Pope vows to 'uproot the evil' of child abuse after McCarrick report

Pope Francis vows to ‘uproot the evil’ of child abuse after ‘painful’ report on Vatican’s mishandling of allegations against US cardinal Theodore McCarrick

  • Francis closed his eyes and prayed after acknowledging ‘painful’ McCarrick case
  • McCarrick was axed in 2018 after the Vatican found him guilty of sexual crimes
  • John Paul II gave McCarrick a prestigious job despite knowing about allegations 

Pope Francis today vowed to ‘uproot the evil’ of child abuse in his first public comments on the damning report into the Vatican’s handling of allegations against US cardinal Theodore McCarrick. 

Francis closed his eyes and prayed silently after acknowledging the ‘painful case’ of the former cardinal, whom he axed in 2018 after a Vatican investigation found him guilty of sexual crimes. 

The report found that Pope John Paul II had appointed McCarrick, now 90, as archbishop of Washington in 2000 despite knowing about allegations against the bishop, who mingled with US presidents and wealthy donors during his long career. 

Speaking today, Francis said: ‘Yesterday, the report about the painful case of ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was published. I renew my closeness to the victims of every abuse and the commitment of the Church to uproot this evil.’ 

Pope Francis speaks at a general audience at the Vatican today where he vowed to put an end to sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, following the release of the damning report 

Pope John Paul II, left, knew of the extensive sex abuse allegations against American cardinal Theodore McCarrick, right, but still promoted him to archbishop in Washington DC, a Vatican investigation has found. The two men are pictured in 2001 

Pope Francis greets U.S. Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican in 2014. McCarrick, 90, was defrocked by Francis last year after decades of allegations that the globe-trotting envoy had sexually molested adults as well as children

McCarrick, pictured in 2000, said he had no recollection of child abuse and has not commented publicly on allegations of misconduct with adults. Now aged 90, he is living in isolation

Timeline of Cardinal McCarrick’s downfall 

1958: Ordained a priest in New York 

1977: Ordained as an auxiliary bishop 

1981: Installed as bishop of Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey

1984: Buys beach house where alleged abuse takes place 

1986: Installed as archbishop of Newark 

Late 1980s: Two seminary professors speak with superiors about McCarrick’s behavior

1988: New Jersey man tells Pope John Paul II he was sexually abused by McCarrick 

1994: Further allegations of abuse surface

1995: He hosts Pope John Paul II

1999: Allegations are included in a letter from Cardinal O’Connor, then the Archbishop of New York

2000: appointed archbishop of Washington by Pope John Paul II 

2001: McCarrick is promoted to cardinal

2005: Settlements reached with a former seminary student who alleged abuse; remains a secret until 2018

2006: McCarrick retires from the Washington Archdiocese

2008: Private restrictions put in place by Pope Benedict XVI officials 

2018: McCarrick removed from ministry after credible allegation he sexually abused a child

2019: McCarrick is defrocked

2020: Vatican report is released 

Francis himself is largely absolved in the report, which said he was not given any documentation about allegations against McCarrick before 2017. 

However, the report said the US church hierarchy was aware of consistent rumours that McCarrick had preyed on adult seminarians after becoming a bishop in the 1980s. 

The Vatican report quoted interviews with victims who described ‘sexual abuse or assault, unwanted sexual activity, intimate physical contact’. 

It also detailed the ‘abuse of authority and power’ by McCarrick, an influential figure who played a key role in raising funds for the Holy See from wealthy US donors. 

Survivors questioned why the man dubbed ‘Uncle Ted’ was appointed to the prestigious Washington post and made a cardinal despite the allegations. 

The report said John Paul II personally decided to appoint McCarrick, despite a letter from the then-archbishop of New York summarising allegations including sexual conduct with another priest and sharing a bed with young men. 

‘Information regarding McCarrick’s conduct led to the conclusion that it would be imprudent’ to appoint him, the report said, but the pontiff ‘changed his mind’.  

Three US bishops who were asked about the allegations ‘provided inaccurate and incomplete information to the Holy See’, it is claimed. 

McCarrick wrote a letter in 2000, which was shown to the pope, insisting he had ‘never had sexual relations with any person, male or female, young or old, cleric or lay, nor have I ever abused another person’.

The report further cites McCarrick’s personal friendship with John Paul II, which ‘likely had an impact on the pope’s decision-making’.

It said John Paul’s willingness to believe McCarrick’s denial was likely influenced by his experience in his native Poland, where the Cold War-era Communist government used ‘spurious allegations against bishops to degrade the standing of the Church’. 

John Paul died in 2005 and was declared a saint in 2014. 

The next pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI, also failed to launch a full investigation, swayed in part by McCarrick swearing on his ‘oath as a bishop’ that they were false.  

A Vatican official instead asked McCarrick to ‘maintain a lower profile and minimise travel for the good of the church’, but the effect of this was limited.   

President Bush, left, laughs with Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick Archbishop of Washington, D.C., center, and Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts, in 2005. A new report says the U.S. Church hierarchy was aware of abuse claims but still promoted McCarrick to archbishop of Washington D.C, one of the most prestigious posts in the U.S. Church, in 2000

President Bill Clinton presents Archbishop Theodore Edgar McCarrick of Newark, N.J. with a 2000 Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights in 2000. McCarrick hobnobbed with world leaders and shone as a star fundraiser for the Church

After Francis was elected in 2013, he became aware of ‘allegations and rumours’ concerning McCarrick’s past behaviour, the report said. 

However, nobody provided him with any documentation until the first explicit allegation of child abuse surfaced in 2017, at which point Francis took action. 

‘Pope Francis had heard only that there had been allegations and rumors related to immoral conduct with adults occurring prior to McCarrick´s appointment to Washington,’ a summary says. 

‘Believing that the allegations had already been reviewed and rejected by Pope John Paul II, and well aware that McCarrick was active during the papacy of Benedict XVI, Pope Francis did not see the need to alter the approach that had been adopted.’

Francis changed course after a former altar boy came forward in 2017 alleging that McCarrick groped him when he was a teenager during preparations for Christmas Mass in 1971 and 1972 in New York. 

The allegation was the first solid claim against McCarrick involving a minor, and triggered the church investigation that resulted in his downfall. 

McCarrick was finally expelled from the priesthood last year after a Vatican investigation found him guilty of sexual crimes against minors and adults.   

The Vatican took the extraordinary step of publishing its two-year, 460-page internal investigation on Tuesday.   

Testimony in the report details how McCarrick called the teenagers who were studying to become priests his ‘nephews’. 

One describes feeling ‘frozen and trapped’, while another described being ‘ensnared and could feel that McCarrick was sexually aroused’. 

A third said he was ‘conflicted, confused and afraid’ after sexual activity at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. 

Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.org, which tracks clerical abuse, hailed the report as ‘a shift to genuine transparency’.

‘McCarrick’s heady rise under John Paul II despite a thickening dossier of complaints is a case study in how complicity often manifests in the Catholic abuse crisis – as a failure to investigate and act in order to maintain plausible deniability,’ she said.  

Francis’s supporters say his axing of McCarrick once the truth emerged is an example of his ‘zero tolerance’ policy, but Barrett Doyle said he should have asked more questions. 

In October 1988, President Ronald Reagan, center, and Newark Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, right, attend a Republican party campaign stop in West Orange, N.J

In this Feb. 21, 2001 file photo, Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick, archbishop of Washington D.C., wearing the three-cornered biretta hat, embraces Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. Disturbing testimony in the report details how McCarrick called the teenagers who were studying to become priests his ‘nephews’

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops said it was studying the findings and offered its ‘profound sorrow and deepest apologies’ to McCarrick’s victims. 

James Grein, who accuses McCarrick of abusing him for two decades beginning as a boy, said he was hopeful it would bring some relief as well as a chance to ‘clean’ up the church.

‘There are so many people suffering out there because of one man,’ Grein said. 

‘And he thinks that he´s more important than the rest of us. He´s destroyed me and he´s destroyed thousands of other live … It´s time that the Catholic Church comes clean with all of its destruction.’

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state whose office prepared the report, said it will have an impact going forward, especially on how bishops are selected.

‘Reading the document will show that all procedures, including the appointment of bishops, depend on the commitment and honesty of the people concerned,’ he said. 

‘(It will make) all those involved in such choices more aware of the weight of their decisions or omissions.’

The report drew on documents from five Vatican departments, four US dioceses, two US seminaries and the Vatican’s US embassy. 

Investigators interviewed 90 people, including McCarrick’s victims, former seminarians and priests, officials from US charities and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

It was released a few days before US bishops gather for their annual meeting, which has been overshadowed by the McCarrick scandal for two years. 

And it was published on the same day the Vatican faced another reckoning over an influential prelate brought down by allegations of sexual misconduct: The former Vatican ambassador to France, Archbishop Luigi Ventura, went on trial Tuesday in Paris, accused of groping and inappropriately touching young men. He denies this.

McCarrick is said to have ‘shared a bed with young adult men in the Bishop’s residence in Metuchen and Newark’ and ‘shared a bed with adult seminarians at this beach house on the New Jersey shore’

In this June 29, 1977 file photo newly-ordained Roman Catholic Bishops are seated among others participating in their ordination ceremonies in New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The bishops are, from left, Theodore E. McCarrick, Austin B. Vaughn, and Francisco Garmendia

McCarrick attends a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican in 2005. the McCarrick scandal, which erupted during the #MeToo era, has demonstrated that adult seminarians and priests can be sexually victimized by their superiors because of the power imbalance in their relationships

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