Catholic University Students Response to the McCarrick Report

Image Courtesy of The Catholic Spirit

By Margaret Adams

On November 10, the Vatican released their report on Theodore McCarrick, who sexually abused minors, seminarians, and priests during his time as Cardinal of the Catholic Church. The two most surprising observations from the report are that Pope John Paul II had knowledge of McCarrick’s sexual abuse allegations before appointing him Archbishop of Washington and that both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis allowed McCarrick to continue his position because they trusted John Paul II’s judgement of McCarrick. 

The report revealed that John Paul II, who was canonized as a saint in 2014, was friends with McCarrick, and that he overlooked the allegations because McCarrick denied them. It was not until 2018, when Pope Francis requested his resignation that any action had been done to remove him.

The reactions to the report and shifted blame toward John Paul II had diverse reactions; John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, a Polish university, defended John Paul II by reminding Catholics of the step he took to spearhead the fight against abuse. 

“As early as 1993, John Paul II was pointing out to U.S. bishops that, in the case of sexual crimes, canonical punishments, including expulsion from the priesthood, were necessary and fully justified,” said their rector, Fr. Mirosław Kalinowski. 

Opposingly, Archbishop Gregory of Washington, who will be appointed a Cardinal in a month, pushed for transparency and was critical of church leadership.

“Those of us in leadership have too often failed to understand, to acknowledge, to respond to, and to prevent the damage done to our innocent faithful,  minors and adults,” Gregory said.

Gregory also explained how the focus should be on helping the survivors heal. 

“[The report] demands to be viewed through the eyes of the survivors and their loved ones without prejudice to where they may have first encountered Theodore McCarrick or where they may be today,” Gregory said.

“Those in charge of shepherding the flock of Christ should not abuse their ‘power,’ nor should they ever be put in a position to even do so,” said nursing major Anna Drapeu. “If there is a report of misconduct it has to be investigated and the priest must immediately be dealt with, whether that entails losing his priesthood or extensive therapy, etc.” 

Drapeau then spoke as a Catholic, conveying her disappointment in leadership, as well as her hope in healing.

“Obviously, it deeply saddens me and I’m horrified that not only did this occur but also that it was covered up,” Drapeau said.  “However, it also gives me hope that this will be a sort of wake up call to clergy and the surrounding community that spirituality and the beauty that is our faith is not something to be taken advantage of.” 

Justus DeCelles-Zwerneman emphasized the importance of keeping Pope John Paul II’s context in mind, in light of the report illustrating his culpability in appointing McCarrick to Cardinal and Bishop of Washington.

“The recently released McCarrick report should not change our perceptions of this great man one bit. Rather, we should keep in mind that Karol Wotijyla’s background lay in Communist Poland,” DeCelles-Zwerneman said. “The Communists laid false and wicked allegations of sexual abuse agaisnt proests as an exercisen anti-Catholic persecution. Any lack of action by John Paul II,assuming he did hear rumors of McCarrick’s heinous deeds,was the fruit of a deeply sympathetic skepticism at sexual abuse allegations against clergymen.” 

“The implications of this report to me are that sexual abuse and the coverups in the Catholic Church is a very serious issue, and that people we thought were model contributors to the church are, in fact, horribe individuals,” said sophomore marketing major Amanda Service. “I hope there will be justice for sexual abuse survivors, and that this report will encourage more people to come forward.”

Freshman Retreat team leader, Michelle Gallagher, said that the report sets an example for the rest of the church community. 

“I think this report sets a precedence of stark transparency for the clergy with its people,” Gallagher said. “I think it also provides Archdioceses with a sort of motivation to self-reflect in areas such as the one detailed in the report, and if need be, other areas as well.”

She also reminds her fellow Catholics to remember not to blame God for the atrocities the McCarrick has committed. 

“Several people wonder why God doesn’t prevent things from happening. It’s not that He can’t or doesn’t want to, it’s that if He did, He would be taking away our free will,” Gallagher said. 

The Vatican’s McCarrick report has stirred many Catholics’ opinions of Church leadership, but the focus should always be on the healing of the sexual abuse survivors. The report has hopefully set a precedent of transparency and honesty that the Catholic community can follow. Eventually, this can aid survivors in their healing, as well as the healing of the Church. 

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