The Vatican Secretariat of State’s report on Theodore E. McCarrick provides a glimpse into how a number of witnesses and victims of the former cardinal’s abuse sought numerous ways to alert church officials and were disturbingly aware their allegations might trigger repercussions.
Over its 460 pages, the report also reveals how much difference 30 years can make when it comes to flagging misconduct and abuse. The report begins with a New York mother’s account of writing to every U.S. cardinal and the papal representative in the mid-1980s detailing McCarrick’s “dangerous” behaviour toward her underage sons. Having left no address or legible name, her red-flag warnings went unheeded.
Decades later, in 2017, when the Archdiocese of New York received an allegation of the sexual abuse of minor by McCarrick in the early 1970s, the report showed how the archdiocese’s now mandatory reporting system and procedures resulted in McCarrick’s eventual dismissal first from the College of Cardinals and, later, from the priesthood.
But for decades in between, the victims and witnesses described in the report recount how they struggled to figure out if and how they should or could make their claims in essentially a no-man’s land for accusations.
Haphazardly handled, ignored or dismissed allegations meant spotty paper trails, ineffective investigations that failed to find “hard” credible evidence and a climate of incessant gossip and rumors about McCarrick’s proclivities that ended up being leveraged by some to paint him as “a victim” of envy and enemies.
A New York woman, called “Mother 1” in the report, describes how McCarrick groomed her family into trusting him and feeling special by receiving his kind and generous attention during the 1970s and ’80s.
But she began to see the then-bishop as a threat when she caught him massaging her sons’ inner thighs in front of her husband, who seemed, in her words, “oblivious to Ted’s behaviour.”
While she felt they needed to get him “out of our lives,” her husband “refused to understand,” and she proceeded to witness ongoing inappropriate touching and massaging by McCarrick with her oldest son.