Photograph by Mindy Schauer / Digital First Media / Getty.

JANUARY 23, 2021.

Three Popes Enabled McCarrick’s Rise to Power Despite Well-Documented Evidence of His Serial Abuse of Seminarians and Minors.

On November 10, 2020, U.S. victims called on then President-elect Biden to respond. To date. No response.

In 1988, James Grein, a child victim of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, revealed the abuse to Pope John Paul II, telling him, “McCarrick has been abusing me since I was young.” In the room with John Paul II were the second and third most powerful Vatican officials, Italian Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican Secretary of State, and his personal secretary, now Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz. According to Grein, John Paul II, now a Catholic saint, responded with a blank stare and then absolved Grein of “his sins” and sent him on his way.

Thirty-two years since that 1988 encounter and after mountains of evidence from bishops, cardinals, experts and victims of McCarrick’s serial sexual abuse, the Vatican finally released a report in which they were forced to reveal that John Paul II and his two successors, one conservative and one liberal, were complicit in the cover-up of McCarrick’s abuse. This one case is no different than the thousands of cases of abuse and cover-up, with the exception being that the perpetrator was one of the wealthiest and highest-ranking Vatican officials in the United States – controlling millions of Catholic dollars. Today’s report conveniently omits Grein’s account entirely and acknowledges that McCarrick’s superstar fundraising skills were “weighed heavily,” but “were not determinative,” in decisions made by the Holy See to cover-up allegations of misconduct and continually promote a career sex offender.

The report – from the Vatican defense team – is certainly damning and shocking enough. Res iipsa loquitur – the thing speaks for itself. However, the complete truth will be told where it should be – in the U.S. courts, where civil cases against McCarrick are now proceeding. With those cases will come the rest of the documentation and depositions under oath by senior church officials, including Vatican officials Pope Benedict and Pope Francis. Now that Pope Francis has historically lifted papal secrecy in the Catholic Church, nothing bars U.S. attorneys and victims from expecting their full cooperation.

Three popes ignored well-documented allegations against former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick – allowing him to maintain his position as one of the most highly visible and powerful Catholic officials in the U.S. It speaks to an institutional failure to protect children and vulnerable adults from abuse.

The report demonstrates once again that it is only survivor advocacy and the presentation of evidence of abuse to U.S. law enforcement and the media that has forced the Vatican to act on the allegations – which were long available to both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis.

This is why on November 10, 2020, U.S. victims called for help from Catholic President-elect Joe Biden, releasing an open letter asking him to address this report and call upon the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to release the names of all known sex offender clerics and their files at next week’s annual conference. Additionally, survivors have demanded input in the selection of the next U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See as well as a commitment to convene a task force designed to investigate institutional sexual abuse and cover-up and eliminate inconsistencies in states’ approaches to the issue.

In Biden’s first year as President, twenty states’ attorneys general are due to release reports detailing the abuse and cover-up in their respective states. This includes New York and New Jersey where McCarrick abused children and vulnerable adults. These dioceses were basically exonerated in the Vatican’s report. It is doubtful that the U.S. investigations will match the Vatican’s conclusions.

The one ray of hope in this tale of corruption, abuse, power is the honest, but futile effort of late Cardinal John O’Connor of New York, who insisted to Pope John Paul II that he should not promote McCarrick to an even more powerful position in the Catholic hierarchy. At the time of O’Connor’s desperate appeal, not only had O’Connor definitively concluded that McCarrick was unfit, but Pope John Paul II himself knew directly from a victim for ten years that McCarrick was dangerous. In the interim, McCarrick had already been turned down for three promotions. But the personal relationship between McCarrick and the Pope, as well as McCarrick’s stellar fundraising, “outweighed” the danger he actively posed to children and seminarians.

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, to this day, continues to envelop the hierarchy around the world. Hundreds of thousands of children and vulnerable adults are still at risk. Perpetrators are still in ministry, being transferred and concealed – especially in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. There are Cardinal McCarricks in every country.


Peter Isely, ECA Founding Member
Tel: +1414.429.7259

Tim Law, President ECA USA/ECA Board Member
Tel: +1206.412.0165

Dr. Denise Buchanan (ECA Founding/Board Member)
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. – @ENDCLERGYABUSE