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Tired of Vatican Stall, U.S. Bishops Open Investigation into McCarrick’s Sex Abuse

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, retired Archbishop of Washington, announced he was stepping down from the ministry Wednesday amid allegations of sexual abuse. File photo by Patrick D. McDermott/UPI
Patrick D. McDermott/UPI

The U.S. bishops conference (USCCB) is opening its own lay-led investigation into the serial homosexual abuse of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick after Pope Francis denied a request for a formal Vatican inquiry.

The online Catholic news site Crux announced Wednesday that the USCCB has will soon begin an investigation into the McCarrick case that will focus on the four dioceses in which McCarrick worked: New York, Metuchen, Newark, and Washington, D.C.

Unlike the Vatican, the USCCB does not have the canonical authority to require compliance with such an investigation, so it will depend on the voluntary cooperation of the four dioceses involved.

The president of the U.S. Bishops Conference (USCCB), Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, had made a formal request to the Vatican in mid-August to open a thorough investigation “to pursue the many questions surrounding Archbishop McCarrick.”

“On August 16th, I called for an Apostolic Visitation,” DiNardo wrote in a statement last month, “working in concert with a national lay commission granted independent authority, to seek the truth.”

DiNardo said that the recent 11-page report by the former papal nuncio to the United States, which contained multiple accusations against high-ranking prelates including the pope, could not be ignored.

“The recent letter of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò brings particular focus and urgency to this examination,” he said.

“The questions raised deserve answers that are conclusive and based on evidence,” he said. “Without those answers, innocent men may be tainted by false accusation and the guilty may be left to repeat sins of the past.”

When Rome delayed in acting on the bishops’ request, Cardinal DiNardo traveled to Rome to personally urge Francis to open the investigation. He did meet with the pope on September 13 to make his appeal but returned to the United States empty handed.

Crux said that according to “several sources,” the pope denied the bishops’ request and instead made a “counter-offer,” suggesting that the bishops go on a week-long silent retreat to pray.

Last week, New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan said he was growing “impatient” for the pope to respond to the request for a Vatican investigation.

Asked by a reporter why the Vatican still had not ordered an apostolic visitation, Dolan answered: “I tend to get as impatient as you obviously are, so I don’t know the answer to that.”

Dolan said that people have been asking him “how could a man continue to rise in the Church with a background like that?” which he called a “legitimate question.”

An “apostolic visitation from the Holy See that included lay professionals would be a particularly effective way” to get to the bottom of this, Dolan said. “We’ve proposed that to the Holy See and we wait.”

On September 19, the U.S. bishops announced a series of sweeping measures intended to streamline reporting of sexual abuse and ensure justice for victims.

“We humbly welcome and are grateful for the assistance of the whole people of God in holding us accountable,” said the statement of the bishops’ administrative committee, which went well beyond earlier actions that failed to address the specific responsibility of bishops in dealing with clerical sex abuse.

For the first time, the proposed measures also move beyond the sexual abuse of minors to include all forms of sexual abuse, harassment, and misconduct.

Spurred on by revelations of decades-long homosexual abuse by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, much of whose sexual misbehavior involved men who were not legally minors, the bishops’ statement extends the sort of abuse to be reported to include “sexual harassment of or misconduct with adults, including seminarians and priests.”

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