The best thing I’ve seen, so far, about the infamous McCarrick Report: ‘Status quaestionis’ and sign posts for reform.

Sadly, I have found so far one of the best examinations of the infamous McCarrick Report.

My own stomach-turning look at the Report left me with the impression that whoever assembled it had the primary objective of shielding Francis through the means of insinuations about the misfeasance of John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Archbp. Viganò.   That would be consistent with the way all three have been treated over the last few years.  We have seen a systematic attack on the Magisterium of John Paul, marginalization of everything Benedict did, and scorn levelled at Viganò.   These three are easy scapegoats.

Last night my friends Robert Royal, Fr. Gerald Murray and Raymond Arroyo talked about the Report, after Arroyo’s phone interview with Archbp. Viganò.   HERE

However, this morning I read at Crisis Magazine the best look I’ve seen so far.

How McCarrick Got Away by Michael Warren Davis.

Some readers here are not going to like Davis’ remarks about Viganò.  In effect…

We must consider the possibility that Viganò did not carry out his investigation into Priest 3’s abuse. …  If Viganò had the opportunity to provide the Vatican with a substantial case against McCarrick in 2012 but failed to do so, then he must accept his share of the blame. And if he’s as committed to institutional reform as he claims, than he will understand if his fellow reformers feel the need to scrutinize his record. He’ll understand that no bishop can be above scrutiny in this matter.

I’d ask, at this point, that people avoid even thinking about my combox until they have read the whole piece at Crisis.  It often happens that having read two sentences into posts, people channel their inner Leeroy Jenkins and charge into the combox without a clue.  I hope against hope.

Davis look objective about the roles of John Paul and Benedict in the slippery escape of McCarrick.  I must admit that their abundance of caution or perhaps fear of negative consequences resulted in a prolongation and worsening of the inevitable agony.

The penultimate part of the piece, however, concerns “the Francis papacy”.

It isn’t pretty.   And pay attention to the link he provides to another piece he wrote about Francis and the “Deep Church”.  Okay, I’ll just post it…  HERE

Lastly, the writer provides three take-away points, each one heavy.

Over all, this is a good summary – a status quaestionis.  From just that point of view it is useful.  However, it also opens up serious questions about things that need reform.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Charles E Flynn says:

    Video (22 min. 39 sec.) of the new interview with Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, which was conducted by telephone: World Over – 2020-11-12 – EXCLUSIVE! Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano with Raymond Arroyo

  2. Charles E Flynn says:

    The issue of “Priest 3” is raised at 9 min. 38 sec. into the video.

  3. Lurker 59 says:

    It seems to me that charity towards another means understanding their actions for what they are not subscribing to them evil intent when there is good nor subscribing to them good intent when there is evil. Charity demands that we understand things for what they are and refrain from interpreting them according to our own subjective worldview of how we want them to be.

    There is a lot of subjective interpretation of events in both of the articles of Michael Warren Davis as well as too many “what ifs” that serve to support Davis’ a priori presupposition that Pope Francis is a simple nieve man surrounded by bad men because he cannot, as many co-dependent children of abusive parents, bear the thought that the one who has authority over his life is the one at fault. (Which is how sexual/emotional/verbal/physical abusers who have vast authority get away with it for so long — those that are dependent upon them, including those that they abuse, will constantly shift the blame, make excuses, and enable the abuse precisely because they are dependent.)

    As an example, note how Davis starts his article by stating that no one expected the McCarrick Report to answer anything and then goes on in the very next sentence to state that the Report does contain the full facts and answers, “that there never really was a “smoking gun.” There was no hard evidence of sexual assault. ” And so on goes the article assuming that the Report is the whole story and all of the facts, which no one on earth, including Davis believes. If the Report is a known whitewash, why isn’t Davis even the slightest bit critical of what it presents as ‘facts’?

    Davis gets close but misses part of the huge problem of trying to deal with McCarrick — there wasn’t/ isn’t a real canonical means for dealing with sexual predators in the episcopate beyond fiat of the papacy. Reform can only come about by having a real canonical means and actually removing abusers in the episcopate. Notice something here that Davis misses (because he is too interested in maintaining his a priori presupposition) that should speak volumes. In response to the inability of a just legal ability to do something about McCarrick, Pope Benedict respected the demands of justice and in charity removed McCarrick from public life. Pope Francis, on the other hand, changed the law to get what he wanted in regard to McCarrick (but only McCarrick). Did McCarrick receive justice from Pope Francis or only will disguised as justice?

    Here we can tie back to Davis’ first article and the question of whether or not Pope Francis is like or unlike the men that he is surrounded by. If we can describe McCarrick, and those others still in the curia, as being about will to power, we can likewise see the same attribute in the whitewash of the McCarrick Report and in Pope Francis’ handling of the situation.

    In regards to the 3 points by Davis: 1.) Davis, himself, just previously said that the Vatican DID act. JPII promoted him. BXVI silenced him. F rehabilitated him and then was forced to laicize him. The issue is not at all about perceived innaction, it is that the laity doesn’t like the action that was taken. 2.) The conspiracy of silence is not McCarrick but that there is a network of abusers in the episcopate. Notice that Davis in his article (unwittingly?) is part of this conspiracy by not discussing the other abusers (just McCarrick and his support network) that “everyone knows about and which no one does anything about.” (To be fair, Barros is mentioned by the dots are not connected.) 3.) Notice the shifting of blame to Viganò. The story is not Viganò nor really Pope Francis but rather the corruption in the episcopate that permitted McCarrick, protected him, and enabled him. The Report itself is the issue as it is corrupt, part of the very problem that protects abusers in the episcopate, and which very existence should draw the ire of all. The question that people should be asking is not “what about Viganò?” but, who wrote this, who told them to write this this way, who investigated this?

    The Report IS the conspiracy of silence.

  4. Spinmamma says:

    The Crisis article is sobering. I do agree that Archbishop Vigano, whom I admire greatly and pray for regularly, ought to address the specifics as best he can. I do wonder about the facts assumed into evidence, though, as the article seems to assume the facts given in the report are completely true. As an old lawyer, I am wary of accepting facts as set forth in a document that seems to have as its major goal exonerating the head of the group charged with researching and writing the document Obviously there are some facts that cannot be disputed, e.g., the elevation of McCarrick by St JPII, but the Byzantine power machinations of the Vatican “deep state” make me wonder if the truth will ever be known, and what essential facts have been left out. I cannot help remembering Benedict’s statements regarding the gay lobby and how that played into his partial resignation

  5. Brian Walsh says:

    – Davis starts the article by saying not all the questions will be answered and then states the report contains all the information. Just so, just so. To wit, the rest of your post is full of suppositions and when you suppose several things and demand answers then you must realize the possibility that the answer is there is no answer to your question. It’s the fallacy of asking a man why he beats his wife when nobody ever said he did, including his wife. There’s no answer to that question: “I don’t beat my wife” is not an answer because it’s been supposed already that he does (why does he?). Ergo, Davis is perfectly correct and one of the surprising things about evil is that it does tend to be banal and quotidian.

    -Regarding the ability to remove…who? Suspected abusers? Accused abusers? Proven abusers? I would refer you to Robert Bolt’s “A Man for All Seasons” when Thomas More asks his son-in-law if he would cut down every tree in England to get at the devil and what he would do when all those trees were cut down and the devil turned round unto him with no shelter. Do you really want to give the USCCB or the local bishop that permission? If the episcopate is as corrupt and stained as you believe–and I could certainly believe that but I don’t have absolute proof–then would you really want Cardinal Cupich, for instance, to have carte blanche to get rid of say Father Altman on trumped up accusations? Carefully choose your wishes.

    – I think the final piece hearkens back to the beginning: charity doesn’t mean avoiding ascribing good intent to evil actions or evil intent to good actions. It means ascribing no intent at all but objective judgement of facts and circumstances. Davis shows true charity in not supposing things which he cannot know about the Holy Father. There’s also the recognition that the pope is responsible for the entire church. You don’t suppose, for instance, that the president of the United States reads every piece of legislation which passes his eyes? That he knows every detail of what’s going with CIA operatives? The Holy Father cannot possibly know about every single thing going on with the Church, especially–and this is where we doubly owe charity to PF–what was going on with a man who had disappeared from the scene before he became pope. I think it’s entirely plausible to believe that the pope has simply erred in trusting those around him when they continually make errors in judgement.

  6. jhogan says:

    Father, I took your advice and read the piece at Crisis. I came away from that article with two thoughts. The first is “feet of clay”, that is, the human institutional part of the Church is led by fallible human beings with errors in judgement. It doesn’t excuse what happened, but that it happened should be a testament against putting your “trust in princes” as the Psalms tell us. Human beings, even the best, will disappoint at some point in their lives.
    The second thought was that these abuses are shrouded in shadow where the devil likes to work. It tells us how important it is for victims to shed light on these doings. At this point, I have to acknowledge how incredibly difficult it is to speak about such things. I myself remained silent after I was “approached” by my pastor many decades ago. I was fortunate in that I was old enough to reject his advances. Although I still get a little queasy when I think about it. That priest is no longer a priest so there is some justice although maybe it might have happened earlier if I hadn’t be silent. Outside of this post, I have almost never talked about it, and I was one of the lucky ones—I escaped the abuse!

  7. The Masked Chicken says:

    I read both articles. This investigation should have been conducted by laity who specialize in sexual abuse cases with carte blanche to do what they needed. Of course, that doesn’t seem like it would be allowed. Is the Vatican really interested in the truth? It doesn’t seem so. Really, just how objective can the Vatican be? One simply doesn’t even allow people who might be materially connected with an investigation to conduct the investigation or write the report. This makes no sense. I haven’t read the report, however, so I don’t know, for certain that the Vatican did not hire independent investigators, but I doubt it. Both abuse investigators and internal affairs investigators must be independent of the organization they are investigating. Did that happen, here? If not, then one should ignore the report and call for another independent investigation by either civil authorities or Protestants, if necessary, but it should be done by someone the Church has no direct power over.

    The Chicken

  8. JabbaPapa says:

    If I remember correctly, the fundamental problem under the Pontificate of John Paul II was not that the Pope and Cardinal Ratzinger did nothing, it’s that the 1917 Code of Canon Law had made a huge mistake, carried over into the 1983 Code, of removing authority over cases of clerical child abuses from the Holy Office to each Diocesan Bishop. Whereas the ability to permit the defrocking of a priest remained with the Congregation for the Clergy — which, because of the secrecy attached to cases in Canon Law, had no access whatsoever to any of the information about such abuses.

    So that unless a priest had been convicted in a civil Court of Law, he was almost impossible to defrock — and the Police and the civil Courts at the time in many countries had been extremely incompetent and inactive in the pursuit of these criminals, regardless of their profession.

    And what this means is that as soon as McCarrick was made a Bishop, the person responsible for making a final judgment for his crimes was … Bishop McCarrick. Certainly, the Civil Authority could have acted, but didn’t ; and the Pope could have used his Universal Authority to step in, but this would have needed a situation where there was actual transparency, rather than the canonical secrecy as well as the conspiracy of secrecy that surrounded McCarrick for his protection.

    Only after the Canon Law had been changed during the Pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI could anything more have been done, and indeed it was, as McCarrick was suspended from all activity — except that McCarrick and his allies managed to suppress that suspension, and he openly defied it.

    To blame Archbishop Viganò for any of this, when his hands were tied by defective Canon Law, defective Law Enforcement, and the gross moral defects of the Lavender Mafia who were doing everything in their power to protect McCarrick, is grotesque.

    As for the Popes, nobody has done more to try and clean the Church of these evils than Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (who among other things was instrumental in the prosecution of Marcial Maciel), Pope Benedict XVI, who instituted the necessary and greatly needed reform of the Canon Law, in difficult work commenced as Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and finished as Pope.

    The prosecution of McCarrick would have been completely impossible without the foundational work carried out during the Pontificates of Pope Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.

    And blaming Archbishop Viganò, who had exactly no power whatsoever neither personal nor from his position as a diplomat to bring any sanctions at all upon a Cardinal of the Church is asinine.

  9. JabbaPapa says:

    BTW Father Z, the link that you posted to the World Over special featuring Robert Royal, Fr. Gerald Murray and Raymond Arroyo discussing the McCarrick report may not work for everyone — an alternative link to it HERE :

  10. TRW says:

    I can sympathize with wanting to know how the McCarrick tragedy could have befallen The Church. I can’t help wonder, however, if there isn’t some hubris involved in thinking we DESERVE an explanation. What description of the bureaucratic machinations that were at play could possibly satisfy? Do we really expect to know what combination of ignorance, incompetence or wickedness lead to McCarrick’s promotion and eventual “career ” as a serial abuser? Such an abomination can only have the same causes as all such horrors: Sin(original and personal) and human frailty. What kind of naiveté would lead us to believe that a satisfying answer would be forthcoming, even if the Powers-That-Be were motivated to pursue a righteous and impartial investigation? Institutions don’t have agency, individuals do. Sins of omission can have devastating effects.The promotion and tacit protection of someone like McCarrick could only be the result of an accretion of the failings of countless individuals. The kind of failings we should all be familiar with in our own lives. Imprudence or cowardice on the part of some. Apathy on the part of others. Wickedness on the part of those of his ilk. There was a time when The Church wouldn’t have bothered to disseminate such a report. Maybe there wouldn’t have been much of an audience for it, either. I can’t help but wonder if we aren’t becoming dumber about the nature of sin and human evil. The banality of evil can be underwhelming. Sometimes that is precisley what makes it most horrifying.

  11. Ariseyedead says:

    Regarding “the Report”, I don’t understand why it took 400 pages to say:
    “Definitely nobody here at the Vatican right now is to blame. Nothing’s gonna change. Ciao!”

    I pray that the next pope will be known as “The Janitor Pope”, as the stables need quite the cleaning!

  12. Charivari Rob says:

    The thing that caught my eye in the Crisis article was the mention of the 2008 letter from Cardinal Re to McCarrick.
    Its reference to “past imprudent actions” and previous discussion(s) or communication(s) about recommendations that McCarrick lead a nonpublic lift suggest that there had at some point been some frank (albeit nonspecific and toothless) discussion with McCarrick about “actions”.
    I wonder if this was just the allegations/denials detailed elsewhere or if there was some other discussion on-record or off-record.
    I bookmarked the report somewhere. It will be interesting to go back and search for related passages.

  13. PostCatholic says:

    The “Crisis” article states:

    The McCarrick Report drives home one detail that many of us forgot: there never really was a “smoking gun.” There was no hard evidence of sexual assault.

    This is incorrect. In 1990, in the presence of the Bishop of Camden James T McHugh and the Auxillary Bishop of Newark John M Smith, a priest (now Msgr) Bottino appointed that day to the Vatican’s UN Mission and McHugh both witnessed McCarrick sexually fondling and harassing a very unhappy unidentified “young cleric” and yet the incident was not halted by the men present at the time. Bottino then allowed it to go unreported for 28 years. Cf. “IX. Bishop Hughes, Bishop Smith and Bishop McHughes Knowledge of McCarrick’s Misconduct, D. Incident at a Newark Catering Hall (January 1990)” on pg 87 et seq. Q.E.D. a smoking gun.

  14. Charivari Rob says:


    Yes, another of the disturbing passages. Certainly not one that could be missed because it was buried deep in the 450-page report – it was mentioned in the 14-page pre-release summary.
    It caught my eye when several media outlets mentioned failures of four NJ bishops and always left one name or the other out. After reading the summary, I went name-searching in the full report to find that section.
    Daunting to contemplate how they saw it then and how much of it they remembered years later when even general questions came up nearly a decade later.
    If they had reported it as more, perhaps it would have been seen as more. Perhaps not smoking gun, but smoke enough to suggest fire.

  15. Fr. Bolin says:

    So many great responses, and I’m thankful that so many people are putting in a great deal of prayer and effort to understand the situation. It is rather disappointing that we really receive no clarity on any of these things. The lack of trust that engenders toward the institution and our leaders is sad.

    On a more enjoyable level, I am delighted, dear Father Z, that you are familiar with Leroy Jenkins!!

  16. Rob83 says:

    One thing that complicates the situation of so much silence on the part of so many in the Church hierarchy is that we have no way of knowing how much of that silence was due to the Seal of Confession, and even now they can’t tell us if that is the reason behind their silence. I have little doubt men like McCarrick took full advantage of the Seal and any favorable provisions of canon law they could to protect themselves, which made it very difficult for them to be caught unless the laity provided the smoking gun.

  17. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    Leerooooooooooooooooy Jenkins!

  18. sjoseph371 says:

    I think it’s hilarious that you used a “Leeroy Jenkins” reference, Fr. Z! If anyone out there doesn’t get the reference, just Google it – you WON’T be disappointed.

  19. NOCatholic says:

    “This isn’t a happy ending we might have hoped for, and we can only hope that more details will be forthcoming. Of course, Crisis will keep our readers updated on any future developments. For example, McCarrick’s allies are not named. That’s the great failure of this report. Someone biased Benedict and Francis in McCarrick’s favor; they, too, should be held accountable. Still, I wouldn’t hold my breath.”

    Absolutely correct. Expected or no, the lack of those names is a travesty. If 2 previous Popes, one a canonized saint, can be thrown under the bus, if the only other named cleric to receive any blame, is a Vatican whistleblower, yet no other bishops are named, no allies who covered for McCarrick, then this report whitewashes, rather than addresses, the problems in the Vatican that allowed McCarrick to escape accountability for so long.

  20. Semper Gumby says:

    NOCatholic is now concerned about “lack of names”, “travesty”, “blame”, “whitewash” and “escape accountability.”

  21. Charivari Rob says:


    It’s not correct to say that no other bishops were named (beyond blame cast at John Paul, Benedict, and Vigano).
    The report does name at least some other bishops. It doesn’t go into trying to determine their state of mind and degree of fault (I think at least some of them are deceased, so it’s not as if they can ask them now) but does identify them as points along the fault line, as it were.
    I’m thinking particularly of the four other NJ bishops who were mentioned in the summary and report. The report goes into a thing or two that some of them may have seen, their acquaintance with McCarrick and/or his work, and points out their late-90s responses to inquiries that might have added weight to the concerns expressed by O’Connor to John Paul (but didn’t).

    I think part of reading it requires awareness of the tenors of the different times, and some of the dynamics of power. Things happened in 1990 or ’95 or ’98 that would hardly have been spoken about or challenged before 2002 (or even years later). Speaking up against a powerful superior/neighbor/”A-lister” was very unlikely.

    Another area only partly addressed in what I’ve read of the report so far -McCarrick’s early rise. Realizing these may be unanswerable, of course. Who first recommended him? Who was on the Congregation for Bishops back then?

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