The Vatican determined that the late Pope John Paul II was warned about ex-U.S. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who was defrocked amid sexual abuse allegations, ahead of his promotion in the Catholic Church, according to a report released Tuesday.
The 461-page report, which includes details from two years of investigation, did not directly blame the past three popes for knowingly protecting McCarrick.
But it states that “Pope John Paul II personally made the decision to appoint McCarrick” even though the pope obtained a letter from Cardinal John O’Connor that detailed several sexual misconduct allegations involving the former cardinal.
The Vatican concluded that Pope John Paul II was given “inaccurate and incomplete” information from three of four bishops after he requested a probe into the allegations against McCarrick.
“What is now known, through investigation undertaken for the preparation of the Report, is that three of the four American bishops provided inaccurate and incomplete information to the Holy See regarding McCarrick’s sexual conduct with young adults,’’ the report stated.
McCarrick, the highest-ranking Catholic official in the U.S. to be removed for sexual misconduct, also denied the allegations, which the report said “was believed.” The former cardinal was promoted to archbishop of Washington and also cardinal in 2001.
The allegations against the former cardinal involved a priest who said he saw McCarrick engaging in sexual conduct with another priest and anonymous letters that alleged pedophilia. Other assertions detailed that he was "known to have shared a bed with young adult men in the bishop's residence in Metuchen and Newark” and that he was "known to have shared a bed with adult seminarians at a beach house on the New Jersey shore."
The allegations against McCarrick revolved around his time serving as bishop of Metuchen from 1981 to 1986 and archbishop of Newark from 1986 to 2000.
The Vatican’s report, which focused on how McCarrick continued to be promoted rather than the allegations themselves, said Pope John Paul II’s “past experience in Poland regarding the use of spurious allegations against bishops” to harm the church “played a role in his willingness to believe” McCarrick.
After new details about the allegations came to light in 2005, Pope Benedict XVI, who became pope that year, “urgently sought” to replace McCarrick, who was forced to resign as the archbishop of Washington the following year.
Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò encouraged church leaders to initiate a legal procedure against McCarrick, but Pope Benedict declined “to appeal to McCarrick’s conscience.”
The report found that “until 2017, no one ... provided Pope FrancisPope FrancisPope decides to keep criticized archbishop, issues 'spiritual timeout' COVID faith: Are your religious views 'sincerely held'? Biden meets with leaders of Australia, Iraq before departing UNGA MORE with any documentation regarding allegations against McCarrick,” and the current pope thought “that the allegations had already been reviewed and rejected by Pope John Paul II.”
"Pope Francis had heard only that there had been allegations and rumors related to immoral conduct with adults occurring prior to McCarrick's appointment to Washington," the report said.
But in 2018, the report said Pope Francis had an “immediate” response when the first allegation of child sexual abuse involving McCarrick surfaced. The Vatican officially defrocked the former cardinal last year after the Church found him guilty of sexually abusing minors.
The Vatican report said “numerous individuals who had direct physical contact with McCarrick were interviewed” during the investigation.
"During extended interviews, often emotional, the persons described a range of behavior, including sexual abuse or assault, unwanted sexual activity, intimate physical contact and the sharing of beds without physical touching. These interviews also included detailed accounts related to McCarrick's abuse of authority and power," it said.