Cognoscenti Cognoscenti

Support the news

'The Halo Is Hopelessly Tarnished': Why The Sainthood Of John Paul II Should Be Rescinded 

John Paul II in Papua, Indonesia in January 1995.  (Francois Lochon/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
John Paul II in Papua, Indonesia in January 1995. (Francois Lochon/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

The Vatican fast-tracked Pope John Paul II for sainthood after his death in 2005. Let it move just as expeditiously to rescind that canonization.

No, the Catholic Church has never scratched a saint from its rolls. But it should do so now to signal that it is finally, firmly and once-and-for-all standing on the side of the victims of clergy sexual abuse.

A Vatican report this week confirmed that Pope John Paul II ignored repeated warnings about Theodore E. McCarrick, elevating the now defrocked cardinal-archbishop of Washington, D.C. to the highest ranks of the church despite credible accusations that he had molested children and sexually abused and harassed seminarians throughout his decades-long career.

In 1999, when McCarrick was being considered to lead the Archdiocese of New York, Cardinal John O’Connor of New York objected. In a six-page letter to the Vatican’s ambassador to the United States, O’Connor shared reports of McCarrick’s sexual assault of seminarians, some of whom were hospitalized suffering from the psychological fallout. “I regret that I would have to recommend very strongly against such promotion,” Cardinal O’Connor wrote in a warning that was shared with the pope.

The Vatican owes McCarrick’s victims more than [a] lame apology ...

One of those hospitalized priests was treated by Richard Fitzgibbons, a psychiatrist from Philadelphia, who met in Rome in 1997 with an official at the Congregation for Bishops to report that McCarrick had sexual assaulted his patient when he was a seminarian in 1985. It was, Fitzgibbons wrote in his formal complaint, “the most troubling history I have heard in over 20 years of practice as a psychiatrist.”

Fitzgibbons was not the only one to hear about McCarrick’s predatory behavior. It was an open secret. The 449-page report is replete with accounts of bishops who turned a deaf ear to victims and a blind eye to assaults by McCarrick that some of them witnessed themselves. They ignored letters from a New Jersey mother in the early 1980s who reported McCarrick’s inappropriate touching of her sons, his insistence that they call him “Uncle Ted” and the pressure he applied to have them join him for sleepovers at his beach house on the Jersey shore.

Cardinal O’Connor was so concerned about the complaints circulating about McCarrick, then the archbishop of Newark, that he and others in the church worried they might surface during Pope John Paul II’s 1995 visit to the United States.

Theodore McCarrick (C) greets Pope Francis (L) during Midday Prayer of the Divine with more than 300 U.S. Bishops at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle on September 23, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Jonathan Newton-Pool/Getty Images)
Theodore McCarrick (C) greets Pope Francis (L) during Midday Prayer of the Divine with more than 300 U.S. Bishops at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle on September 23, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Jonathan Newton-Pool/Getty Images)

Despite the damning accounts of McCarrick’s sexual predation, Pope John Paul II tossed aside O’Connor’s warnings and in 2000 elevated him to archbishop of Washington, D.C. and, a year later, to cardinal. The report suggested that American bishops had downplayed the “rumors” about McCarrick as a way of explaining Pope John Paul II’s inexcusable decision to accept his denial of wrongdoing without further inquiry.

The report, commissioned two years ago by Pope Francis, would have us believe that McCarrick’s friendship with the pope and his value to the Vatican as a prolific fundraiser did not influence Pope John Paul II’s decision to ignore the evidence.

“Overall, the record appears to show that although McCarrick’s fundraising skills were weighed heavily, they were not determinative with respect to major decisions made relating to McCarrick, including his appointment to Washington in 2000,” the report said.

Spare us. The Catholic Church long ago squandered whatever trust the faithful once had that it would confront honestly its complicity in the sexual crimes of its miscreant priests. This was a coverup of a high-ranking, rainmaking prelate, pure and simple.

If it can’t be accountable, it can at least not be absurd.

Although Pope Francis pledged that this investigation would “follow the path of truth wherever it may lead,” the report gives the current pontiff a pass, placing what blame it does assess on his predecessors, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II. Pope Benedict XVI did not remove McCarrick from his post in Washington until 2006 and Pope Francis did not defrock him until 2019.

The Vatican owes McCarrick’s victims more than the lame apology offered by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the church’s secretary of state, on Tuesday. “We publish the report with sorrow for the wounds that these events have caused,” he said, employing the passive voice lest anyone think the Vatican is truly taking responsibility for the coverup of crimes.

If it can’t be accountable, it can at least not be absurd. The halo is hopelessly tarnished. The Vatican needs to rescind Pope John Paul II’s sainthood.

Follow Cognoscenti on Facebook and Twitter.

Eileen McNamara Cognoscenti contributor
Eileen McNamara teaches journalism at Brandeis University. The author of a biography of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, she won a Pulitzer Prize as a columnist for The Boston Globe.

More…

Support the news