As a McCarrick verdict looms, the Vatican still faces rough waters

With just weeks to go, there is no clear statement—because there does not appear to be any clear vision—of the nature or the scope of the meeting of the world’s episcopal leadership on clerical sex abuse.

Pope Francis celebrates morning Mass in the chapel of his residence, the Domus Sanctae Marthae, at the Vatican Feb. 7, 2019. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

The world waits on tenterhooks for the announcement—expected, according to some sources, as early as Tuesday—of a verdict (and presumably a penal sentence) in the case of the disgraced former archbishop of Washington, DC, Theodore Edgar McCarrick.

That story will dominate headlines for a couple of days, at least, but the truth is: it doesn’t matter very much what Pope Francis decides to do with Uncle Ted. Where and how and in what state of life an 88-year-old pervert lives out his last days are less significant than what happens next.

Will he carry his secrets to the grave, or will he unburden himself? Will there be an investigation worth the name, into who knew what about McCarrick, and when, and where, and at what level of governance in the Church? Or will McCarrick be sent out into the desert as a scapegoat?

Patient and disciplined voices have grown strained, and some, strident. Usually as unimpeachably civil as she is forthright, Irish abuse-survivor and victim-advocate Marie Collins took to social media to lambaste McCarrick’s expected penal laicization, saying, “The Vatican believe [sic] it will be good publicity, convinced that ‘zero tolerance’ is being implemented when it is NOT and take the heat out of the questions about who knew and when — including the powers that be in the Vatican!” (the emphasis is Collins’).

Collins made her statement on Twitter as she retweeted John Allen’s latest analysis piece, in which the usually circumspect Crux editor bluntly stated, “If Francis and his advisers want the McCarrick case to be wrapped up before the summit later this month, therefore, just laicizing him won’t do the trick.” Allen went on to say, “They’ll also need to explain how we got to a point where such a move is necessary—and, of course, offer some reason to believe we won’t be here again.”

That essay followed one from February 7, which Allen closed by eviscerating the Pope’s attempts to deflate expectations surrounding the meeting of the heads of the world’s bishops’ conferences, on child protection: “Reasonable people likely would agree that expecting the pope to uphold his own public commitments hardly seems ‘inflated,’” Allen wrote. “In less than a month,” he concluded, “we’ll find out whether Francis thinks so too.”

Allen’s February 7 analysis was in one respect too generous to the powers at the Vatican.

“Twice now,” Allen wrote, “and with ascending levels of authority, we’ve been cautioned not to expect too much from the summit on clerical sexual abuse Pope Francis has called for Feb. 21-24 for the presidents of bishops’ conferences around the world.” That’s true, as far as the explicit warnings against expecting too much are concerned. However, the work to manage expectations began months ago, and has been transparently coordinated.

The fact is, the papal apparatchiks have been talking out of both sides of their mouths.

From one side, we hear, “[The February meeting] is a very important start of a global process which will take quite some time to perfect,” as Archbishop Charles Scicluna put it in an interview with America. From the other, we hear, “[T]his is not a ‘year-zero’ in the fight against abuse, because in the last 16 years many significant and concrete steps have been taken,” as Vatican Media’s editorial director, Andrea Tornielli, stated in a January 10 editorial for Vatican News. “The rules on how to respond have been established and strengthened by the will of recent popes,” Tornielli said.

“It’s important to note that by calling a global meeting he understands this to be a global issue, and he wants to reinforce our shared commitment as a church to establishing responsiveness, accountability, and transparency,” Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago—another senior member of the February meeting’s steering committee—told Crux in a November 23 interview.

Just today, the director of the Centre for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University, Father Hans Zöllner, SJ, told Crux, “[T]here can be no one-size-fits-all guideline for the whole Church, because our languages do not translate certain concepts, the law systems are completely different, the political and social situations are very diverse.”

That may be an academic point, since Pope Francis has already let it be known that new policy is not on the agenda at all.

There is no clear statement—because there does not appear to be any clear vision—of the nature or the scope of the meeting. The approach of the Vatican—and the Pope—has been almost completely opaque; this state of affairs may well serve the short-term purpose of so lowering expectations as to make any movement in any direction look like progress and provide the Vatican with the thinnest of pretexts for declaring the meeting successful.

Meanwhile, the reigning pontiff is personally implicated in the cover-up of gross immorality and other malfeasance—quite possibly criminal—allegedly committed by Gustavo Zanchetta, a man Francis made a bishop in his native Argentina. Francis quietly accepted Zanchetta’s resignation and created a position for him in a powerful department of the Roman Curia; it has been alleged that he did so after having seen evidence of Zanchetta’s misdeeds, which are said to include sexual impropriety with seminarians.

Before Pope Francis stands an ineluctable fact, with which he will have to reckon sooner or later: credibility—his own, and that of his office—is threatened not only by his heretofore disappointing record of leadership with regard to a crisis he largely inherited, but directly and immediately by his own involvement.

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About Christopher R. Altieri 239 Articles
Christopher R. Altieri is a journalist, editor and author of three books, including Reading the News Without Losing Your Faith (Catholic Truth Society, 2021). He is contributing editor to Catholic World Report.


  1. What Francis should be concerned about is the fact that an increasing number of orthodox Catholics view his pontificate as irrelevant and a hindrance to the mission of the Catholic Church. In the case of his pontificate, the jury returned a long time ago and the verdict wasn’t favorable.

  2. Laicizing McCarric, while necessary, is not enough. All priests who engaged in sexual abuse, and all Bishops and Cardinals who knew and covered up for them should be laicized as well; especially those who owe their positions to McCarrick’s network of influence.

    • Feb. 14th: So much emphasis is constantly placed on McCarrick – very little about active homosexual behavior in the Priesthood and even among some Bishops. And there needs to be an accounting of all those who enabled McCarrick knowing what he was doing just because he was such a great fund raiser. McCarrick has always been a sick man psychologically – those who enabled him engaged in a conscious abuse and manipulaton of McCarrick’s illness for their own agenda and they need to be held accountable! So much is being said about the upcoming summit being about abuse of minors – nothing about the rampant homosexual activity among some Bishops and some clergy.. if this is not addressed in a serious way then they summit will mean nothing.

  3. Pope Francis owes his ecclesial career to McCarrick and Danneels and Mahony and the global network of anti-Christ sex abusers and coverup artists that built this empire of sexual depravity and then engineered the election of their fellow collaborator Cardinal Bergoglio to cement the coverup of their criminal careers.

    The Lord will not be mocked by these lawless men, and The Lord has enabled them to expose themselves for what they are: fakes unworthy to be called shepherds. The anti-Church that they have built is a house of their own making, built on sand.

    The Lord will let their house be swept away…

    So ends the triumph of 2013, in open and utter disgrace, as it began in secret on the balcony in April, where the arch-coverup artist Cardinal Danneels stood with “his Pope” thinking he and his friends had conquered even Justice itself.

    Pray for these men…they are…as St. Paul declared…the most pitiful of all men.

    • When the Church was born, in the 1st Century, pedophilia and sex slavery were common. In the year 1500, Europe was the only area of the world where it was not legal. This was not due to European superiority, but it was due to the common belief system they had. Be careful whom you call antichrist – you will be judged by your words.

      • Mr. Smith:

        I believe I understand you correctly that you are saying I shouldn’t make such a big deal about Bishops committing and covering up homosexual abuse and predation, since it’s s natural phenomenon across time in the world.

        I certainly understand that Pope F is frustrated that “the stupid faithful” are unfairly accusing him and his pals, since so many of his pals are sex abusers and coverup artists, who don’t believe the Catholic faith, and reject anything Jesus and his apostles teach about chastity and purity.

        Pope F and his pals Danneels and Kasper and McCarrick are doing post-Christian theater, and the only thing that they have left that indicates being Catholic or Christian is their costumes.

        They have created their own post-Catholic cult feeding like parasites on The Church. They are life-long frauds, whose minds are darkened.

  4. And take heart – because Pope Francis has selected Cardinals at an unprecedented rate, 2-3 times faster than the Popes before 2013, so chances are, “the carnival” will go on.

  5. As the world perhaps awaits with tenterhooks most [the cognoscenti] will respond with a discouraged Yawn. Marie Collins [and apparently Altieri] has it right, that the Vatican feigns “‘zero tolerance’ is being implemented to take the heat out of questions about who knew and when including the Vatican!”. There’s a mountain of evidence too much to list here. Fr Hans Zöllner SJ sums up Papal strategy, “There can be no one-size-fits-all guideline [a now common theme]” for the Church because of cultural diversity. That is both rationale for sidestepping interactive seminarian priest prelate homosexuality and an actual important dynamic of the Vatican’s New Paradigmatic Shift from the Gospels. The trend is now fact. True to A Ivereigh’s rascality remarking long past that “The train has left the station”. Dither as to what’s happening is not an option. Like Marie Collins we must be true and brave.

  6. One sad thing after another, even with prayer and a good local parish I wonder how long our Mother Church can hold out when there is so much disease from within and without?

    • Feb. 14: Have courage for Our Lord promised that, despite many scandals, the Church, His Church, would go on until the end of time.

  7. The Argentine Media have reported that Gustavo Zanchetta, the former Bishop of Oran and a close collaborator of Pope Francis (who even acted as his confessor), is going to be charged with sexual abuse, with the case being referred to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

    The scandal and filth will keep piling up until the Pope either changes course and starts acting like a Shepherd to his flock (as opposed to protector of the wolves), or failing that he resigns and makes way for another Pontiff who will.

    • Francis will neither resign nor change course. He campaigned too long and hard for the job, and he is grievously wounded by the sin of pride. No, the faithful are going to have to simply wait him out, and permit nature to take its course. Not pleasant, but there it is.

  8. “It’s important to note that by calling a global meeting he understands this to be a global issue, and he wants to reinforce our shared commitment as a church to establishing responsiveness, accountability, and transparency,” pronounced Cardinal Blase Cupich in late November.

    And of the elusive “transparency”? Maybe it lies in the fact that Pope Francis really doesn’t think much of individual sexual sins compared to the other more global capital sins…

    From an interview with French writer Dominique Wolton (on Pope Francis’s book A Future of Faith, 2017) we find that: “There is a great danger for preachers, and it is that of condemning only the morality that is—pardon me—‘below the belt.’ But other sins that are more serious, hatred, envy, pride, vanity, killing another, taking a life… these are rarely mentioned….Sins of the flesh are the lightest sins.” (In more innocent times Pope Gregory agreed.)

    But, today, with the Sexual Revolution, we see that sins of the flesh are clearly a slippery-slope into all the other capital sins, even to routinely “killing another”—and to sloth which includes obtuse and sloppy theology. We even pretend to compartmentalize, isolate and rank the capital sins, all in clericalist step with broad-brush sociology and flesh-less spirituality.

    As a footnote to Pope Francis’s principle inserted into Evangelii Gaudium (2013), the whole is NOT always greater than the part—just as the hull of a ship is not greater than any hole below the waterline. Not so much a “rabbit hole,” or “below the belt,” the sexual abuse crisis is actually a global hole below the waterline in the barque of Peter.

    The flooding reaches into every compartment and level. Meanwhile, Cupich’s February conference rearranges the deck chairs.

  9. I hold this jesuit pope and his lieutenants in the lowest form of contempt.
    Never in my life have I ever thought I would feel this way. But it is so very true.

  10. Martin Luther visited Rome on pilgrimage. What he saw led to his writing and posting the 95 Theses.
    Rome might be a city with many saints but it is also a cesspool of lies, spiritual cirrhosis and great sin. Maybe Luther was right Rome is the New Babylon.
    Someone asked if we could parish pilgrimage to Rome. I said let’s not and say we did. Garish churches, sad history, bad leadership, and covered up sin can be found right here in America and it’s cheaper!

  11. Francis is like my crazy Italian uncle, never married, he never shuts up, messed up most of the things he touched and is more liberal than Hilary. Uncle Frankie is all about freedom to do whatever you want until you challenge or disagree with him. Then there’s hell to pay. How did things get so bad that he was elected?

  12. McCarrick’s former housemate Kevin “I saw nothing” Farrell JUST NAMED CAMERLENGO by PF. To me, this appointment speaks more than volumes.

    • Feb. 14th: It’s time the Catholic people all over the world stood up to publicly denounce Farrell and others like him…This must not stand!! Farrell needs to be thoroughly investigated…pray that this happens!

  13. Pope F has named the repulsive fraud Kevin Farrell to stage manage the next phony conclave for the abuser cult, the right hand man of the criminal abuser and money grubber Maciel, and “roommate” of “the great abuser” McCarrick.

    It’s a miracle!

    • Farrell was consecrated Bishop br McCarrick in 2002 and elevated to Cardinal by Pope Francis in 2016. Coincidence of dates and people? I think not!

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