“’If one member suffers, all suffer together with it’ (1 Cor 12:26). These words of Saint Paul forcefully echo in my heart as I acknowledge once more the suffering endured by many minors due to sexual abuse, the abuse of power and the abuse of conscience perpetrated by a significant number of clerics and consecrated persons. Crimes that inflict deep wounds of pain and powerlessness, primarily among the victims, but also in their family members and in the larger community of believers and nonbelievers alike. Looking back to the past, no effort to beg pardon and to seek to repair the harm done will ever be sufficient. Looking ahead to the future, no effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such situations from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated. The pain of the victims and their families is also our pain, and so it is urgent that we once more reaffirm our commitment to ensure the protection of minors and of vulnerable adults.”
– Pope Francis, conclusion of the Report
I have spent the last few evenings reading the ‘REPORT ON THE HOLY SEE’S INSTITUTIONAL KNOWLEDGE AND DECISION-MAKING RELATED TO FORMER CARDINAL THEODORE EDGAR MCCARRICK’. It has been very difficult to read, needless to say. Despite the length of time taken to prepare and publish the Report, and despite having some sense of what it was likely to say, still it was hard to read the final version and the facts it lays bare. It does this in great detail and it does not offer excuses for the failures it details, although it does propose reasons why some of those failures were able to take place.
What comes across most clearly is that the Church did nothing very much, despite having numerous and repeated opportunites to act; the primary concern seems to have been to avoid, at all costs, the potential for a public scandal to arise.
As part of this, witnesses were discredited – sometimes with subtlety and by means of insinuation, and at other times more explicitly – and financial settlements were reached and paid out as a means of buying silence and so protecting the Church. No concern was shown toward the victims – they were not a consideration.
Those in authority covered up for the former Cardinal McCarrick and on some occasions, particular Bishops did not pass on highly pertinent information (which likely would have altered the course of subsequent events) even when they were explicitly tasked with doing so. On other occasions, certain Bishops did not follow through on direct and explicit instructions given to them which, again, may well have altered what would later happen.
Also very striking throughout the Report are the many occasions on which documents mysteriously disapppeared – referenced or mentioned in one place, the original was never able to be found. The distinct impression was that Bishops removed or destroyed these, to remove any trace of a ‘paper trail’. This also had the effect of making it difficult to ascertain with certainty that they had knowledge of some of the events recounted in the Report.
Finally, direct and decisive action was taken – but only when it was deemed credible that a minor had been involved. Until that point, everyone – everyone – failed to see what was glaringly obvious; that this was not really about sexual activity, but about the abuse of power in a relationship of unequals. Although commented on by some of the victims over and over, no-one seemed to see what was directly in front of them.
Throughout the many years covered by the Report, the repeated allegations – it is true, often circumstantial and with little tangible evidence – set some alarm bells ringing; but on every occasion, those bells were promptly muffled and then silenced by those who task it was to be stirred into real action by them. The very fact that there were so many allegations, from so many disparate and unconnected sources, and across so very many years, was a very clear warning indeed; and yet, nothing very much happened.
The events detailed in the Report have certainly caused immense damage to those most directly involved – the victims themselves.
These events have also caused incredible damage to those who did try to do something – not least of all ‘Mother 1’ and similar people – and whose efforts were of no avail at the time, despite their very good intentions.
At the broader level, these events have caused the most horrendous damage to the institution of the Church and to her reputation. What has become clear is that in instances such as this, the institutional Church has forgotten what she is intended to be. She has placed her own reputation and well-being far above that of the souls entrusted to her care, whether spiritual or temporal. The responsibility for this falls squarely to those Bishops who are named and shown to have done little or nothing at all; they will be called to account for this – if not in this life, then certainly in the next. It is an extraordinary dereliction of duty.
There are many whose trust in the Church and in her moral authority and leadership will falter as a result of what is contained in this Report, and there are many who will leave the Church as a result. For the Church herself to have caused this is, indeed, a scandal.