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Vatican Report Shows Clerics Of All Ranks Were Covering Up A Sexual Predator

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The Vatican has issued an unprecedented report into the failings of bishops, cardinals and even popes in enabling a now-disgraced American cardinal to rise up the ranks of the Catholic Church. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports on how the case of Theodore McCarrick marks a reckoning for an institution known for its culture of secrecy.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: The report draws on documents and letters in Vatican and U.S. Catholic Church archives, as well as witness testimony. Rumors had long circulated about McCarrick's alleged misconduct, but it wasn't until 2018 that New York's dioceses announced it had found credible an allegation that McCarrick had sexually molested an altar boy in the early 1970s. News reports soon followed involving more accusations.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: His former Diocese of Metuchen in Newark, N.J., revealed settlements in 2005 and 2007 with former seminarians accusing McCarrick of sexual misconduct.

POGGIOLI: A Vatican inquiry found McCarrick guilty. And last year, Pope Francis defrocked him. Meanwhile, the Vatican was investigating how McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, had risen to the pinnacle of power in the U.S. Catholic Church. The report found that in years past, three of four unnamed bishops had provided inaccurate information about McCarrick's behavior.

It also quotes from a letter written by the late New York Cardinal John O'Connor to Pope John Paul II in 1999. The cardinal advised against appointing McCarrick archbishop of Washington because he was the subject of anonymous allegations, but John Paul ignored the advice.

The report implies that John Paul's experience with the secret police in communist Poland convinced him that allegations of sexual misconduct by priests were aimed at damaging the Catholic Church. The Vatican's report appears to put most of the blame on the Polish pope, who was proclaimed a saint in 2014.

Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.