Let's try to leave Pope Francis out of the picture, for a moment.
Instead, ask this simple journalism question: What did Vatican officials know about ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick's sexual harassment of seminarians and when did they know it?
Pinning down specific dates is crucial, during the hurricane of allegations surrounding the blistering testimony (full text here) offered by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the Vatican's U.S. ambassador from 2011-2016. The key is confirming information about the network of cardinals and other church officials who promoted and defended McCarrick.
When trying to nail down this kind of detail, editors really -- repeat REALLY -- like it when reporters find hard evidence to back up their sources. Yes, dated letters fit the bill.
With that in mind, let's discuss a major development in the McCarrick case that may, or may not, have surfaced in your news feed -- at least in a place where you could find it.
The key date (at least, at this point): 2000.
Let's start with a flashback to the bombshell July 16 report in The New York Times ("He Preyed on Men Who Wanted to Be Priests. Then He Became a Cardinal."). In many ways, this was the story that created the current media storm. Toward the end, there is this significant passage:
In 2000, Pope John Paul II promoted Archbishop McCarrick to lead the Archdiocese of Washington D.C., one of the most prestigious posts in the Catholic Church in America. He was elevated to cardinal three months later.
At least one priest warned the Vatican against the appointment. The Rev. Boniface Ramsey said that when he was on the faculty at the Immaculate Conception Seminary at Seton Hall University in New Jersey from 1986 to 1996, he was told by seminarians about Archbishop McCarrick’s sexual abuse at the beach house. When Archbishop McCarrick was appointed to Washington, Father Ramsey spoke by phone with the pope’s representative in the nation’s capital, Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, the papal nuncio, and at his encouragement sent a letter to the Vatican about Archbishop McCarrick’s history.
So would it be a big story -- something bigger than a wire-service report buried inside a newspaper -- if confirmation of this letter surfaced, offering hard evidence of a key detail in the Vigano testimony?
It would appear not, judging by Internet searches over the weekend.
Once again, it's crucial for news consumers to pay attention to Catholic media in order to follow the big, hard-news developments in this global story. In this case, we are talking about Catholic News Service:
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A top official from the Vatican Secretariat of State acknowledged allegations made by a New York priest in 2000 concerning Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick, according to a letter obtained by Catholic News Service.
Father Boniface Ramsey, pastor of St. Joseph’s Church Yorkville in New York City, told CNS Sept. 7 that he received the letter dated Oct. 11, 2006, from then-Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, the former Vatican substitute for general affairs, asking for information regarding a priest of the Archdiocese of Newark who studied at Immaculate Conception Seminary and was being vetted for a post at a Vatican office. He made the letter available to CNS.
Then-Archbishop Sandri wrote to Father Ramsey, “I ask with particular reference to the serious matters involving some of the students of the Immaculate Conception Seminary, which in November 2000 you were good enough to bring confidentially to the attention of the then Apostolic Nuncio in the United States, the late Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo.”
At this point, copies of the Sandri letter is all over the place -- except in prominent locations in major American media. Click here for the National Catholic Register report on this development.
The crucial point, of course, is that this letter confirms an important date on the timeline of information about Rome's knowledge of allegations against McCarrick.
Now, what about the Vigano allegations that the Vatican received a detailed folder of materials about McCarrick's activities? As your GetReligionistas keep saying: Documents, documents, documents.
So has this letter received major coverage? Well, the Associated Press did do a follow story about the Catholic News Service information. This may or may not have been given a "brief" deep inside your local newspaper. Here's the top of that:
VATICAN CITY (AP) -- A 2006 letter from a top Vatican official confirms that the Holy See received information in 2000 about the sexual misconduct of now-resigned U.S. cardinal, lending credibility to bombshell accusations of a cover-up at the highest echelons of the Roman Catholic Church.
Catholic News Service, the news agency of the U.S. bishops’ conference, published the letter Friday from then-Archbishop Leonardo Sandri to the Rev. Boniface Ramsay, a New York priest who made the initial allegation.
Ramsay informed the Vatican in a November 2000 letter about then Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s misconduct with seminarians from Seton Hall University’s Immaculate Conception Seminary.
CNN.com published did a follow story and added an interesting word to the lede:
(CNN) A letter from a top Vatican official appears to acknowledge that the Holy See knew about sexual abuse allegations against former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick for at least several months before he was elevated to cardinal in 2001.
Well, it "appears" that this wasn't all that important a story.
Once again, it's important to stress that the New York Times, nearly two months ago, kicked down the door on this topic. Now we have a key document confirming an important detail in that Times McCarrick #ChurchToo story about the sexual harassment and abuse of seminarians. Time for a sequel?