As we wait for the Vatican to disclose the results of the internal investigations of the Theodore McCarrick case, journalists are already busy helping us understand it—and not only here in the United States. A book published earlier this month by two veteran Italian journalists, Andrea Tornielli and Gianni Valente, casts new light on the McCarrick story and the events of this past summer. Il giorno del giudizio (The Day of Judgment) offers important context and history for the events that have unfolded since the Holy See announced in June that it had removed Theodore McCarrick from public ministry. Some of this context was known already but had been forgotten in the rush of new information. But the book also offers new information from inside sources at the Vatican.
Tornielli and Valente give considerable attention to the part of the story Carlo Maria Viganò’s testimony barely touched on—the role played by Pope John Paul II and his personal secretary, Msgr. Stanisław Dziwisz, who was appointed archbishop of Kraków a few weeks after John Paul II’s 2005 death as a reward for his service to the pope. (His resignation was accepted by Francis in December 2016). “Don Stanislao” (for those in the know) had great influence on the most important episcopal appointments, including McCarrick’s. While he was ordinary of Metuchen and then of Newark, McCarrick was able to funnel a huge amount of money to Rome for the pope’s various causes, and some of this ended up, secretly, with the Polish anti-Communist movement. Msgr. Dziwisz would not have forgotten these fundraising favors.
Tornielli and Valente also provide evidence that John Paul II was not as ill during the rise of McCarrick as Viganò’s testimony suggests. McCarrick’s four promotions (Metuchen, Newark, Washington, and finally the college of cardinals) all took place during John Paul II’s pontificate, and the last one in 2001 when John Paul II was still well enough to undertake difficult international trips. In that year alone, he traveled to Armenia and Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Greece, Syria, and Malta. During John Paul II’s pontificate, there were several cases of high-ranking prelates removed for committing sexual abuses: Francisco Josè Cox of the Schönstatt movement in Chile (quietly transferred to Germany in 2002); Juliusz Paetz, the archbishop of Poznan, Poland (removed in 2002, in a case with striking similarities to McCarrick’s); and Cardinal Hans Hermann Groër of Vienna in 1995. Cox will soon return to Chile to face justice. Paetz’s only punishment has been his forced retirement. Groër died in 2003. At his funeral Cardinal Joachim Meisner, the archbishop of Cologne (appointed by JPII), described him as a kind of martyr who had suffered unjust punishment—a testimonial that will go down in history as one of the most troubling moments in the church’s dealing with the plague of sexual abuses. (Cardinal Meisner himself died in 2017, one year after cosigning the infamous “dubia” against Pope Francis. Benedict XVI’s personal secretary, Georg Gänswein, delivered a personal message from the “pope emeritus” at Meisner’s funeral.) When in 1998 the Austrian bishops (including Cardinal Christoph Schönborn) dared to complain to Rome about the influence the disgraced Cardinal Groër still enjoyed in the Curia, the Vatican’s secretary of state, Cardinal Sodano, rebuked them on behalf of John Paul II.
Tornielli and Valente’s book also provides new details about the rise of McCarrick. Vatican sources told them that Cardinal John O’Connor of New York objected strongly to John Paul II’s idea of rewarding McCarrick and the diocese of Newark with a stop during his papal visit to the United States in 1995, by which time rumors had already begun circulating about McCarrick. But according to Tornielli and Valente, Dziwisz was able to intercept these objections before they reached the pope. In an October 1999 letter to Gabriel Montalvo, who was then the apostolic nuncio to the United States, Cardinal O’Connor expressed his concerns about the possible promotion of McCarrick to the archdiocese of Washington D.C. because of what he had heard about McCarrick’s harassment of seminarians. To no apparent effect: in November 2000 McCarrick was appointed archbishop of the nation’s capital by a John Paul II still quite able to make decisions on episcopal sees. Just a few weeks later, in February 2001, McCarrick was also made a cardinal.