The Vatican has presented its investigation report on ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Father Bernd Hagenkord explains that the report reveals ecclesiastical errors in dealing with abuse and shows that often "no real official investigation" was carried out.
Interviewer: What were the most surprising facts in this report?
Father Bernd Hagenkord SJ (longtime director of the German editorial office of Radio Vatican): Really little surprised me. Of course, I didn't know all the details, just like everyone else didn't either. I found it rather remarkable how much, so to speak, in a nutshell the complete abuse and handling drama within the church becomes visible. There it is about trust, there it is about the occupation of authority. There it is about the non-observance of procedures and in general the non-creation of procedures to follow up on that.
This shows a little bit like under a burning glass, how the church dealt with the field of sexual abuse/sexual violence in the past decades.
Interviewer: It was now also in it that already Pope John Paul II. knew these rumors. But McCarrick turned to the latter's private secretary, proclaimed his innocence and then became archbishop of Washington. Why then did John Paul II. since not followed up?
Hagenkord: I think the simple answer is: He sensed a campaign, as he knew it, from the communist dictatorship in Poland, where precisely also priests were actively degraded by the regime. But underneath that, of course, is the attitude that you believe someone. We bishops among ourselves. That's a bad way of putting it, but when someone says: I've never been in bed with someone, you believe it.
It's this attitude: without holding a trial, without looking into what's actually going on, what could be going on, you just believe the other person. That's a bit of this clerics-under-themselves attitude that has shown up, which has also contributed in large part to the silence, the looking away and the cover-up.
Interviewer: Benedict XVI. then virtually retired McCarrick after new reports from a victim and admonished him to lead a secluded life. This shows that these were not only bad rumors. Why did Benedict not have any further investigations carried out??
Hagenkord: I do not know. But it shows once again this lack of procedure, this lack of process. It was not really officially looked up. Instead, I guess, the report says, they did a little investigation like that. You asked a few people, but without really involving the victims there. Benedict XVI. believed then probably, a canonical process, thus a canonical procedure, we do not need – I speak to his conscience so to speak and try to get this out of the world in such a way.
Once again there was no procedure, no process, nothing verifiable, nothing transparent. This also led to the fact that it could not be cleared up for such a long time.
Interviewer: In fact, yes, it all got started by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, who was nuncio to Washington from 2011 to 2016 and wrote a letter to Pope Francis informing him of McCarrick's machinations. Vigano is spokesman for a radical conservative minority in the Curia. He already called on Francis to resign and keeps spreading various conspiracy theories. Was he right in the end then?
Hagenkord: The report talks about Vigano leaking things to the Pope or the Vatican, giving information. But what Vigano himself claims, there is no evidence for it at all. That's really just Vigano's assertion. The report itself found nothing that would support this in any way.
It has been proven that Pope Francis himself only learned about the whole story in 2017, four years after his election, because everyone in the Vatican believed it was under Benedict XVI. has already been dealt with. So I think it is a bit difficult. I don't think he's being proven right with the report, but rather that it shows once again how difficult it was within the Vatican to deal with such questions of authority and questions of truth.
Interviewer: So the Vatican is writing a clarion call about abuses within its own ranks. How credible is something like this actually?
Hagenkord: It is a step in the right direction. It is a step towards transparency. I think this report treads on a lot of people's toes. There would have been nothing like this ten years ago.
Of course, this is not an external report. Of course, this is not a report where really all details would be pursued externally without interests. But it is not a canonical process, not a process of canon law. It has already been conducted. Here it was really just a matter of finding out who knew what and when. And for that the report is very open.
The interview was conducted by Carsten Dopp.