McCarrick Report | Bishop Johnston’s Thoughts
The recent report from the Holy See on the decision-making surrounding former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick is a story of failure: failure on the part of people in positions of responsibility who neglected to act, and failure at an institutional level to protect children and young people, including seminarians.
While many failed, others acted in a laudable way: courageous laypeople, including victims of McCarrick, who attempted to inform those in authority about McCarrick’s abuse; the late Cardinal John O’Connor of New York, who also advised against McCarrick’s advancement even as he was dying from brain cancer.
While it was known ahead of its release that the report would be about these failures, it is noteworthy that the report itself is a sign of hope for the future by providing striking transparency about many decisions, who made them, and why. The report is one key achievement of the international conference in February 2019 called by Pope Francis. At that conference Pope Francis gathered the presidents of episcopal conferences from around the world and issued a clarion call to accountability for bishops guilty of sexual abuse or failing to confront sexual abuse responsibly. In addition to this report, in May 2019 Pope Francis issued Vos estis lux mundi, his Apostolic Letter which established new procedural norms both to combat sexual abuse and to ensure that bishops and religious superiors are held accountable for doing so or omitting civil or canon law processes. Following this, the Holy See provided what is known as a Vademecum, which outlines in detail some of the procedures for addressing sexual abuse by the clergy. These developments came about in the wake of the McCarrick scandal and will strengthen the Church going forward.
Along with McCarrick’s sins of abuse, one also sees in the report the corrupting effects of raw ambition and the corrosive impact personal influence had on many involved in McCarrick’s rise in the hierarchy. It also reveals the reluctance on the part of many to responsibly exercise their duties to investigate someone who was powerful.
McCarrick wielded his position and power to take advantage of others, not only minors, but also seminarians and priests. To ensure this crime does not recur, I have instructed our seminarians and priests never to fear speaking about any situation they consider uncomfortable or abusive. Predatory and abusive behavior will not be tolerated.
Some of the details of the McCarrick report will be painful to the Catholic faithful, both lay and clergy, and in particular for victim/survivors of clergy sexual abuse. Addressing this scourge is an ongoing work. Bringing the McCarrick scandal fully into the light, even these many years later, can only help to make progress. Doubtless, this report will be studied by many, including the United States bishops, to draw key lessons in keeping all in the Church safe, in bringing those who sexually abuse others to justice, and in holding bishops accountable for disciplining those who abuse.
+James V. Johnston, Jr.
Bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph