Why didn't journalists investigate McCarrick earlier? Because they thought conservatives were out to get him


Wow, they’re all coming out of the woodwork now. That is, cardinals and bishops who swear they knew nothing of the doings of now-former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

A bunch of pieces on McCarrick came out on Tuesday, including the suggestion that rumors about McCarrick were ignored by some journalists because they were seen as coming from Conservative Catholics.

I was wondering when issues of doctrine and even politics were going to enter this journalism story. More on this in a moment.

First, some interesting tidbits in Rocco Palmo’s “Whispers in the Loggia” blog. He said that, technically, the cardinal is now “Archbishop McCarrick,” as he has resigned from the College of Cardinals as of last Friday. I wrote about this Monday. (By the way, it was Palmo's Twitter account that showcased the stained glass window photo I have with this post. It's a window in a New Jersey church showing McCarrick as one of the bishops co-celebrating Mass with John Paul II during the pope's 1995 visit to the Giants stadium in New York.)

Palmo gets details no one else gets, including the following:

Archbishop McCarrick's precise whereabouts have remained tightly held since the June allegation was made public, when he was moved out of the Washington nursing home run by the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Weeks before the New York report was revealed -- knowing that it was to come, and already under pressure to keep a low profile at home -- the fallen cleric chose to make one final trip in active ministry: an early June pilgrimage to the shrine of Poland's Black Madonna at Czestochowa, where he marked the 60th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood.

The Catholic Standard’s laudatory May 18 piece is here. (The Standard is the archdiocesan newspaper). So what Palmo is saying is that McCarrick knew the ax was about to fall and that his free ride was over. So, he did one last overseas trip.

What must he have thought, knowing that he was about to lose everything? How could he, through a spokesperson when the news first came out June 20, say that he didn’t remember abusing anyone?

This curious lack of memory has emanated from other bishops. Nicole Winfield, the Associated Press’ Vatican correspondent scored an interview with Cardinal Kevin Farrell, who worked under McCarrick in the Washington archdiocese for a time.

The highest-ranking American at the Vatican insisted Tuesday he never knew or even suspected that his former boss, disgraced ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, allegedly sexually abused boys and adult seminarians, telling The Associated Press he is livid that he was kept in the dark because he would have done something about it.
Cardinal Kevin Farrell, head of the Vatican's family and laity office, spoke as the U.S. church hierarchy has come under fire from ordinary American Catholics outraged that McCarrick's misconduct with men was apparently an open secret in some U.S. church circles.

Dump the “apparently.” It was an open secret.

I’ve written elsewhere on this blog of my unsuccessful efforts from 2008-2011 to get this story out. I personally told a number of Catholics about what I knew and some of them had already heard similar rumors. People were whispering -- but not on the record.

Some of that outrage has been directed at Farrell, who was consecrated as a bishop by McCarrick in 2001 and served as his vicar general in the archdiocese of Washington until McCarrick's 2006 retirement. Some Catholic commentators have speculated that Farrell must have at least heard the rumors that Catholic laity, students and professors at Catholic University in Washington and even some journalists had heard.
Farrell lived with McCarrick and other priests and bishops in a converted school building off Dupont Circle that serves as a residence for Washington clergy. But Farrell said he never heard any rumors about his boss' penchant for young men, or suspected anything, and was not McCarrick's roommate, as some bloggers have claimed.

Fortunately the reporter doesn’t let the reader assume that this thing was totally under the wraps.

It was apparently no secret that McCarrick invited seminarians to his New Jersey beach house and into his bed, suggesting that some in the U.S. hierarchy knew of his abuse of power but turned a blind eye. Certainly the New Jersey bishops who handled the settlements in 2005 and 2007 would have known.

Other journalistic efforts out yesterday included this Wall Street Journal editorial by William McGurn suggesting that McCarrick has become the Harvey Weinstein of the Catholic Church. 

But clearly the most fascinating piece was done by the Washington Post’s Michelle Boorstein, who chronicled how McCarrick’s fundraising prowess earned him international claim in church circles and immunity from prosecution for various earlier indiscretions. There is a lot in this piece that is new, including how the cardinal would counsel certain prominent Catholics, such as Bing Crosby and the Patty Hearst family, then hit them up later for money.

Here comes the part about how politics in Catholic circles made many people -- including journalists -- dismiss the rumors about McCarrick. 

He was raising many millions for needy causes, from persecuted religious minorities in the Middle East to aid for immigrants to low-cost housing. He helped groups from the political right to left, from the Knights of Columbus to Catholic Relief Services. Although he also raised money for conservative causes, he was often viewed as left-leaning, primarily because he focused on causes such as alleviating poverty and supporting immigration rather than efforts against abortion and in support of Catholic views on sexuality.

I'd reword that to say McCarrick was considered liberal because of his refusal to sanction Catholic politicians such as Sen. John Kerry and former Secretary for Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius over their pro-choice stances. Kerry’s run for president in 2004 brought this issue to the fore.

It turns out that then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who was running the Vatican as Pope John Paul II was in the the last year of his life, had written a letter to U.S. bishops urging them to deny Communion to such politicians. The letter went to McCarrick and Bishop Wilton Gregory and McCarrick presented the letter to his fellow bishops at a June 2004 meeting near Denver.

But McCarrick lied about the contents of the letter, saying instead that it was up to each bishop whether or not to give Communion to such individuals. I wrote about this duplicity in a front page July 7, 2004, article in the Washington Times. (My byline was removed once I left the paper).

The result was enormous confusion among the U.S. bishops and presumably, outrage on the part of Ratzinger. Once the latter became pope in 2005, McCarrick’s days in the Washington see were numbered. Bishops are sometimes kept on for years after they reach the mandatory retirement age of 75; not so for McCarrick who was replaced by then-Pittsburgh Bishop Donald Wuerl one month before McCarrick’s 76th birthday.

So, the issue wasn’t just that McCarrick preferred social justice issues to pivotal church teachings on abortion and euthanasia. He went out of his way to block a Vatican directive on the issue and refused any public condemnation of Catholic politicians whose actions were clearly pro-abortion.

I don’t remember a ton of other journalists going after this story. McCarrick was so popular, all criticism of him was considered just naysaying by grouchy conservatives. The liberal National Catholic Reporter is –- amazingly -– still holding onto that view in an essay by Michael Sean Winters, who accused conservatives of distorting the scandal to discredit Pope Francis. He did add this interesting tidbit about a conversation he had with the Post way back when.

“ … one big reason that many did not believe the rumors surrounding McCarrick: The source of many of them was … the chancery in Lincoln, Nebraska. In 2001, when The Washington Post received a fax containing rumors about McCarrick and his beach house, the fax originated at the chancery in Lincoln. Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz was the bishop at the time and he hated McCarrick for other reasons.”

Winters knows about that fax because a Post reporter called him about it. In this column, he goes into more detail about that phone call, but he does not apologize for giving the reporter such bad advice. I'd like to know if this reporter only talked with Winters or if she tried a conservative source as well. 

Tuesday’s Post piece also alludes to why some in the media looked the other way.

It was also around this time (the early 2000s) that rumors about McCarrick and his treatment of seminarians seem to have spread further. Many of them were on a few conservative blogs, and contained anonymous, secondhand allegations that McCarrick had pressured young men studying to be priests to sleep in his bed. Some abuse watchdog sites published reports, as well.
But some Catholics who had heard the unsubstantiated rumors dismissed them as the product of church politics seeking to vilify those deemed too liberal. That remained the case in the following decade.
Someone whose organization honored McCarrick said they looked into the rumors. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because they didn’t want their work to be associated with the case.
“It sounded like disgruntled conservative Catholics. I didn’t give credence to the source,” the person said. “It seemed ideologically motivated.”

They looked into the rumors? Good heavens, the existence of the beach cottage was widely known at that point. The Vatican, through channels, had told McCarrick to get rid of it.

Certain reporters could not lay aside their biases against church conservatives to investigate whether there was a fire behind all the smoke. 

Journalism rule #1: Never, never assume that someone is crying wolf.

Journalism rule #2: Never assume the folks -- whose viewpoints you disagree with -- have nothing of value to say. 

I agree a lot of bishops are to blame for not bringing this mess to light a lot earlier. But so are the journalists who heard about this years ago and chose to do nothing.

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