unexplored? Or, if they did explore the rumors, why were they willing to drop the story, at a time when so many other allegations were splashed across the headlines? Could it be because, for anyone seeking to influence a cardinal, the threat of disclosure is more effective than disclosure itself?

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 See full bio.

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  • Posted by: fenton1015153 - Jun. 22, 2018 9:22 PM ET USA

    This is result of Cardinal McCarrick not telling truth to law authorities. On social sins the Church should require that one part of their penance be letting the law authorities know what they did. A sin out in the open is no longer a sin that can scandalize the Church 20 years later.

  • Posted by: Retired01 - Jun. 22, 2018 3:45 PM ET USA

    Why were so many bishops willing to run cover for McCarrick? Perhaps, because there is a powerful gay lobby within the Church that takes care of their own.

  • Posted by: bill.mureiko5646 - Jun. 21, 2018 5:20 PM ET USA

    Tragic beyond words. Phil, do you think this will cause more harm to the Church than even the Boston scandal?

  • Posted by: extremeCatholic - Jun. 20, 2018 10:55 PM ET USA

    I think the journalists were frustrated by the unwillingness of the credible witnesses to go on the record. I think the biggest suppressed story in Catholic media is the ultimate fate of whistle-blowers who were fired, demoted, or ostracized for their truthful statements. There's a lingering fear that a deep conspiracy of homosexuals remains very powerful in the chanceries and rectories. The career and protection of McCarrick is a evidence of that.

  • Posted by: dfp3234574 - Jun. 20, 2018 9:15 PM ET USA

    "Why were so many journalists willing to let the rumors go unexplored? For the same reason journalists do not report about the rampancy of false abuse accusations against priests. Overall, journalists are very lazy people, their time is stretched thin, and they want their stories handed to them without any heavy lifting.

  • Posted by: feedback - Jun. 20, 2018 6:41 PM ET USA

    For the sake of unwinding the corruption in the Church, it would be worthwhile to expose the prelates who stood behind McCarrick's promotion upward in the hierarchy and their motivations.

  • Posted by: Frodo1945 - Jun. 20, 2018 6:00 PM ET USA

    Oh I would love to know which Bishop confronted Cardinal McCarrick in 2003! I would like to shake his hand.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Jun. 20, 2018 5:37 PM ET USA

    My (18 y/o) daughter asked to see Spotlight last night. We did. In Spotlight the story "was buried" in the Metro section so nobody noticed. One of the same newsmen involved then, was in the Spotlight investigation years later. He had forgotten about it. Pope St. JP II was canonized so expeditiously. I hope this does not become problematic as time moves on and jubilant memories moderate, but the crimes of the Cardinal Laws, McCarricks, Bernadines, and Rev. Marcials feed on unlimited fuel.

  • Posted by: shrink - Jun. 20, 2018 3:58 PM ET USA

    The reach of the Lavender Mafia's blackmail runs deep into all the corners of the Church, the press, and government. McCarrick was one of theirs and was allowed to graze about the sexual landscape, undisclosed, and unopposed. He was a force to contend with. Recall, he was caught red-handed lying to the entire USCCB in 2004 about the communion question. In 1968, he headed up the Land-O'-Lakes declaration. All the while, the straight bishops were quiet …. the blackmail list must be very long.