On McCarrick Scandal, Vatican Responses are Tardy, Not Reassuring

Finally there is some movement. This weekend the Vatican began responding to the dismay of the laity over the McCarrick scandal. The responses are certainly tardy, and still not terribly reassuring. But they are responses, at least; the “stonewall” approach is breaking down.

The first response, issued by the Vatican press office on October 6, was a notice that Pope Francis, “aware of and concerned by the confusion that these accusations are causing in the conscience of the faithful,” was taking further steps to investigate the scandal.

Confusion? Who is confused? The statement attributes the “confusion” to the “accusations regarding the conduct” of McCarrick. Actually there is very little confusion on that score; there is now a good deal of testimony about the former cardinal’s behavior. And the public responses to that testimony is not so much confusion as outrage: righteous anger.

If there is confusion about the case, it is due to the conflicting claims over how the Vatican respondedto the revelations about McCarrick’s misconduct. The Vatican statement feeds any such confusion, by creating the impression that the problem first came to light a few short weeks ago. There is no acknowledgment that in fact the Vatican was made aware of McCarrick’s homosexual escapades at least 15 years ago. Nor is there an acknowledgment that before Pope Francis ordered McCarrick to remove himself from public life, Pope Benedict XVI had already issued the same sort of order, only to see it flouted by the American prelate and then (if Archbishop Vigano’s charge is accurate) rescinded by Pope Francis.

For that matter, the October 6 statement never mentions the basic complaint against McCarrick. The word “homosexual” does not appear. There are a few references to abuse and to cover-ups—and, in keeping with the current vogue, to “clericalism”—but the word “homosexual” does not appear. So the statement immediately fails the test of candor.

The main thrust of the statement is the promise that Pope Francis has authorized a “further thorough study of the entire documentation present in the Archives of the Dicasteries and Offices of the Holy See regarding the former Cardinal McCarrick.” That is a small step in the right direction. But who will conduct this study? And when, and under what conditions? If the investigation will be done by the same people who are accused of covering up the evidence initially, lay Catholics have every right to remain “confused.”

Just two weeks earlier, we learned—by inference, not thanks to any forthright announcement—that Pope Francis had apparently declined a request from the American bishops for an apostolic visitation, a sort of investigation that would have carried the clout necessary to turn up all the available evidence. Now we learn the Pope is due to meet with the leaders of the US bishops’ conference again this week. Could the October 6 statement indicate that he might reconsider the American request? That, too, would be a step in the right direction—particularly if, following the advice from the American contingent, he took some steps to ensure that the work was done by reliable, independent investigators.

A final observation about that October 6 statement: the Vatican warned that the results, when they are released, might show “that choices were taken that would not be consonant with a contemporary approach to such issues.” On one level that is a considerable understatement; we already know that “choices were taken” (notice the passive voice, skirting the question of who made those choices) that were irresponsible and indefensible. But the reference to a “contemporary approach” is particularly noisome. Again there is a hint that until recently, Catholic bishops could not have been expected to know that the serial molestation of seminarians was a moral failing. St. Peter Damian (1007-1072) would disagree.

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