Shortly after the release of the Vatican’s long-awaited report on the career of cashiered cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the media herd of independent minds decided that the Big Story here was . . . not about Theodore McCarrick. Rather, the Big Story was that Pope John Paul II, prior to appointing him archbishop of Washington, knew of allegations and rumors that McCarrick was sexually compromised. How a 449-page report that goes into painstaking (and painful) detail about McCarrick’s sexual predations, his endless prevarications, his self-promoting, and his serial betrayals of the trust that others reposed in him turns into a story about one of the men deceived by McCarrick is not easy to understand—until it’s remembered that the mantra since McCarrick was severely punished by Pope Francis two years ago has been that “Everyone knew.” So the hunt was on for the “smoking gun” that proved that everyone knew.
The voluminous Vatican report, however, makes quite clear that everyone did not know; in fact, no one knew, with certainty, about McCarrick’s depredations and his lies about them until he was on the verge of retirement. And while the report does not identify any smoking gun, it does outline in numbing detail a pattern of institutional systems failure in the leadership of the Catholic Church, in America and in Rome. That failure, in short, was the failure of a clerical caste system that McCarrick knew all too well, played all too ruthlessly, and successfully gamed throughout his tawdry career.
Theodore McCarrick was not only a sexual predator; he was an accomplished, pathological liar. And pathological liars fool people. McCarrick fooled the media for decades. He fooled his brother priests and bishops. He fooled the wealthy Catholics who funded much of his globe-trotting. He fooled a lot of people on the Catholic left who long regarded him as a hero (and who benefited from his prodigious fundraising). This pattern of deception is depressingly similar to the deceptions that Marcial Maciel worked on traditionally minded Catholics. From which an important lesson ought to be learned: There is no point along the spectrum of Catholic opinion that guarantees immunity from being deceived. One’s theology is not a guarantor of one’s shrewdness.
Read more at First Things