At audience, pope renews commitment to fight abuse

Pope Francis leads his general audience in the library of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican Nov. 11, 2020. A day after the Vatican released its extensive report on former Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the pope renewed the Catholic Church’s pledge to uproot the scourge of sexual abuse. CNS photo/Vatican Media

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — After the Vatican released its extensive report on Theodore E. McCarrick, Pope Francis renewed the Catholic Church’s pledge to uproot the scourge of sexual abuse.

Before concluding his weekly general audience Nov. 11, the pope made his first public statement on the release of the report regarding the “painful case” of the former cardinal.

“I renew my closeness to all victims of every form of abuse and the church’s commitment to eradicate this evil,” he said.

After reading his brief comment on the report, the pope bowed his head and closed his eyes in silent prayer.

The 460-page report, which was published by the Vatican Nov. 10, chronicled McCarrick’s rise through the church’s hierarchal ranks despite decades of accusations of sexual abuse and abuse of power.

Before his comment on the report, the pope continued his series of audience talks on prayer, reflecting on the importance of perseverance.

He began by saying he was told by someone that he “speaks too much about prayer” and that it was unnecessary.

However, he said, “it is necessary, because if we do not pray, we will not have the strength to go forward in life. Prayer is like the oxygen of life; prayer draws upon us the Holy Spirit who always carries us forward. That is why I speak so much about prayer.”

Jesus taught people to engage in “constant dialogue” with God not only with the example of his own prayer, but also with parables that highlighted the importance of perseverance in prayer.

Reflecting on Jesus’ parable of the tenacious person who knocks unceasingly at his friend’s door asking for bread, the pope said that unlike the friend who relents after constant insistence, God “is more patient with us and the person who knocks with faith and perseverance on the door of his heart will not be disappointed.”

“Our Father knows well what we need; insistence is necessary not to inform him or to convince him, but it is necessary to nurture the desire and expectation in us,” the pope said.

Jesus’ parable of the widow who persistently sought and eventually obtained justice from an unscrupulous judge, he continued, serves as a reminder that faith “is not a momentary choice but a

courageous disposition to call on God, even to ‘argue’ with him, without resigning oneself to evil and injustice.”

Finally, the parable of the Pharisee who boasted his merits during prayer while the publican feels unworthy to enter the temple reveals that “there is no true prayer without humility,” he said.

Pope Francis said the Gospel encourages Christians to pray always, “even when everything seems in vain, when God appears to be deaf and mute and it seems we are wasting time.”

“There are many days of our life when faith seems to be an illusion, a sterile exertion,” the pope said. “But the practice of prayer means accepting even this exertion. Many saints experienced the night of faith and God’s silence, and they were persevering.”

True Christians, the pope added, do not fear anything but instead “entrust themselves to the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us a gift and who prays with us.”

McCarrick report documents repeated lack of serious investigation

Then-Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick attends a Mass in Rome April 11, 2018.
CNS photo/Paul Haring

VATICAN CITY. Although dogged for years by rumors of sexual impropriety, Theodore E. McCarrick was able to rise up the Catholic hierarchical structure based on personal contacts, protestations of his innocence, and a lack of Church officials reporting and investigating accusations, according to the Vatican report on the matter.

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In choosing then-Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick of Newark in 2000 to be archbishop of Washington and later a cardinal, St. John Paul II likely overlooked rumors and allegations about McCarrick’s sexual misconduct because of a long relationship with him, McCarrick’s own strong denial, and the pope’s experience with communist authorities in Poland making accusations to discredit the Church, the report said.

But, in fact, rumors of McCarrick’s conduct, especially knowledge that he had young adult men and seminarians sleep in the same bed with him when he was bishop of Metuchen, New Jersey, led the Vatican to decide it would be “imprudent” to promote him when looking for candidates to become archbishop of Chicago in 1997, New York in 1999-2000 and, initially, of Washington in July 2000, the report said.

The text of the report makes clear that because the allegations involved behavior with adult men, not minors, both diocesan and Vatican officials did not consider McCarrick’s actions abusive, made excuses for McCarrick based on his lack of real family ties, and were overwhelmingly concerned with the Church’s reputation, not the health or safety of his alleged victims.

The “Report on the Holy See’s Institutional Knowledge and Decision-Making Related to Former Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick” was released Nov. 10; it included an introduction describing the two-year investigation that led to the report’s compilation and gave an “executive summary” of its findings.

In June 2018, the Vatican suspended McCarrick from ministry after an investigation by the Archdiocese of New York found credible a charge that he sexually abused a teenager. McCarrick resigned from the College of Cardinals in July, and in February 2019, after a canonical process found McCarrick guilty of “solicitation in the sacrament of confession and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power,” Pope Francis dismissed him from the priesthood.

In August 2018, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, former nuncio to the United States, called on Pope Francis to resign after claiming that he had informed Pope Francis of McCarrick’s abuse in 2013 and that top Vatican officials knew of McCarrick’s abusive behavior for years.

That claim led Pope Francis to initiate an investigation into how McCarrick was able to continue to rise through Church ranks despite the repeated rumors, anonymous letters, allegations and even settlements with alleged victims.

The report summary said, “No records support Vigano’s account” of his meeting with Pope Francis “and evidence as to what he said is sharply disputed.”

Until the allegations about child sexual abuse were made to the Archdiocese of New York in 2017, “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,” it said.

“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 in prior years,” the summary said.

While acknowledging efforts made by Archbishop Vigano to bring rumors about McCarrick to the attention of his superiors while Pope Benedict was still in office, the report also claimed the former nuncio was instructed to investigate an allegation in 2012 and failed to do so.

The introduction to the report said it is based on documents found at the Vatican and the apostolic nunciature in the United States as well as interviews – “ranging in length from one to 30 hours” – with more than 90 witnesses in the United States, Italy and elsewhere. They included survivors, Pope Francis, retired Pope Benedict XVI, cardinals, bishops, former seminarians and a mother who was shocked by McCarrick’s behavior with her sons.

In a statement issued with the report, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, said the contributions of survivors were “fundamental.” The introduction of the report cautions survivors of abuse that certain sections “could prove traumatizing” and warns that some portions of the document are “inappropriate for minors.”

He also said that over the course of the two years it took to complete the investigation and compile the report, “we have taken significant steps forward to ensure greater attention to the protection of minors and more effective interventions to avoid” repeating errors of the past.

Among those steps, he highlighted “Vos Estis Lux Mundi” (“You are the Light of the World”), Pope Francis’ 2019 document on promoting bishops’ accountability and setting out procedures for handling accusations of abuse against bishops.

The report said St. John Paul’s decisions to name McCarrick bishop of Metuchen in 1981 and archbishop of Newark in 1986 were based on “his background, skills and achievements. During the appointment process, McCarrick was widely lauded as a pastoral, intelligent and zealous bishop.”

It also said that, at the time, “no credible information emerged suggesting that he had engaged in any misconduct.”

But in October 1999 Cardinal John J. O’Connor of New York wrote to Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, then nuncio in the United States, summarizing allegations about McCarrick, then-archbishop of Newark. The letter was given to St. John Paul, who asked Archbishop Montalvo to investigate.

The nuncio did so by writing to four New Jersey bishops: Bishops James T. McHugh of Camden, 1989-1998; Vincent D. Breen of Metuchen, 1997-2000; Edward T. Hughes of Metuchen, 1987-1997; and John M. Smith of Trenton, 1997-2010.

“What is now known, through investigation undertaken for preparation of the report, is that three of the four American bishops provided inaccurate and incomplete information to the Holy See regarding McCarrick’s sexual conduct with young adults,” the summary said.

In response to Cardinal O’Connor’s accusations, the report said, McCarrick wrote to now-Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, St. John Paul’s secretary, claiming: “In the 70 years of my life, I have never had sexual relations with any person, male or female, young or old, cleric or lay, nor have I ever abused another person or treated them with disrespect.”

“McCarrick’s denial was believed,” the report said, adding that because of “the limited nature of the Holy See’s own prior investigation, the Holy See had never received a complaint directly from a victim, whether adult or minor, about McCarrick’s conduct.”

“Though there is no direct evidence,” the report added, “it appears likely from the information obtained that John Paul II’s past experience in Poland regarding the use of spurious allegations against bishops to degrade the standing of the Church played a role in his willingness to believe McCarrick’s denials.”

In addition, McCarrick had a relationship with the Polish pope going back to his days as the cardinal of Krakow. The summary said, “McCarrick’s direct relationship with John Paul II also likely had an impact on the pope’s decision-making.”

St. John Paul II “personally made the decision” to name him archbishop of Washington and a cardinal, it said.

The report also concluded that now-retired Pope Benedict XVI did not initiate a formal canonical process against McCarrick or even impose sanctions on him because “there were no credible allegations of child abuse; McCarrick swore on his ‘oath as a bishop’ that the allegations were false; the allegations of misconduct with adults related to events in the 1980s; and there was no indication of any recent misconduct.”

However, after initially asking McCarrick to stay on in Washington for two years past his 75th birthday in 2005, the report said, new details related to a priest’s allegations about McCarrick’s sexual misconduct emerged and Pope Benedict asked him to step down in 2006.

At the time, it said, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, then-prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, told McCarrick “he should maintain a lower profile and minimize travel for the good of the Church.”

“While Cardinal Re’s approach was approved by Pope Benedict XVI, the indications did not carry the pope’s explicit imprimatur, were not based on a factual finding that McCarrick had actually committed misconduct, and did not include a prohibition on public ministry,” the summary said.

Archbishop Vigano, while working in the Vatican Secretariat of State, wrote memos in 2006 and 2008 “bringing questions related to McCarrick to the attention of superiors,” the report said. The memos referred to allegations and rumors about McCarrick’s “misconduct during the 1980s and raised concerns that a scandal could result given that the information had already circulated widely.”

The archbishop, the report said, noted that “the allegations remained unproven,” but he suggested opening a canonical process to investigate.

Archbishop Vigano, who was appointed nuncio to the United States in 2011, was “instructed” in 2012 to conduct an inquiry into allegations by a priest who claimed he was sexually assaulted by McCarrick, the summary said.

Archbishop Vigano, it continued, “did not take these steps and therefore never placed himself in the position to ascertain the credibility” of the priest’s claims.

Editor’s Note: For more stories related to the McCarrick investigation see:

Holy Family to dedicate Military Memorial Wall to honor veterans

Holy Family Church in Brentwood will dedicate a new Military Memorial Wall in its Prayer Garden to commemorate parishioners who are military veterans. The Prayer Garden also includes a memorial wall for parishioners and their immediate family as well as a columbarium to hold the cremains of parishioners and immediate family. The seals of the various branches of the U.S. military decorate the top of Holy Family’s new Military Memorial Wall in its Prayer Garden. Photo by Andy Telli 

Ralph Bacue, a parishioner at Holy Family Church in Brentwood and a 26-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force, wanted to make sure the parish found a way to honor veterans in its new Prayer Garden.

He took his cause to Holy Family Pastor Father Joe McMahon. “Somehow we needed to honor our deceased veterans,” Bacue said. “He quickly agreed but wasn’t sure how we would accommodate that.”

Eventually, the parish decided to build a Military Memorial Wall, which will be dedicated on Sunday, Nov. 22, after the 11 a.m. Mass.

“I’ve been involved with veterans since I retired from the Air Force,” said Bacue, who still remembers the mistreatment his fellow Vietnam veterans received after returning home from that war. “That’s turned around. Now we pay respect to veterans. I just want to make sure that continues.”

The Military Memorial Wall is on one side of the Prayer Garden and a Memorial Wall for other members of the parish was built on the opposite side of the Garden. In between is a columbarium, where the cremated remains of parishioners and their immediate family can be entombed.

Across the top of the Military Memorial Wall are bronze plaques of the seals of each branch of the service. The plaques were donated by Knights of Columbus Council 15234 at the parish.

Deceased veterans who are parishioners or immediate family members of parishioners will be remembered on the wall with a bronze plaque that will include their name, rank, branch of service and the job they held in the military.

So far, 15 of the plaques, which cost $300 each, have been purchased, Bacue said. Veterans who are members of the parish or who are immediate family members of parishioners can be recognized on the wall.

“We didn’t go into this planning to have a Military Memorial Wall,” said Mimi Buettner, a member of the parish staff and of the parish’s Columbarium Board, which oversaw the construction of the Prayer Garden.

The original plans were for just a columbarium, which is built with niches that can hold urns for cremated remains.

Bacue, who retired from the Air Force as a colonel, asked if he could have a military insignia placed on the plaque of the niche he purchased. Father McMahon wanted a uniform look to all the plaques covering the niches, Buettner explained, so Bacue’s request was denied. “But we kept talking to Ralph about other options,” she said.

That’s when they hit on the plan for the Military Memorial Wall.

“I kept encouraging Father Joe to recognize the veterans, but it was Father Joe who said yes we’re going to do this,” said Bacue, who has been a parishioner at Holy Family since it was established in 1989.

Bacue also serves on the Columbarium Board for the parish as the representative for veterans.