Well, it has finally happened:

Pope Francis and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith ordered this week the laicization of Theodore McCarrick, a former cardinal and archbishop emeritus of Washington, and a once powerful figure in ecclesiastical, diplomatic, and political circles in the U.S. and around the world.

The decision followed an administrative penal process conducted by the CDF, which found McCarrick guilty of “solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession, and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power,” according to a Feb. 16 Vatican communique.

The conviction was made following an “administrative penal process,” which is a much-abbreviated penal mechanism used in cases in which the evidence is so clear that a full trial is unnecessary.

Because Pope Francis personally approved the guilty verdict and the penalty of laicization, it is formally impossible for the decision to be appealed.


A Virginia man, James Grein, who has said McCarrick abused him for years, starting when he was 11, said in a statement on Saturday that “nothing can give me back my childhood and I have not taken any pleasure in testifying or discussing what happened to me.”

“With that said,” Grein wrote, “today I am happy that the Pope believed me. I am hopeful now I can pass through my anger for the last time. I hope that Cardinal McCarrick will no longer be able to use the power of Jesus’ Church to manipulate families and sexually abuse children.”

God bless James Grein and his courage.

I never thought I’d live to this day. I really did think McCarrick was going to go to his grave in cardinatial glory. Confident that senior leaders of the Catholic Church knew about “Uncle Ted” and his, um, affectionate nature, yet promoted him anyway, all the way to the elite circle of the Church — well, I figured the Vatican was too corrupt to reform itself. It took a couple of strong nudges last summer from The New York Times to get the ball rolling. Remember this one? Excerpt:

But while the church responded quickly to the allegation that Cardinal McCarrick had abused a child, some church officials knew for decades that the cardinal had been accused of sexually harassing and inappropriately touching adults, according to interviews and documents obtained by The New York Times.

Between 1994 and 2008, multiple reports about the cardinal’s transgressions with adult seminary students were made to American bishops, the pope’s representative in Washington and, finally, Pope Benedict XVI. Two New Jersey dioceses secretly paid settlements, in 2005 and 2007, to two men, one of whom was Mr. Ciolek, for allegations against the archbishop. All the while, Cardinal McCarrick played a prominent role publicizing the church’s new zero-tolerance policy against abusing children.

Recall that Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the former papal nuncio to the United States, publicly denounced McCarrick in a letter last August, and said that Francis was protecting him. Moreover:

Even in the tragic affair of McCarrick, Pope Francis’s behavior was no different. He knew from at least June 23, 2013 that McCarrick was a serial predator. Although he knew that he was a corrupt man, he covered for him to the bitter end; indeed, he made McCarrick’s advice his own, which was certainly not inspired by sound intentions and for love of the Church. It was only when he was forced by the report of the abuse of a minor, again on the basis of media attention, that he took action [regarding McCarrick] to save his image in the media.

Now in the United States a chorus of voices is rising especially from the lay faithful, and has recently been joined by several bishops and priests, asking that all those who, by their silence, covered up McCarrick’s criminal behavior, or who used him to advance their career or promote their intentions, ambitions and power in the Church, should resign.

But this will not be enough to heal the situation of extremely grave immoral behavior by the clergy: bishops and priests. A time of conversion and penance must be proclaimed. The virtue of chastity must be recovered in the clergy and in seminaries. Corruption in the misuse of the Church’s resources and of the offerings of the faithful must be fought against. The seriousness of homosexual behavior must be denounced. The homosexual networks present in the Church must be eradicated, as Janet Smith, Professor of Moral Theology at the Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, recently wrote. “The problem of clergy abuse,” she wrote, “cannot be resolved simply by the resignation of some bishops, and even less so by bureaucratic directives. The deeper problem lies in homosexual networks within the clergy which must be eradicated.” These homosexual networks, which are now widespread in many dioceses, seminaries, religious orders, etc., act under the concealment of secrecy and lies with the power of octopus tentacles, and strangle innocent victims and priestly vocations, and are strangling the entire Church.

In other words, laicizing McCarrick is only the first step. Now, his sinister road to the height of power in the Church must be exposed. There are powerful people — not only the Pope — who don’t want this to come to light:


The Pope might look good today for defrocking McCarrick, but don’t forget that his record on sex abuse is very spotty. This past week, the Wall Street Journal reported (paywall) on the once-close, now frosty relationship between Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley and the pontiff — a relationship that has cooled over Francis’s hesitation on church reform. Excerpt:

The dominant view in the Vatican was that the Americans were going too far in tackling sex abuse. When Cardinal O’Malley called for the world-wide adoption of the U.S. practice of publishing accused priests’ names, other Vatican officials privately condemned the practice as defamation.

The Vatican’s chief prosecutor for abuse cases, the Rev. Robert Geisinger, an American, gave a speech to canon lawyers in Indianapolis in late 2017 that emphasized the rights of accused priests and called for proportioning penalties. If elderly priests committed abuse long ago, tough punishment “opens a human and perhaps even moral question,” he said. He suggested that U.S. policies reflected political pressure, and noted that some people fabricate allegations.

In balancing toughness with the rights of the accused, the pendulum should swing back to the center, Father Geisinger said. Cardinal O’Malley wrote to the prosecutor’s superior, the head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office, to protest the speech.

On a trip to Chile in January 2018, the pope defended a local bishop accused of covering up sex abuse. The victims’ persistent allegations, he said, were “calumny” without proof.

Cardinal O’Malley issued a public statement criticizing the pope—an unusual action for any cardinal to take, let alone one so close to the pope. “It is understandable that Pope Francis’s statements yesterday…were a source of great pain for survivors of sexual abuse,” he said. “Words that convey the message ‘if you cannot prove your claims then you will not be believed’ abandon those who have suffered…to discreditable exile.”

The cardinal mitigated the chastisement by adding that Pope Francis was committed to zero tolerance of sex abuse. The pope, talking to reporters, seized on that part of the cardinal’s statement and thanked him for it.

The pope also repeated his view that allegations without evidence are “calumny,” and said the victims had never approached him.

The Associated Press soon reported that Cardinal O’Malley had handed the pope a detailed letter from a Chilean victim telling his story in 2015.

Meanwhile, abuse scandals are lighting up Argentina, the Pope’s homeland. Francis has to explain how Argentine Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta, appointed by him in 2013, resigned abruptly in 2017 amid allegations of sexual abuse, only to find himself moved by Francis to a position in the Roman curia. 

Pope Francis’s defenders are left flailing. Earlier this month, TV priest and Vatican communications team insider Father Thomas Rosica delivered a fierce broadside against Archbishop Viganò at a Cambridge University appearance — but Lifesite discovered that his speech was heavily plagiarized. Some in the liberal Catholic world are still muttering Team Francis’s preposterous lines about this crisis being a fabrication of rich right-wing American Catholics in concert with Viganò. The only ones who seem to believe this conspiracy theory are themselves.

Defrocking McCarrick was only the first step. Now, the network that helped McCarrick rise, and protected him throughout his career, must be exposed. The pope and the curia are going to have to be dragged kicking and screaming to do it.

Francis was hoping to clear the McCarrick mess off his plate in preparation for the upcoming Rome summit of the world’s leading bishops, which he called to sort out the Church’s response to sex abuse. But he didn’t count on a new book that’s going to drop on February 21, and which is sure to dominate coverage of the meeting.

The book, by gay French journalist Frederic Martel, is called In The Closet Of The Vatican in English, but it is being simultaneously published in eight languages. Its title outside of English-speaking countries: Sodom. 

Vatican City as Sodom. Imagine that.

The publisher is keeping the book under tight wraps, but Frank Bruni, a New York Times columnist, saw a copy, and is deeply concerned about what “right-wing homophobes” will do with its revelations. Excerpts:

I’m supposed to cheer, right? I’m an openly gay man. I’m a sometime church critic. Hooray for the exposure of hypocrisy in high places and the affirmation that some of our tormentors have tortured motives. Thank heaven for the challenge to their moral authority. Let the sun in. Let the truth out.

But I’m bothered and even a little scared. Whatever Martel’s intent, “In the Closet of the Vatican” may be less a constructive reckoning than a stockpile of ammunition for militant right-wing Catholics who already itch to conduct a witch hunt for gay priests, many of whom are exemplary — and chaste — servants of the church. Those same Catholics oppose sensible and necessary reforms, and will point to the book’s revelations as proof that the church is already too permissive and has lost its dignity and its way.


[Martel’s] tone doesn’t help. “The world I am discovering, with its 50 shades of gay, is beyond comprehension,” he writes. It will seem to some readers “a fairy tale.” He challenges the conventional wisdom that Pope Francis, who has detractors all around him, is “among the wolves,” clarifying, “It’s not quite true: he’s among the queens.” Maybe it’s better in the original French, but this language is at once profoundly silly and deeply offensive.

One more bit:

Part of my concern about the book is the timing of its release, which coincides precisely with an unprecedented meeting at the Vatican about sexual abuse in the church. For the first time, the pope has summoned the presidents of every Catholic bishops conference around the world to discuss this topic alone. But the book “is also bound to shift attention away from child abuse and onto gay priests in general, once again falsely conflating in people’s minds homosexuality and pedophilia,” said the Rev. James Martin, a best-selling Jesuit author, in a recent tweet. He’s right.

The book doesn’t equate them, and in fact makes the different, important point that the church’s culture of secrecy — a culture created in part by gay priests’ need to conceal who they are — works against the exposure of molesters who are guilty of crimes.

Whatever Martel’s motivations — and whatever his sins against good journalism (Bruni might be right about these; we’ll have to see when the book comes out) — there can be no doubt that this book demolishes what appears to have been the Vatican’s plan to keep the Rome summit focused solely on the sexual abuse of minors. The Martel book, as Bruni describes it, compels a look at the culture that sustains abuse of minors and of adults within the clerical state.

Bruni’s complaint that Martel focused only on Vatican figures who have sex with men, not with women, is weak sauce. The point of the book is not “sex in the Vatican,” but “gay sex in the Vatican.” Of which there is apparently quite a lot. As Archbishop Viganò has been saying. God knows how the Catholic Church is going to clean this mess up, and recover its moral authority with the faithful, not to mention the rest of the world. One doesn’t expect madams to clean up brothels.

UPDATE: One of you reminded me to point out that Pope Francis has named McCarrick protegé Cardinal Kevin Farrell as camerlengo, which is to say, the Vatican figure who manages the next papal conclave. If one were cynical, one might say that this appointment is meant to protect the network.

UPDATE.2: Reader Luc Lalongé reports that the French magazine Le Point has some advance coverage of the Martel book, which drops next week. This excerpt, from one of the magazine’s non-paywalled pieces, which I ran through Google Translate, indicates that it’s not just liberal Catholics who will be pained by the revelations:

If the truth hurts, then bring the pain. Get it all out there.

UPDATE.3: Crux has seen parts of the book, and writes:

Ahead of its release, Crux reviewed portions of the work, which, among its most scandalous claims, alleges Colombian Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, Pope John Paul II’s point man on marriage and family, had a “double life” with male prostitutes and affairs, alleges the two deceased “dubia” cardinals were gay, and that “this best kept secret of the Vatican is no secret to Pope Francis,” and it is the motivation for the pontiff regularly speaking out on hypocrisy.

While Martel, who is openly gay, fails to document what percentage of Vatican clergy are actively gay, and at times makes the distinction between those whom he believes are in-touch with their homosexuality but do not act on their orientation and those who do so, he maintains that “the world I am discovering, with its 50 shades of gay, is beyond comprehension,” and ultimately defines many of the power struggles inside the Church.


His most stinging critiques are focused on dominant figures in Pope John Paul II’s more than two decades-long papacy, including his right-hand men, polish prelate Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz and Cardinal Angelo Sodano, along with Father Marcial Maciel, the disgraced Mexican priest who founded the Legion of Christ and was later found guilty of facilitating a culture of abuse within the movement, in addition to having numerous affairs with both men and women.

Martel’s account of the John Paul era is a blend of both sexual and financial corruption, often entangled.

“The suitcases containing money were a gift only made possible under the pontificate of John Paul II,” he writes, describing Dziwisz and Sodano’s long tradition of bringing in “dirty money for good causes” that were used to promote anti-Communist and pro-marriage and family initiatives.

“Many cardinals around John Paul II in fact led a double life,” he concludes, describing his inner circle as “a ring of lust.”

Read the whole piece. 

It confirms for me that a) this book is going to be extremely important, and b) it’s also going to be extremely important to read it skeptically. The Crux writer says Martel claims that Ratzinger “liked to flirt”. Oh? That’s an extremely subjective interpretation, along the lines of the claim that Ratzinger must be gay because as pope, he brought back the custom of wearing red shoes. Look, I’m prepared to read that some of the Vatican figures I have admired, or at least thought were on the right side, were in fact frauds, but I am not prepared to believe anything this writer says about any figure, liberal or conservative, absent some real documentation. It sounds like he has amassed a lot of it, but again, it’s going to be necessary to separate his substantive claims from his gossipy ones. I mean, what does it mean to say that a Vatican figure is in touch with his homosexuality, but not gay? How would Martel know this? I suppose we’ll find out when we read the book.

UPDATE.4: Lee Podles, who wrote on of the most searing books about the scandal, comments:

I am waiting for my copy of Martel’s book to arrive.

In the meantime, one caution.

Active homosexual clerics who warn that homosexuality is wrong might not be hypocrites in the ordinary sense, any more than an alcoholic who condemns drunkenness is a hypocrite.

While sex is not quite as addictive as alcohol, it comes pretty close, and a person can condemn behavior that he himself is engaged in without lying. He knows what he is doing is wrong, but he feels helpless to stop doing it. “For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.”

The double lives of some clerics are disgraceful, but we all know how hard it is to lead a life of total integrity.