What survivors and activists say to look for in the report.

Report will span three decades and three Popes linked to cover up .

The key question the report must answer:  When did John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis know about the abuse and what did they do about it?


DECEMBER 22, 2019.

In a recent meeting with Pope Francis several leaders of the US hierarchy indicated that the long delayed and potentially explosive results of a 13 month long Vatican investigation into three decades of cover up of the criminal conduct of  former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington DC is soon to be released, perhaps before Christmas or early January. 

It is no accident that the meeting came just days before the widely hailed Vatican announcement that Pope Francis had unilaterally changed centuries long church law and practice by abolishing all papal secrecy in sex abuse cases around the globe. This change, according to Vatican officials, is “revolutionary,” “epochal,” and a “momentous shift towards transparency“. 

But is it?

Francis has dramatically raised expectations of survivors around the world that the principle obstacle to justice – papal sanctioned and church sponsored secrecy in sex abuse – has ended. Again survivors are being promised that “this time” there will be real transparency and accountability, unlike “last time”. 

The cascade of revelations in the McCarrick case has been the most incontrovertible public demonstration of how sexual abuse and cover up is encased within the elite authority structure and hierarchy of a global church whose principle attributes in these cases are secrecy and money. More than anything else, it is the marriage of institutional secrecy and financial corruption, which seems to envelop the hierarchy, that is responsible for hundreds of thousands of children and vulnerable adults being harmed around the world are still in ministry, transferred or being concealed. It is why justice officials are routinely obstructed in properly investigating and prosecuting clerical offenders and complicit bishops. It is why global confidence and public trust of church leadership has plummeted. It is why, astonishingly, there is still no universal church law of zero tolerance. And it is why tens of millions of Catholics have abandoned the practice of their faith.  

At the top of the hierarchical and clerical pyramid of secrecy and financial is papal authority and papal secrecy.  Whoever was involved in McCarrick’s case those who bear the greatest responsibility for him are the three Popes and their respective Vatican administrations: John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis himself. 

Because he was a bishop and Cardinal, McCarrick had only one direct supervisor: the Pope. The report must explain how a known abuser under three Popes who had direct evidence of his abuse could rise effortlessly through the ranks of the hierarchy and pass every conceivable vetting process for hiring and promotion to eventually become a veritable Harvey Weinstein or Jeffery Epstein of the Catholic Church. 

Either directly or through direct reporting to the Vatican, each Pope knew or should have known of McCarrick’s abusive conduct of minors. This much we already know: as early as 1988 John Paul II, his papal secretary, Archbishop Stanizlaw Dziwisz, and his Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano were directly told by a victim of McCarrick’s that he had sexually assaulted him beginning at age 11. That victim was also abused after his reporting to the Pope. What happened with this direct report and all the dozens of subsequent and new reports and notifications concerning McCarrick that followed over the next 30 years? Those who knew of McCarrick’s abuse include virtually every senior Vatican officials besides Sodano in various administrations including but hardly limited to Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, former prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, former Vatican secretary of state, and Archbishops Pietro Sambi and Carlo Maria Vigano, former nuncios to the United States.

Last Friday, Pope Francis praised Sodano, who was directly involved in countless sex abuse cases throughout his long Vatican career at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Vatican Secretary of State and until Friday the Dean of the College of Cardinals. Why is Francis, inexplicably, in the same week he claims to abolish papal secrecy, praising the man who has been a staple of papal secrecy in some of the most notorious sex abuse cases in church history?  

Abolishing secrecy in Catholic church sex abuse cases must begin with this report, which means it must be accompanied by the full release of all materials obtained by the investigating team, including but not limited to: all interviews (such as the one that must have been conducted with senior church officials like Sodano); all internal church documents from the Vatican, US dioceses and the US Vatican embassy; transcripts of witness testimonies, interviews and affidavits; all diplomatic communications and, of course,  McCarrick’s complete laicization file. 

You can not claim to eliminate secrecy and then keep secret the evidence upon which you based your conclusions. Providing “summaries” and “interpretations” of evidence and testimony that cannot be directly examined or consulted is unacceptable.  

Because it was not independent or conducted by criminal justice officials, the investigation must convincingly overcome the inevitable and legitimate skepticism that its findings will be biased, designed to make excuses for “past behavior”, “inadequate knowledge” or a “learning curve” about rape and sexual assault. Since at least the mid-1980’s the American bishops were fully aware of the widespread sexual abuse by clerics in the US and that it was a serious felony crime in all fifty states. In the years that followed, they regularly engaged their overseers in Rome on this issue. This means the report cannot push the blame down the chain of command. 

Papal secrecy can no longer be deployed or cited in this report. Nor can “confidentiality” conveniently replace the word “papal secrecy” to perform the same function. The report must be fully transparent, contain complete documentation and supporting evidence, and excuse no one involved in covering up for McCarrick or failing to exercise their duty to properly supervise him — and that principally means John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis – who happen to have been his only supervisors. Finally, it must recommend sanctions and disciplinary measures against anyone who did. 

The report must, in other words, live up to the hype of last week’s announcement by Francis that secrecy is a thing of the past in sex abuse cases in the Catholic Church. Bishops and church officials will no longer be allowed to obstruct or impede governmental, judicial and civil investigations; victims will be given complete access to all records and church investigations concerning their abusers; the Pope and the hierarchy will now provide full transparency in sex abuse cases to Catholics and the public.  

In other words, survivors, Catholics in the US, and the global community fully expect this historic investigation and report to be nothing short of “epochal” and “revolutionary”, “transparent” and “momentous”. 


Peter Isely, ECA Founding Member

Email: peterisely@gmail.com

Tel: +1414.429.7259


Tim Law, President ECA USA/ECA Board Member

Email: timalaw@aol.com

Tel: +1206.412.0165


Dr. Denise Buchanan (ECA Founding/Board Member)

Email: denise@ecaglobal.org

Tel: +1310.980.2770

Ending Clergy Abuse (ECA) is a worldwide leadership organization of survivors of clergy abuse and human rights activists. Its mission is to compel the Roman Catholic Church to end clergy abuse, protect children, and seek justice for victims. ECA assembly members represent over 21 countries from 6 continents. https://www.ecaglobal.org @ENDCLERGYABUSEhttps://www.facebook.com/ENDCLERGYABUSE/   – contactus@ecaglobal.org