One Year After McCarrick’s Fall: A Status Report on Bishop Accountability

The scandal has led to Theodore McCarrick’s laicization and Vatican norms designed to hold bishops accountable, but investigations into an alleged cover-up continue.

Celebrating his 60th anniversary as a priest with fellow jubilarians in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick received a standing ovation after he affirmed the need for priestly holiness during a May 2018 banquet address, with his successor, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, in attendance.

Yet, by then, both U.S. prelates knew McCarrick was under investigation, following an allegation that he had sexually abused a minor  more than 45 years earlier, when he was a priest in New York.

Within five weeks of the jubilee celebrations, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York announced that the allegation against McCarrick was “credible and substantiated,” and he was suspended from public ministry.

A second disclosure, issued on the same day by Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, divulged secrets that had long been rumored but never publicly confirmed by Church authorities: “This Archdiocese and the Diocese of Metuchen received three allegations of sexual misconduct with adults decades ago; two of these allegations resulted in settlements.”

A year after the revelations left Catholics stunned and angry, Archbishop Wilton Gregory has succeeded Cardinal Wuerl as the archbishop of Washington, multiple seminaries are under investigation, and the Vatican has issued norms that punish bishops who engaged in sexual misconduct or abuse of power. The U.S. bishops are also poised to approve reforms that will make bishops more accountable.

But Catholics still have not received a formal accounting that explains how McCarrick was able to rise to the highest levels of the Church and communicates which Church officials knew about his harassment of seminarians but said nothing.

Summing up the response of many Catholics in the pews, Vickie Schmidt, a victim-survivor of sexual abuse by a priest and the co-author of Soul Light for the Dark Night, told the Register: “I want to know how many people knew about McCarrick in the U.S. hierarchy and in Rome.”

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