Thomas Reese on Why McCarrick’s Gifts for Vatican Officials Expose Flaws in the Catholic Church

In this Nov. 14, 2011, file photo, then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick prays during the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ annual fall assembly in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

The Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a Jesuit priest, is a Senior Analyst at RNS. Previously he was a columnist at the National Catholic Reporter (2015-17) and an associate editor (1978-85) and editor in chief (1998-2005) at America magazine. He was also a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University (1985-98 & 2006-15) where he wrote Archbishop, A Flock of Shepherds, and Inside the Vatican. Earlier he worked as a lobbyist for tax reform. He has a doctorate in political science from the University of California Berkeley. He entered the Jesuits in 1962 and was ordained a priest in 1974 after receiving a M.Div from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. The views expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

In the Catholic Church, most scandals are about sex or money. The most recent scandal concerns both, where a sexual predator gave money to Vatican officials who were responsible for reviewing allegations against him.

“Ousted cardinal McCarrick gave more than $600,000 to fellow clerics, including two popes, records show,” announced the Dec. 26 headline in The Washington Post.

Theodore McCarrick, the former cardinal archbishop of Washington, D.C., was dismissed from the priesthood in 2018 because of his sexual abuse of minors and sexual harassment of seminarians. Records show that he was giving money to Vatican officials responsible for dealing with allegations against him during the time he was accused of harassing seminarians.

The gifts came from a special fund under McCarrick’s control beginning in 2001, when he became archbishop of Washington. He had a similar fund while archbishop of Newark, New Jersey, from 1986 to 2000, but the Archdiocese of Newark has not released any information.

The Washington Archdiocese told The Washington Post, “The funds in the account came from donations sent personally to Mr. McCarrick to direct in his sole discretion.”

For the most part, McCarrick used the $6 million in the fund for legitimate church ministries. It is no surprise that he gave $90,000 to St. John Paul II and $291,000 to Pope Benedict XVI. This money would have gone into the Vatican coffers or to the popes’ charities.

“Yet nearly 200 checks were sent to fellow clerics, including more than 60 archbishops and cardinals,” according to The Post. Whether this money eventually went to charity or to personal use was up to the discretion of the recipient.

Gifts he made to Vatican officials, however, raise questions about whether McCarrick’s donations were buying access or protection.

High officials in the Vatican receiving gifts included Cardinal Leonardo Sandri ($6,500) and Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo ($5,000). These gifts are problematic because these two knew of the accusations of sexual harassment against McCarrick. Montalvo, who died in 2006, was the pope’s representative or nuncio to the United States in the later years of John Paul II’s pontificate, and Sandri was a senior official in the Vatican Secretariat of State.

Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who served as secretary of state when McCarrick was promoted to Washington and made a cardinal, received $19,000 from 2002 to 2016. Sodano, age 92, was recently retired from his position as dean of the College of Cardinals.

The Rev. Boniface Ramsey, a teacher in the late 1980s and early 1990s at the Immaculate Conception Seminary in the Archdiocese of Newark, was shocked when McCarrick was appointed archbishop of Washington in 2000. After the announcement, he told Montalvo that McCarrick had pressured seminarians to sleep with him at his beach house in New Jersey.

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Source: Religion News Service