Mgr Anthony Figuerido
I was not expecting a call from the former Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick on Christmas day last year.
After all, a few months earlier, I had made public correspondence relating to him that was in my possession as his personal secretary in the Archdiocese of Newark and during his many visits to Rome in my 19 years of ministry here.
Part of that correspondence revealed that he had shared his bed with priests and seminarians under his care. “I am sorry,” my former bishop and boss said on the phone, “for all the trouble that I have caused you.”
There is a cost to “follow the path of truth wherever it may lead.” These words, spoken by Pope Francis to victims of sexual abuse in Philadelphia on 27th September 2015, were reiterated in the Holy See communiqué of 6th October 2018, announcing an investigation “regarding the former Cardinal McCarrick, in order to ascertain all the relevant facts, to place them in their historical context and to evaluate them objectively.”
The reason and goal were stated in no uncertain terms: “Both abuse and its cover-up can no longer be tolerated, and nor is a different treatment for bishops who have committed or covered up abuse acceptable any more; it represents a form of clericalism.”
There were three factors that underlined my decision to make the facts known publicly. First, from the outset and realising the politicised nature of attacks against the Holy Father, I pledged my loyalty to Pope Francis in his ministry as the Successor of Peter.
Second, I was helped by the Holy Father’s motu proprio Vos Estis Lux Mundi of 7th May 2019, which made such reporting by a cleric obligatory.
Third, my conscience, dutifully informed, led me to act on the principle that it is an imperative to place in the public domain, at the right time and prudently, information that had not yet been able to come to light and impacts directly on allegations of criminal activity, and who knew what and when regarding even my former bishop and influential cardinal.
Indeed, I had attempted to share and discuss the extensive correspondence in my possession with pertinent bishops previously, but to no avail.
Transparency is costly, especially when it involves one’s own bishop or superior. Yet the duty is greater to assist the Church to create a culture of transparency in the face of the scourge of abuse and its cover up by the hierarchy.
Soon after my report was published, I was invited by the Holy See’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Parolin, to share all that I knew. It was a painful, yet liberating process of several weeks at the Holy Father’s residence, Domus Sanctae Marthae, in which I felt genuinely listened to and accompanied.
The resulting Report on the Holy See’s institutional knowledge and decision-making process related to former Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick, released 10 days ago, confirms what I revealed with persistence and at no small personal cost. High-ranking prelates did have knowledge of McCarrick’s actions and of restrictions imposed upon him during the pontificate of Benedict XVI. These restrictions were not enforced by those who had the authority and duty to do so.
It is now for the Holy Father to “follow the path of truth wherever it may lead” by issuing a just penalty upon those bishops responsible for their actions and omissions, as mandated by his own norms in Vos Estis. I pray that those implicated shall meet justice, and that they might accept it, so that they might also receive the eternal mercy of God. Only by satisfying both justice and mercy does Christ ensure that none should be lost.
By following this path, we also ensure the paramount safety of all who encounter Christ among us, especially minors and vulnerable persons.
As a priest ordained by the then Archbishop McCarrick and one who served him closely, I reflect painfully to this day upon how much damage to the physical, emotional and spiritual lives of so many – including McCarrick himself – might have been avoided had the restrictions been made public and enforced as soon as they were imposed.
To “follow the path of truth wherever it may lead” is not to condemn anyone by reason of association, nor to allow suspicion to deepen the divisions that already mar the Church, nor to ever employ knowledge of evil for personal or political gain.
Rather, its purpose is to purify the Church of abuse in every form – sexual abuse, abuse of power and abuse of conscience – that has rendered increasingly obscure its raison d’etre, which is the salvation of souls. The Church is in need of a new culture in which no victim, young or old, no priest or seminarian, no religious or superior, no bishop, nuncio or pope need fear to speak the truth, a culture in which each knows where to seek help and all are held accountable, a culture in which no secret sins can fester and no corruption mar the Church’s maternal care. Only by such humiliating transparency does the Church imitate her Lord and fulfil her vocation as the light of the world.
Monsignor Anthony Figueiredo has served in various capacities at the Vatican and as a Spiritual Director for over 20 years.
Photo: Cardinal McCarrick - Sanctions placed against him were never revealed, and not enforced.