ROME – Correspondence obtained by Crux from an ex-aide to Theodore McCarrick, the former cardinal laicized over charges of sexual misconduct and abuse, confirms that restrictions on McCarrick were imposed by the Vatican in 2008. McCarrick also claims that Cardinal Donald Wuerl, then the Archbishop of Washington, was aware of them and involved in conversations about their implementation.
Though the details of those restrictions have never been made public, the correspondence shows McCarrick promising not to travel without express Vatican permission and to resign from all roles at the Vatican and within the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), while contesting an instruction to stop coming to Rome.
In one letter, McCarrick suggests the Vatican wanted to “avoid publicity” and thus kept the restrictions confidential.
The correspondence also shows that despite the restrictions, McCarrick gradually resumed traveling and playing prominent diplomatic roles under both Popes Benedict XVI and, to a greater extent, Francis, including talks with China that may have helped shape a controversial 2018 deal between Rome and Beijing over the appointment of bishops.
McCarrick’s activities were not carried on in secret, as he regularly wrote to Pope Francis between 2013 and 2017 to brief him on his trips and activities.
In the correspondence, McCarrick denies any sexual misconduct.
“I have never had sexual relations with anyone,” he wrote, but he does admit to “an unfortunate lack of judgment” in sharing his bed with seminarians in their twenties and thirties.
“As the problems of sexual abuse began to surface, I realized this was imprudent and stupid and it stopped,” he wrote in a 2008 letter to a senior Vatican official.
From an examination of the correspondence, which involves emails and private letters from McCarrick over the period 2008-2017, it appears that senior Church officials, including the Vatican’s Secretary of State under Pope Benedict XVI, the head of the Congregation for Bishops, and the pope’s ambassador in the U.S., were aware of the informal restrictions, and whatever their response may have been as McCarrick resumed his activities, it did not prevent him from doing so.
McCarrick also writes that he discussed the restrictions with Wuerl in 2008, saying Wuerl’s “help and understanding is, as always, a great help and fraternal support to me.” In a 2008 letter to the papal ambassador in the U.S., McCarrick said he had shared a Vatican letter outlining the restrictions with Wuerl.
Wuerl, who resigned as McCarrick’s successor as the Archbishop of Washington last October amid criticism in a Pennsylvania Grand Jury report of his handling of abuse cases as the Bishop of Pittsburgh, initially denied knowing of abuse charges against McCarrick until they became public in 2018, though in January he admitted to a “lapse in memory” with regard to one allegation that reached him in 2004.
Reached by Crux for comment, a spokesman for Wuerl said that despite what McCarrick wrote, Wuerl was not aware of any Vatican action.
“Cardinal Wuerl has previously stated – and he reiterates again – that he was not aware of any imposition of sanctions or restrictions related to any claim of abuse or inappropriate activity by Theodore McCarrick,” the spokesman said.
“Based on descriptions, none of the documents released today explicitly indicate that Cardinal Wuerl had any such knowledge,” he said.
The correspondence was provided to Crux by American Monsignor Anthony Figueiredo, a priest of Newark, N.J., who was ordained by McCarrick in 1994, served as his personal secretary from September 1994 to June 1995, and later acted as a go-between and personal aide during McCarrick’s multiple visits to Rome over a 19-year period.
Figueiredo, who served in a variety of capacities during his years in Rome, was involved in a scandal himself in October 2018 when he was arrested for drunk driving in the U.K. after hitting a car driven by a pregnant woman. He pled guilty to driving while intoxicated and his license was suspended.
Figueiredo now says he’s receiving treatment that’s allowed him to “embrace a life of sobriety.”
The former McCarrick aide has prepared a 10-page report based on correspondence he collected over the years and plans to make the original documents available on a web site. Crux asked a cyber-security expert to evaluate the emails and other messages, who found that the emails did originate from McCarrick’s personal account.
News of the correspondence is being simultaneously published by Crux and by CBS.
Discussions of the Vatican’s role in the McCarrick scandals has become politicized since release last August of a bombshell statement from Italian Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, a former papal envoy in the U.S., alleging that Francis covered up complaints against McCarrick and suggesting that the pontiff should resign.
Figueiredo, however, has pledged his “complete loyalty” to Francis and insists that his motives for making the correspondence public are moral rather than political.
“As a priest ordained by then-Archbishop McCarrick and one who served him closely, I reflect often upon how much damage to the physical, psychological and spiritual lives of so many might have been avoided had the restrictions been made public and enforced as soon as they were imposed,” Figueiredo writes.
In an August 25, 2008, letter to the late Italian Archbishop Pietro Sambi, at the time the papal representative in the United States, McCarrick said he was “ready to accept the Holy Father’s will in my regard,” and addressed the canceling of pre-arranged talks and the Vatican’s request that he move to either a monastery or a hospice.
Such a move, he argued, would cause “great admiration,” with the italics coming in the original.
McCarrick warned that his new situation would give rise to impressions he was being “sidelined” by Rome, and “the resulting publicity would be precisely what Cardinal Re is hoping to avoid.”
Italian Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re was then head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops. From the email exchange, it seems Re had sent a letter to McCarrick via Sambi in which his restrictions were spelled out. From McCarrick’s email exchanges, it seems likely there’s a copy of that letter both in the Congregation for Bishops in Rome and the papal embassy in Washington.
A week later, McCarrick drafted a letter to Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s Secretary of State at the time, in which he claims that the allegations made against him come from “enemies” he’s made through the years for being a man of the “center” which he claims offended both liberals and conservatives.
He acknowledged having shared his bed with seminarians. He also said that “this was never done in secret or behind closed doors,” and that he’s never “had sexual relations with anyone, man, woman or child, nor have I ever sought such acts.”
McCarrick also wrote that Re is “concerned about the good of the Church” and insists he is too. For this reason, McCarrick said he was willing to decline any further invitations to give talks but that he would keep the engagements already on his calendar, as cancelling would require explanation.
He asked Figueiredo to translate the letter, but the priest said it’s unclear if the letter ever reached Bertone.
In an October 2008 email to Figueiredo, McCarrick wrote that Re had banned him from making public appearances without his permission and instructed him to resign from all positions he held, both in Rome and with the USCCB.
Re had also banned McCarrick from travelling to the Eternal City, a decision he appealed.
McCarrick argued that as a cardinal, he was also a priest of Rome and wanted to be able to greet the pope and receive his blessing. In addition, he wrote that he hoped to “stay active, quietly and without fanfare” in working for peace in the Holy Land, in Muslim-Christian dialogue and working for the poor.
“In these journeys, I always touch base with the nuncios so the Cardinal will always know where I am,” McCarrick said.
McCarrick also writes that if Re “is unyielding in his prohibitions,” he would reach out to Bertone to get an audience with Pope Benedict.
Several subsequent emails show that McCarrick increasingly disregarded the restrictions, travelling to Rome twice in 2009 and once in 2010, when he met Pope Benedict XVI “after more than two years.”
In 2012, he was in Doha, Ireland, Beirut, Jordan, Egypt, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Hong Kong, the Holy Land and Belarus.
His travels accelerated with the election of Pope Francis. Emails to Figueiredo show that McCarrick traveled around the globe on behalf of the Church, having direct engagement with high-ranking Church officials and government leaders in China, Central Asia, Cyprus, the Balkans, the Middle East, Lebanon, Morocco, Iraq, Iran, Kurdistan and the Philippines.
After initially having denied knowing about the allegations against McCarrick, in mid-January Wuerl sent a letter to the priests of the Washington archdiocese saying he’d had a “lapse of memory,” clarifying that he knew of at least one abuse allegation.
In the letter, Wuerl acknowledged that he received a report in 2004 about a different case, but the “survivor also indicated that he had observed and experienced ‘inappropriate conduct’ by then-Bishop McCarrick.”
Three days earlier, Wuerl had sent a letter to his priests saying that when the “allegation of sexual abuse of a minor was brought against Archbishop McCarrick, I stated publicly that I was never aware of any such allegation or rumors.” The context, he said, was discussion of the sexual abuse of minors, not adults.
The correspondence obtained by Crux suggests that Wuerl was involved in the application of the restrictions against McCarrick, and that his predecessor personally made sure he was kept up to date.
In his 2008 letter to Sambi, McCarrick says he’s spoken about his next steps with Wuerl, whose “help and understanding is, as always, a great help and fraternal support to me.” McCarrick also writes that he showed Re’s letter to Wuerl.
He also writes that Wuerl was helping him with relocation to a new residence.
Similarly, McCarrick asked Figueiredo to give a copy of the letter he sent to Re challenging his decision to Wuerl, to make sure he was informed. At the time, Wuerl was headed to Rome himself to take part in a Synod of Bishops on The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church.
McCarrick and China
As McCarrick resumed his travel and diplomatic activity in the late Benedict XVI years and under Francis, one area of special focus was China.
Although nothing in the emails and letters examined by Crux directly proves that McCarrick had a hand in a controversial September 2018 deal between Beijing and Rome over the appointment of bishops, the record is nevertheless suggestive.
In a November 2013 letter to Francis, McCarrick refers to his involvement on China.
“I have put off my return trip to China and I will make sure that I speak to Archbishop Parolin before I go the next time,” he wrote, referring to Pietro Parolin, whom Francis had named as the Vatican’s Secretary of State and in effect his top aide the month before.
“He has been a great expert in that field and I would hope to have his counsel before I go again to that complex land,” McCarrick wrote.
A year later, in November 2014, McCarrick wrote Figueiredo to say he’d be leaving for China from Rome on Thanksgiving evening and returning Dec. 1. He also thanked Figueiredo for his “recent help,” saying, “it may have made a great difference in our China policy.”
McCarrick told Figueiredo “I am sure that Cardinal Parolin would see me” during an upcoming Rome stay, “since he is involved with my China trip.”
In September 2015, shortly after Francis visited the United States, McCarrick wrote again.
“When you greeted me so cheerfully in Washington as an adjunct member of the foreign service, I received that as a challenge to continue as an amateur in the very noble work of the foreign relations of the Holy See. I have maintained on a quiet level our relationship with China,” he told the pope.
In January 2016, McCarrick wrote Francis again.
“I have not been back to China since the fall but I have received some indication to continue with conversations with some of the leaders of that great country,” he told the pope. “I have always been in touch with Cardinal Parolin and his staff and I believe that they are peaceful with my continuing to foster another channel for possible future discussions.”
One month later, he sent an email to Figueiredo.
“I returned to DC on a Tuesday evening and flew to Beijing the Thursday morning, returning to DC two days later,” McCarrick said. “The reason for the China trip was an invitation by the son of a former Communist Party General Secretary who is still very close to [President] Xi [Jinping].”
In March 2016, he sent another email to Figueiredo after a trip to Rome.
“My visit was so very helpful and it looks as if the two projects – China and Islam – continue to move slowly forward,” McCarrick wrote. “I will try to be in contact with Cardinal Turkson and Cardinal Parolin to check on the progress of the planned meeting with the Chinese. I always have the fear that it will be placed on a low priority level and we will lose another good chance to do something positive.”
In the same month, McCarrick sent a personal letter to his Rome aide, suggesting he was involved in brokering a meeting with the pope for a senior Chinese official.
“I have written a personal letter to Mr. Hu, who is the Chinese contact, and to Cardinals Parolin and Turkson about his possible visit. The Vatican seems to be interested in pursuing this and I really cannot see any problem with it as it is specifically to discuss ecology and the concerns that both China and the Holy See – and many others around the world – see with regard to the future,” McCarrick said.
The reference was to Hu Deping, a senior Chinese politician who’s seen as a close friend of Xi.
In January 2017, McCarrick again briefed the pope.
“I have received another request to come back and continue the discussions which were opened at the time of the visit of the different Chinese delegations to Rome in the last few months. I was able to go to Beijing about a week ago and spent about five or six days there,” he wrote.
“I saw Minister Hu, who is the leading voice in the conversations of the Laudato si’ and other officials who had the privilege of meeting Your Holiness, and some of the officials of the Vatican on a couple of occasions during the past six months.”
“All the conversations were very friendly and productive and indicated a continued desire on the part of the Chinese Government to maintain discussions with Your Holiness and the Holy See,” McCarrick wrote.
Fairbanks and Weigel
The correspondence obtained by Crux also illustrates other attempts by McCarrick to exercise influence on Pope Francis, with varying results.
In a November 2013 letter to the pope, McCarrick attempted to have a friend and priest of the Newark, N.J. archdiocese which McCarrick led from 1986 to 2000, Monsignor Robert Fuhrman, appointed as the bishop of Fairbanks, Alaska.
“The Church of Fairbanks, Alaska – the only American diocese dependent on the Propagation of the Faith – is open since the transfer of its Bishop to a continental diocese,” McCarrick wrote. The reference was to the September 2013 transfer of Bishop Donald Kettler to Saint Cloud, Minnesota.
“I am not sure there will be many people looking to go to that very cold and faraway area in the north of Alaska, but I do have a real candidate and have written to Archbishop Viganò about him,” McCarrick wrote. At the time, Viganò was the Vatican ambassador in the U.S., with a lead role in the selection of American bishops.
Fuhrman has long been active in the Pontifical Mission Societies, a global network supporting the Church’s missionary activities.
“He is a priest of Newark who had been my secretary years ago,” McCarrick wrote. “He would be an excellent bishop in that area, filled with zeal for the mission and with both pastoral and organizational ability.”
In the end, Chad Zielinski, who hails from the Archdiocese of Detroit, was named Bishop of Fairbanks instead in November 2014. Fuhrman remains a pastor at St. Philomena Catholic Church in Livingston, N.J.
On another front, McCarrick also appears to have attempted to influence the selection of the American ambassador to the Vatican under President Donald Trump.
In a January 27, 2017, letter to Francis, McCarrick mentions rumors that the Trump administration might be considering naming George Weigel, a noted Catholic commentator and biographer of St. Pope John Paul II, to the ambassador’s role.
“There were rumors here in Washington that the new U.S. government had submitted a request for an agrement for a new U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See,” McCarrick wrote, using the formal French term in international diplomacy for an understanding between two parties.
“One of the names that was mentioned was that of George Weigel,” McCarrick wrote. “A prominent Catholic voice in the United States and one of the biographers of St. John Paul II. He is very much a leader of the ultra-conservative wing of the Catholic Church in the United States and has been publicly critical of Your Holiness in the past,” he wrote.
“Many of us American bishops would have great concerns about his being named to such a position in which he would have an official voice, in opposition to your teaching,” McCarrick told the pope.
“I would be happy to discuss this with you and also with the high officials of the Curia,” he wrote.
There’s no indication in the correspondence of whether such conversations ever took place. In the end, Trump nominated Callista Gingrich, wife of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, to be the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See in May 2017. She was confirmed by the Senate in October 2017 and presented her credentials to Francis two months later.
In early October 2018, the Vatican released a statement saying Francis had ordered a “thorough study” of its archives with regard to McCarrick and indicating that results would be released in “due course.” To date, no results of that review have been made public.
Crux is dedicated to smart, wired and independent reporting on the Vatican and worldwide Catholic Church. That kind of reporting doesn’t come cheap, and we need your support. You can help Crux by giving a small amount monthly, or with a onetime gift. Please remember, Crux is a for-profit organization, so contributions are not tax-deductible.