Last night I was texting with a Catholic friend, and told him about how the late Father Benedict Groeschel lied to cover himself. Groeschel, trained in psychology, had a lot to do with recycling sexually predatory priests back into the community, via his treatment center. Because he was known to be theologically conservative, and was an EWTN star, he was untouchable among conservatives. I wrote last year, when the McCarrick scandal broke:
I am personally aware of a case in which a conservative superstar priest, the late Father Benedict Groeschel, manipulated the conservative Catholic public’s suspicion of the news media to hide from legitimate questions about his own role in covering up abuse. I wrote about it here. In brief, Groeschel, a psychologist, ran a factory that recycled sexually abusive priests. In 2002, or perhaps early 2003, Brooks Egerton, a reporter for the Dallas Morning News, tried to contact Groeschel to ask him about some of these cases, Groeschel refused to speak to him. Egerton called me at National Review, asking me why Groeschel wouldn’t return his calls, and asking if I knew any way to reach him. Eventually, Egerton published a story … which Groeschel promptly denounced as filled with lies and distortions. He said, in particular:
Mr. Egerton’s article is a prime example of the hostility, distortion and planned attack on the Catholic Church in the United States by certain segments of the media.
Groeschel’s words were disgraceful. Again, Egerton tried multiple times to get Groeschel on the phone to explain his side of the story. Groeschel refused to talk to him, and then when the story came out, denounced it as a “planned attack on the Catholic Church.” It was a lie, but a lot of people wanted to believe that lie. That’s how aiders and abetters of the scandal, like Benedict Groeschel, got away with it.
One of the lasting effects of the church abuse scandal, at least for me, is to learn how eagerly and easily cardinals, bishops, and influential priests will lie for the sake of preserving a false front, and hiding their own guilt. For example, Cardinal Ted McCarrick was named by the Vatican to lead its response to the initial wave of scandal. Here he is from a 2002 interview with the USA Today editorial board:
If after all we’ve gone through, someone would still violate the kind of relationship we need with children, with young people, that person should be out of the ministry immediately. So looking forward, I think there is no difference of opinion among the cardinals. Or among the bishops. Everyone I’ve spoken to feels anyone who would do this now — after we’ve passed through all this — is either sick, therefore should not be a priest, or defiant, and therefore should not be in the ministry.
Cardinal McCarrick is now Mr. McCarrick. He was defrocked for sex abuse last year. McCarrick was filthy, and there is evidence that high-level people in Rome knew he was filthy before he was made cardinal archbishop of Washington.
Last year there was intense controversy over Vatican diplomat Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò’s allegations that Rome had long known of McCarrick’s behavior — and that Benedict XVI had placed McCarrick on restriction, which the arrogant cardinal ignored with impunity. Viganò said that he personally told Pope Francis about McCarrick, but that made no difference. Francis brought McCarrick, a key ally, out of the cold, and put him to work as an envoy.
In one letter, McCarrick suggests the Vatican wanted to “avoid publicity” and thus kept the restrictions confidential.
The correspondence also shows that despite the restrictions, McCarrick gradually resumed traveling and playing prominent diplomatic roles under both Popes Benedict XVI and, to a greater extent, Francis, including talks with China that may have helped shape a controversial 2018 deal between Rome and Beijing over the appointment of bishops.
McCarrick’s activities were not carried on in secret, as he regularly wrote to Pope Francis between 2013 and 2017 to brief him on his trips and activities.
In the correspondence, McCarrick denies any sexual misconduct.
“I have never had sexual relations with anyone,” he wrote, but he does admit to “an unfortunate lack of judgment” in sharing his bed with seminarians in their twenties and thirties.
From an examination of the correspondence, which involves emails and private letters from McCarrick over the period 2008-2017, it appears that senior Church officials, including the Vatican’s Secretary of State under Pope Benedict XVI, the head of the Congregation for Bishops, and the pope’s ambassador in the U.S., were aware of the informal restrictions, and whatever their response may have been as McCarrick resumed his activities, it did not prevent him from doing so.
McCarrick also writes that he discussed the restrictions with Wuerl in 2008, saying Wuerl’s “help and understanding is, as always, a great help and fraternal support to me.” In a 2008 letter to the papal ambassador in the U.S., McCarrick said he had shared a Vatican letter outlining the restrictions with Wuerl.
Wuerl, who resigned as McCarrick’s successor as the Archbishop of Washington last October amid criticism in a Pennsylvania Grand Jury report of his handling of abuse cases as the Bishop of Pittsburgh, initially denied knowing of abuse charges against McCarrick until they became public in 2018, though in January he admitted to a “lapse in memory” with regard to one allegation that reached him in 2004.
In the subsequent sections, I present facts from correspondence that I hold relevant to questions still surrounding McCarrick. These facts show clearly that high-ranking prelates likely had knowledge of McCarrick’s actions and of restrictions imposed upon him during the pontificate of Benedict XVI. They also clearly show that these restrictions were not enforced even before the pontificate of Francis. It is not my place to judge to what extent the fault lies with the failure to impose canonical penalties, instead of mere restrictions, at the start, or with other Church leaders who later failed to expose McCarrick’s behavior and the impropriety of his continued public activity, and indeed may have encouraged it. My intention throughout this report is to present facts – not judgments or condemnation of anyone – for the protection of minors and vulnerable persons, the salvation of souls, and the good of the Church Universal. As a priest ordained by then Archbishop McCarrick and one who served him closely, I reflect often upon how much damage to the physical, psychological and spiritual lives of so many might have been avoided had the restrictions been made public and enforced as soon as they were imposed.
Neither Benedict nor Francis come off looking good here. There is written evidence from McCarrick himself that he was put on informal restriction. When he flouted the restrictions, nothing happened to him.
Pope Francis and then-Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick (Vatican Media/CNA)
Figueiredo seems to have been motivated by personal repentance. He was arrested in a drunk-driving accident last year, and indicates that he became addicted to alcohol. He has now embraced a life of sobriety. Whatever the monsignor’s motivations, the documents are judged to be authentic. He goes on:
It is clear that for far too long, a culture has existed in the Church that allowed those like McCarrick to continue their public activity after serious and even settled allegations had come to the attention of Church leaders. Moreover, it is all too evident that Cardinals, Archbishops, and Bishops – in their cover up – until quite recently have enjoyed the propitious benefit of a more “forgiving” and “lenient” standard of evaluation as compared to those applied to lower ranking clerics and religious. A double standard and non-independent accountability harm the credibility of Church leadership and impede efforts to reestablish fundamental trust in the Catholic clergy.
Speaking of re-establishing fundamental trust, the Vatican press office initially released a transcript of Francis’s May 21 interview, omitting the part where he said he’s not sure if he was told about McCarrick. The version the press office put out featured a flat denial by the Pope. Only when reporters questioned the press office did it release a corrected version, in which Francis said he wasn’t sure if Viganò told him about McCarrick, and just forgot about it.
In comments to LifeSite following the release of the interview, Archbishop Viganò said: “What the Pope said about not knowing anything is a lie. […] He pretends not to remember what I told him about McCarrick, and he pretends that it wasn’t him who asked me about McCarrick in the first place.”
In the May 28 interview, Alazraki presses Pope Francis further on whether or not he knew about former cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s misdeeds.
“I didn’t know anything about McCarrick, obviously, nothing, nothing,” he says. “I’ve said that several times, that I didn’t know, I had no idea.”
It’s unclear as to what Pope Francis is referring to when he says that he denied knowledge of McCarrick’s immoral activities on several occasions as his refusal to comment one way or another has been a particularly notable element of the scandal.
Pope Francis continues: “When [Archbishop Viganò] says that he spoke to me that day [on June 23, 2013], that he came … I don’t remember if he told me about this, whether it’s true or not, no idea! But you know that I didn’t know anything about McCarrick; otherwise I wouldn’t have kept quiet, right?”
Archbishop Viganò observed of this remark: “He tries to be clever, claiming that he doesn’t remember what I told him, when he was the one who asked me about McCarrick.”
Who has more credibility in this matter: Viganò or Francis? At this point, how is this even a serious question?!
Cardinal George Pell at the Vatican in 2015 (Paul Haring/CNS)
UPDATE: I want to add that this toxic climate of deception contributes to what I consider to be a true injustice against Cardinal George Pell, apparently railroaded by an Australian court on trumped-up abuse charges. I could be wrong about this, but it seems to me that Pell was made a scapegoat. I don’t say this because Pell is known as a conservative; I say it because this trial and conviction were so bizarre. See here for more details. Again, I might be wrong about this, but I believe that Cardinal Pell did not lie here, but his credibility was savaged because so many high-ranking churchmen did lie about abuse, and accepted public alibis that they knew to be lies.