In light of the recently published book by the unofficial papal spokesman Andrea Tornielli – who now claims against Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò that Pope Francis did not give McCarrick any “official” tasks during his pontificate – it might be worthwhile to review briefly some of the evidence published online that points to McCarrick’s influential role under Pope Francis’ pontificate.
One 2015 article, for example, points out that McCarrick hand-delivered a letter from President Obama on behalf of the Pope. McCarrick also traveled to the Holy Land, Armenia, China, Iran, and other places on behalf of the Vatican under Pope Francis.
Cardinal McCarrick had been an important prelate for the Vatican when dealing with inter-religious matters or foreign affairs. As can be seen below, McCarrick played an important role in the establishment of relations between the U.S. and Cuba. Additionally, McCarrick helped in the Vatican’s dealings with Iran and its talks with the U.S. on nuclear proliferation. For that purpose, McCarrick traveled to Iran. In 2015, the Vatican publicly endorsed President Barack Obama’s nuclear non-proliferation deal with Iran. McCarrick, commenting on that deal, wrote an article for the Washington Post, in which he shows his own involvement in the matter, and includes Pope Francis’ words to him and his collaborators. McCarrick wrote in July of 2015: “Pope Francis himself let us know very clearly of his own tremendous concern for a peaceful and equitable resolution. In January 2015, we heard the Pontiff say, ‘I expressed my hope that a definitive agreement may soon be reached between Iran and the P5+1 group.’”
McCarrick had traveled in 2014 to Iran, as Bishop Richard Pates then related: “he [Pates], the retired archbishop of Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, and auxiliary Bishop Denis Madden of Baltimore met in Qom with several prominent Islamic clerics to ‘promote understanding between the peoples of Iran and the United States.’ Pope Francis didn’t send an envoy of his own to Qom (and likely declined to, if his relations with the Argentinian authorities are any indication). But Pates said the get-together was in line with the new pontiff’s view that ‘dialogue is the key to discovering truth and avoiding misunderstanding.’”
McCarrick continued after 2014 to be involved in that inter-religious dialogue with Muslims that had started in 2014 in Qom. In 2016, he signed an inter-religious declaration after a meeting in Rome which took place with direct reference to Pope Francis. The declaration starts with the words: “We met in Rome this year, which Pope Francis designated a Year of Mercy, to continue our moral and religious dialogue that began in Qom in 2014.”
And in the matter of the Vatican/China deal — what Cardinal Zen said amounted to a betrayal of the Chinese people — McCarrick also seems to have had a hand in it. As Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò revealed in his own 25 August testimony, then-Cardinal McCarrick told him once in person that, after meeting Pope Francis, he was to go to Communist China.
As the Catholic Herald said about McCarrick’s different missions and travels to China: “Following reports that the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China could be about to sign an agreement on the appointment of bishops in the country, attention has turned to the role of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick in fostering Vatican-China relations over the last two decades.” The Catholic Herald points out that McCarrick traveled repeatedly to China, and a least once as lately as 2016.
These facts stand in contrast to how Andrea Tornielli and his colleague, Gianni Valente, now try to depict the situation in their new, 288-page-long book on McCarrick and the Viganò report. As The Tablet says in a first presentation of the new book titled The Day of Judgment (Il Giorno del Giudizio): “Tornielli and Valente point out that after being elected to the See of Peter, the Pope [Francis] gave McCarrick no official role, nor did he commission him to travel to China on his behalf, as implied by Viganò in his testimony. McCarrick was conducting his travels as a sole operator and often worked with charities and the US State Department.”
It can be seen here, Tornielli and Valente try to shy away from the fact that McCarrick did a lot of traveling on behalf of the Vatican under Pope Francis’s leadership. One should not argue over the distinction between “official” and “unofficial” in relation to answering the question of whether or not McCarrick helped Pope Francis in achieving the pope’s goals.
As a Religion News Service article from the year 2014 showed, McCarrick was widely involved in the Vatican’s activities. The journalist David Gibson describes McCarrick’s missions for Pope Francis when he says: “McCarrick travels regularly to the Middle East, and was in the Holy Land for Francis’ visit in May. ‘The bad ones, they never die!’ the pope teased McCarrick again when he saw him.” Gibson adds that “sometimes McCarrick’s travels abroad are at the behest of the Vatican, sometimes on behalf of Catholic Relief Services.” A third hint at the fact that Pope Francis did indeed rely on Cardinal McCarrick’s services is given by the journalist when he says: “But Francis, who has put the Vatican back on the geopolitical stage, knows that when he needs a savvy back channel operator he can turn to McCarrick, as he did for the Armenia trip. ‘Why don’t you ask McCarrick to go?’ the cardinal [McCarrick himself] says of the Vatican’s thinking. ‘He’s usually willing to do these crazy things.’”
In 2014, Cardinal McCarrick went with Pope Francis on his trip to the Holy Land and gave the Boston Globe an interview explaining the mission of the Pope during his trip. As the journalist John Allen then wrote: “The 83-year-old McCarrick, a former archbishop of Washington, D.C., was in the Gaza Strip last week to monitor the situation facing the small but symbolically important Catholic population, and then joined the papal trip in Jordan and in Jerusalem.”
In yet another source – a Catholic News Service (CNS) article from the year 2015 – it becomes clear that McCarrick played a crucial role in the setting up of relations between Cuba and the U.S. under President Obama, with Pope Francis playing a mediating role. As the article states, Pope Francis, celebrating his first Mass in Cuba, “was flanked by three cardinals who, with him, have been credited with helping seal the deal between the United States and Cuba to move toward normalizing relations.” These three cardinals were the Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino of Havana, Cardinals Sean P. O’Malley of Boston and Theodore E. McCarrick, all of whom were concelebrants during the papal Mass in Cuba on 20 September 2015.
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