In recent days there has come back with a vengeance the case of Theodore E. McCarrick, the American cardinal first stripped of the scarlet and finally expelled from the clerical state last February, after having been found guilty by the congregation for the doctrine of the faith 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.”
Reigniting attention over his case were two concomitant facts: a few statements by Pope Francis during an interview with Valentina Alazraki of the Mexican TV network “Televisa” previewed by “Vatican News” on May 28 and, on the same day, the publication of a “Report” on the relations between McCarrick and senior Church authorities written by a former secretary and confidant of his, the priest Anthony J. Figuereido.
Both of these elements, far from moving the case toward a solution, are making it more serious than ever, elevating it as the highest emblem not so much of the scourge of sexual abuse committed by sacred ministers – abuse that for McCarrick has been verified and condemned – but of the cover-up granted to some of the abusers by Church authorities, up to the highest levels. Cover-ups that in McCarrick’s case appear very extensive and far from being clarified.
Figuereido bolstered the ten pages of his report with citations from letters, e-mails, and documents never seen until now and upheld as authentic by experts consulted for the occasion.
Once again there is above all the news that the restrictions imposed on McCarrick during the pontificate of Benedict XVI were transmitted to him not only verbally, but were put down in writing in a 2008 letter from Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, at the time the prefect of the congregation for bishops, a letter that McCarrick himself wrote he had immediately “shared” with the archbishop of Washington at the time, Cardinal Donald Wuerl.
Wuerl has always denied that he knew anything at all about the abuse committed by McCarrick or the restrictions imposed on him, in practice the obligation to retire to private life. And besides, McCarrick always avoided obeying such restrictions, both during the pontificate of Benedict XVI and afterward, when on the contrary he intensified his trips all over the world, including to China, in accord with the Vatican secretariat of state and Cardinal Pietro Parolin.
Another bit of news from the report is the defense of himself that McCarrick made with respect to the accusations of sexual abuse, in a 2008 letter to then-secretary of state Tarcisio Bertone. He admitted that he had imprudently “shared a bed” with priests and seminarians “when the Diocesan Summer House was overcrowded,” but without ever having or attempting sexual relations with them, because he considered them “as part of my family,” just as he had often done with his “cousins and uncles and other relatives,” going to bed with them too but always innocently.
As is well known, this defense of himself by McCarrick – who still to this day is not known to have expressed any remorse in public – was invalidated eleven years after the guilty verdict of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith.
But what remains to be clarified is precisely the responsibility of many senior Church authorities who knew about his offenses and did not do what they were supposed to.
The position, for example, of Cardinal Wuerl is today more difficult than before, seeing the revelations of Figuereido’s report.
But above all there has been no clarification of the behavior of Pope Francis. Who in the interview with “Televisa” sought to justify his conduct, while however leaving open many, too many questions.
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