The 450-word statement, issued at the pope’s request, did not address a separate major accusation that has roiled the Catholic Church — the claim that Francis was told five years ago about McCarrick’s alleged misconduct with young men and did nothing about it.
In making that accusation against Francis, the former Vatican ambassador to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, also said other top figures in the Vatican — including Pope Benedict XVI — knew about McCarrick years earlier.
“The Holy See is conscious that, from the examination of the facts and of the circumstances, it may emerge that choices were taken that would not be consonant with a contemporary approach to such issues,” the Vatican statement said.
Francis and the wider Roman Catholic Church have sustained significant reputational damage both from an onslaught of abuse cases around the world and from their struggle to deal transparently with the fallout. Vatican leaders have been largely silent in the aftermath of the Viganò accusations, and Francis has declined to address questions about what he knew.
The head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, has asked for a special Vatican-led probe — a so-called “apostolic visitation” — into McCarrick’s rise and whether figures within the church hierarchy knew of his behavior. But the Vatican has so far declined to order such a probe, one of its most powerful tools, which it used recently in Chile to investigate systemic abuse and coverup.
DiNardo, who this week declined an interview request, is scheduled to meet with Francis on Monday.
The Vatican on Saturday described a different kind of investigation into McCarrick, one that will involve information gathering from documents in Vatican offices. The goal, the Vatican said, is to “ascertain all the relevant facts, to place them in their historical context and to evaluate them objectively.”
The Vatican said that its own work would be combined with earlier efforts carried out by the Archdiocese of New York, which had notified the Holy See in September 2017 about an abuse allegation against McCarrick from the 1970s. Francis ordered the archdiocese to investigate, the Vatican statement said, and in the meantime, “grave indications emerged” about McCarrick.
In July, the 88-year-old prelate became the first cardinal in history to fully resign his position because of abuse allegations.
In 2015, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, from Scotland, renounced the rights and privileges of his position after a string of accusations of sexual misconduct, but he did not officially depart the College of Cardinals.
The Holy See’s latest statement comes amid a month-long meeting at the Vatican — one that includes Francis and top bishops from around the world — on the topic of youth within the church.
Some bishops, speaking during the first days of the event, have said the church’s credibility depends on a strong response to abuse cases that span from Australia to Germany to the United States. Francis has also called a separate summit of bishops for February, specifically to discuss clerical sex abuse and the protection of children.
Meantime, Francis’s popularity has plunged in the United States. According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in September, only 30 percent of American Catholics hold a very favorable view of the pontiff, compared with 62 percent three years earlier.
“I think people need to know that they take this seriously and that it won’t happen again,” said John Carr, the director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University. “We have to find out what happened. It wasn’t right.”