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The Vatican’s Theodore McCarrick report: Eight things you need to know

Then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick in 2015. (Robert Franklin/Pool/South Bend Tribune/AP)

The Vatican on Tuesday released a much-anticipated report about Theodore McCarrick, a former cardinal and archbishop of Washington who was defrocked after allegations of sexual misconduct with adults and minors. Here’s what you need to know:

Who is Theodore McCarrick?

McCarrick was one of the most popular and well-known leaders in the U.S. Catholic Church until June 2018, when the then-87-year-old cardinal was suspended for allegedly sexually fondling an altar boy decades earlier. McCarrick, who grew up poor in New York’s Washington Heights neighborhood, went on to become a friend and confidant of presidents, prime ministers, professional athletes and other celebrities and was known publicly as a tireless peacemaker, a fundraiser for many Catholic causes and an epic schmoozer. Starting as early as the 1990s, the report confirms, quiet complaints of McCarrick’s inappropriate sexual behavior began traveling all the way to the Vatican, yet he continued to rise to lead dioceses in New Jersey — in Metuchen and Newark — and then D.C., where he was made a cardinal. McCarrick was suspended in 2018, then in 2019 became the first-ever cardinal laicized for sexual misconduct with youths and adults.

What is the “McCarrick report”?

In the weeks after McCarrick’s June 2018 suspension, multiple other accusations against him surfaced, as well as revelations that there had been complaints to the church hierarchy over the years along with legal settlements between victims and three New Jersey dioceses. The Vatican press office in October 2018 put out a statement saying that Pope Francis was “concerned by the confusion” among Catholics about what really happened. It said there would be a “thorough study” of all documents accessible to the Vatican “in order to ascertain all the relevant facts, to place them in their historical context and to evaluate them objectively.” The report, titled “Report on the Holy See’s Institutional Knowledge and Decision-Making Related to Former Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick (1930 to 2017),” was overseen by the Vatican’s secretary of state. Rumors and accusations of who knew what, and when, have flown since 2018, dividing an already polarized church, and many Catholics hope the detail the report offers will clarify the truth. Experts say the report is the most extensive public investigation the church has done into a cleric of McCarrick’s stature.

What the report says about the popes:

The report says Popes John Paul II, Benedict and Francis were aware of allegations McCarrick may have acted inappropriately with young men. Initially, John Paul decided not to elevate McCarrick to lead dioceses in Chicago, New York City or D.C.then in 2000 changed his mind after McCarrick wrote to the pope’s personal secretary asserting he had never had sexual relations with anyone. Several U.S. bishops also told him that McCarrick had shared a bed with young men but did not indicate with certainty that he had engaged in sexual misconduct. “This inaccurate information appears likely to have impacted the conclusions of John Paul II’s advisers and, consequently, of John Paul II himself,” the report said. Under Benedict, the Vatican, acting on new details from a priest, requested McCarrick’s give up his position as archbishop of Washington in 2006, after he reached the standard retirement age of 75. Benedict’s staff proposed launching a fact-finding mission but the pope opted instead for McCarrick to keep a lower profile — which McCarrick largely ignored. Francis assumed the allegations were false because John Paul would not have permitted “a rotten candidacy to move forward,” and responded quickly once a credible allegation that McCarrick abused a minor surfaced.

Has anyone until now been held accountable?

Not nearly enough, say some victims and their advocates. In August 2018, a former Vatican ambassador dropped a bombshell letter listing a slew of high-ranking church officials in the U.S. and Rome who knew about allegations against McCarrick. The report said many of the people named in the letter did know about allegations against McCarrick, but nobody but McCarrick has been held accountable so far. The case rocked the Archdiocese of Washington, where his successor, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, retired in October 2018, before he had planned to, amid controversy over his handling of abuse cases when he was bishop of Pittsburgh. In January 2019, after denying repeatedly that he’d known anything before June 2018 about sexual misconduct allegations against McCarrick, The Post reported that Wuerl had known about an allegation of inappropriate behavior and had reported it to the Vatican in 2004. Some believe the report lets Pope Francis off too easily. Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability, a group that gathers information on clergy abuse, said Francis’s “lack of curiosity” about the allegations against McCarrick "was at best negligent, at worst corrupt.” She said the report shows why Church leadership can’t self-police. “Accountability won’t happen without external oversight.”

What are some possible impacts of the McCarrick report?

The report is a 461-page, straightforward accounting of who knew what and when, and what they did or didn’t do about it. It doesn’t include recommendations for reform or punishment, nor does it assign blame. The Vatican released the report with no comment or opportunity for press questions. Some think that the Vatican released the report just a few days before the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has its twice-annual meeting is Rome’s way of communicating that the bishops should act on it to make the church more transparent and accountable.

What kind of charges, civil or criminal, could McCarrick still face?

McCarrick faces allegations in different parts of the country and in different decades, so his legal liability is a patchwork, said Marci Hamilton, founder of Child USA, a think tank at the University of Pennsylvania that studies child abuse. New Jersey and New York recently opened legal windows for victims of child sexual abuse; both expire in late 2021, she said. If any victims experienced abuse in Maryland, there is no criminal statute of limitations, she said. Criminal statutes of limitations in most places expired long ago.

How many people were allegedly victims of McCarrick?

The report doesn’t give a definitive figure. A source with direct knowledge of all the claims that U.S. church officials sent to the Vatican told The Post in fall 2019 that the number of complaints involving people younger than 18 is at least 10. Then in December, another man sued, saying McCarrick abused him when he was 14. The same source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because canon law forbids unauthorized people to speak about internal cases or even to acknowledge that the cases exist, said at least six allegations of sexual abuse by seminarians and former seminarians also were sent to Rome. His alleged victims include some who have spoken out, including James Grein, a Virginia tennis coach who said McCarrick baptized him and then began abusing him when Grein was 11, in the late 1960s.

Where is McCarrick now?

Those close to him won’t say where the 90-year-old layman is living. Until January, McCarrick was staying at a Kansas friary. He had been there since 2018. Catholic News Agency reported in January that McCarrick and the Franciscan friary staff were worried about the Vatican report and the press and disruption it could bring.