Email correspondence shows disgraced former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was placed under Vatican restrictions in 2008 for sleeping with seminarians, but regularly ignored those travel bans with the apparent knowledge of Vatican officials under Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.
The email excerpts, released Tuesday by a former aide, make it clear that retired Washington, D.C., Cardinal Donald Wuerl knew about the restrictions, despite claims of ignorance after the McCarrick scandal emerged last year.
Francis defrocked McCarrick in February after a church investigation confirmed that McCarrick had sexually abused minors, as well as adults.
The existence of prior Vatican restrictions on McCarrick has been the subject of debate ever since a retired Vatican diplomat accused Francis of rehabilitating McCarrick from the restrictions in 2013 despite knowing of his behavior.
The accusations from the diplomat, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, have been used by Francis’ conservative critics to attack him, since they seemingly show Francis disregarded information that McCarrick preyed on seminarians.
The McCarrick scandal has created a credibility crisis in the U.S. and Vatican hierarchy since it was an open secret in some church circles that McCarrick sexually harassed seminarians and pressured them to sleep with him at his beach house.
The excerpts were put online by McCarrick’s onetime secretary, Msgr. Anthony Figueiredo, currently a priest in McCarrick’s former diocese of Newark, N.J. They were first reported by the Crux website and CBS.
The emails make clear that the restrictions were imposed in writing in August 2008, requiring McCarrick to move out of his seminary residence and request permission from the Holy See for any future public appearances or talks in the U.S. or abroad. Wuerl was actively involved in helping him find a new residence, the emails show.
Early on, the correspondences show such travel permission was requested and granted, for a trip to Rome. But by 2012, while Benedict was still pope, McCarrick was resuming his globetrotting travel, to countries in the Middle East, Asia and Europe. It is unclear, however, if permission was sought and granted for each trip.
Under the Francis papacy, the travel continued — to China, Iraq and Morocco — and the correspondence shows McCarrick writing directly to Francis and the Vatican secretariat of state with updates on his meetings, suggesting he at least saw himself as an unofficial emissary working on the Vatican’s behalf.
In an unrelated interview released Tuesday, Francis denied knowing anything about McCarrick, though it’s not clear whether he was referring to allegations he sexually abused minors or adults.
“I didn’t know anything about McCarrick, nothing naturally, nothing,” he said in an interview with Valentina Alazraki, Vatican correspondent for Mexico’s Televisa.
Vigano said he briefed Francis in June 2013 about McCarrick, telling the pope that he “corrupted a generation of seminarians” and that there was a thick file on him in the Vatican’s congregation for bishops.