Despite McCarrick Abuse Claims, US State Department Leaves Questions Unanswered


By Kevin Jones

Former cardinal Theodore McCarrick made several overseas trips with the U.S. State Department, including some documented on Wikileaks, but a State Department spokesman avoided direct questions about whether his alleged sexual misconduct has prompted a review of his work under U.S. auspices.

“These are very serious allegations. We refer any questions about the ongoing investigations to the appropriate law enforcement authorities,” a State Department spokesman, speaking on background, told CNA Aug. 30.

“The United States condemns the abuse or exploitation of children wherever it exists, and we offer sincere condolences to victims,” the spokesman continued.

CNA had asked for information about McCarrick’s roles with the State Department, a summary of his trips, and whether the State Department is reviewing the trips for potential misconduct. The department was also asked whether it had any knowledge of misconduct or rumored misconduct by McCarrick and whether it had been informed of any Catholic disciplinary action taken against the former Archbishop of Washington.

McCarrick served in diplomatic roles for both the Holy See and the U.S. State Department. In November 1996, McCarrick was invited to serve on the U.S. Secretary of State’s Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad. From 1999 to 2001 he was a member of the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom.

In the year 2000, the U.S. Secretary of State recommended him for the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award, a recommendation approved by then-President Bill Clinton. At the award ceremony Dec. 6, 2000 Clinton said that two years prior he had sent McCarrick as one of his representatives on “a groundbreaking trip to discuss religious freedom with China’s leaders.”

“In tough places, where civilians are struggling to get out, chances are you will find Archbishop Theodore McCarrick working hard to get in and to help them,” Clinton said. “The litany of countries he has visited sounds more suited to a diplomat than an archbishop: the former Soviet Union, the Balkans, the countries devastated by Hurricane Mitch, East Timor, Ethiopia, Burundi, Cuba, Haiti, Colombia.”

The Archdiocese of New York’s June 2018 announcement of a credible accusation that McCarrick had abused a minor decades previously set in motion a wave of allegations about misconduct, including misconduct with seminarians. It is now known that Archbishop McCarrick was the subject of two legal settlements in 2005 and 2007 with men who said he sexually abused them while they were seminarians for the New Jersey dioceses he headed until his move to the Washington archdiocese in 2001.

McCarrick resigned from the College of Cardinals on July 27, the first American ever to do so, and Pope Francis ordered him to observe “a life of prayer and penance in seclusion” until the conclusion of the canonical process against him.

Questions about his alleged misconduct became even more controversial after Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the former apostolic nuncio to the U.S., released an 11-page statement charging that senior bishops and cardinals for more than a decade had been aware of the allegations of his misconduct against priests and seminarians. Archbishop Viganò also stated that, in either 2009 or 2010, Pope Benedict XVI imposed sanctions on McCarrick “similar to those now imposed upon him by Pope Francis” and that McCarrick was forbidden from traveling and speaking in public.

Most controversially, Archbishop Viganò alleges that Pope Francis acted to lift the restrictions on McCarrick shortly after his election as pope, in 2013. Viganò says that he met McCarrick in June 2013 and was told by the then-cardinal, “The pope received me yesterday, tomorrow I am going to China.” Vigano said he met with the pope the next day and told him there was a record of misconduct.

Whether these actions, and McCarrick’s record of abuse of adult men, were known to Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, the Holy See’s Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and Pope Francis is now an intense matter of debate.

In his statement Vigano said in 2014 he read in the Washington Times a front-page report on McCarrick’s State Department-backed trip to the Central African Republic. While Vigano did not name the story, a report about McCarrick’s visit by reporter Meredith Somers appeared in the Washington Times on April 17, 2014. Titled “No rest for the retired: Cardinal McCarrick on a mission for peace in Africa,” it says the trip was a humanitarian visit.

Vigano said he then wrote to Parolin asking if the sanctions were still in effect, but received no reply.

McCarrick, who was ordained a priest by the deeply influential Cardinal Francis Spellman of New York in 1958, has spent decades in global affairs.

His record can be tracked through various websites, such as Wikileaks’ Public Library of U.S. Diplomacy. This includes declassified sets of State Department cables from 1973 to 1976, 1978 and 1979, as well as a set of diplomatic cables ranging in date from 1966 to February 2010 that were anonymously leaked to Wikileaks.

The document sets are incomplete and even those which mention McCarrick do not necessarily show direct State Department collaboration.

The earliest cables mentioning McCarrick, from the U.S. mission to the United Nations in 1975, discuss McCarrick’s work as secretary to Cardinal Terence Cooke of New York to help bring thousands of Vietnamese orphans and abandoned children from Saigon area to the United States. The effort included collaboration with Catholic Relief Services.

Some year 2007 cables include reports from McCarick’s visit the Balkans at a time when Croatia was preparing to join NATO and the European Union. These cables discuss McCarrick’s advice to State Department officials and his outreach efforts to leading Croatian Cardinal Vinko Puljic of Sarajevo. Local State Department personnel were focused on support for a continued Bosnian Croat presence in Bosnia-Herzegovina, lest these ethnic Croats leave for Croatia and possibly destabilize relations among Bosnian and Serb peoples in the country.

A 2007 cable from the U.S. Embassy to Israel discusses the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land. According to the embassy, the council was founded in late 2006 “at the initiative of Cardinal McCarrick” and Tony P. Hall, the Rome-based U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Agencies for Food and Agriculture. The council, which aimed to help religions serve as a peace-building force in the region, had financial support from USAID and the Norwegian Government.

A July 2007 cable from Damascus, summarizing news sources, reported that McCarrick visited Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to discuss Iraqi refugees. He was joined by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of the Brooklyn Diocese.

Year 2009 cables discuss McCarrick as a potential resource in advancing U.S.-Indonesia interfaith dialogue, and also his long-time role in China.

In a 2009 visit to China, then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi conveyed McCarrick’s greetings to Bishop Aloysius Jin of Shanghai, a priest who was a leading Chinese Jesuit, then spent decades in prison on charges of aiding counterrevolution before his release in 1982. He was ordained an auxiliary bishop without Vatican approval in 1985, though he received Vatican recognition in 2005. The bishop said he and Cardinal McCarrick had exchanged visits “beginning when the latter was Bishop of Newark(sic.).” Pelosi said she would convey the bishop’s greetings back to Cardinals McCarrick and William Keeler, then an Archbishop emeritus of Baltimore.

In September 2011 McCarrick was part of a religious leaders’ delegation to Iran to secure the release of American hikers detained on accusations of espionage. A reference to this trip is made in the State Department website’s record of the emails of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a Sept. 12 email from then-U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice to Jacob J. Sullivan, Director of Policy Planning at the State Department. Sullivan forwarded to Clinton the email, in which Rice said that the delegation was fully expected to succeed.

While CNA had sought information on the State Department’s internal response to reports of McCarrick’s alleged misconduct, the department spokesperson instead discussed Catholic Church action and policy.

“We note that Pope Francis has committed the Church to ‘act decisively with regard to cases of sexual abuse, first of all by promoting measures for the protection of minors, as well as in offering assistance to those who have suffered abuse, and carrying out due proceedings against the guilty’.”

“The United States expects the Holy See fully to meet its obligations to criminal justice and to ensure full implementation of its reforms and policies designed to protect minors,” the spokesperson said. “We would refer you to U.S. law enforcement and church officials on the current state of those efforts.”

The spokesman also left unanswered CNA’s questions about current State Department policy in response to misconduct by someone in McCarrick’s roles.

McCarrick’s international work included a founding role at the Papal Foundation and service as a Catholic Relief Services board member from 2000 to 2014. He served on the relief agency’s Foundation Board from 2006 to 2018, when he was removed.

After McCarrick was suspended from active ministry in June 2018, Catholic Relief Services said it had recently completed a “thorough global review” and asked staff to report “any knowledge of previously unreported or unresolved allegations of misconduct.”

“There were a few issues that needed attention and have been addressed, but none of them were related to program visits,” the July 28 statement said, which noted that agency policy barred any visitors or CRS employees from being alone with children and program participants.

CNA sought additional comment from CRS, including clarification whether the review was implemented as a result of the McCarrick revelations, but did not receive a response by deadline.


The Catholic News Agency (CNA) has been, since 2004, one of the fastest growing Catholic news providers to the English speaking world. The Catholic News Agency takes much of its mission from its sister agency, ACI Prensa, which was founded in Lima, Peru, in 1980 by Fr. Adalbert Marie Mohm (†1986).

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