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Way out of sight, out of mind? Follow the money in the McCarrick scandals

Way out of sight, out of mind? Follow the money in the McCarrick scandals

(COMMENTARY) The Cathedral of the Plains can be seen long before Interstate 70 reaches Victoria, with its Romanesque spires rising out of the vast West Kansas horizon.

This is a strange place to put a sanctuary the size of the Basilica of St. Fidelis, but that's a testimony to the Catholic faith of generations of Volga-German farmers. This is also a strange place to house a disgraced ex-cardinal.

However, the friary near the basilica has one obvious virtue, as a home for 88-year-old Theodore McCarrick. It's located 1,315 miles from The Washington Post. Who sent this famous Beltway powerbroker to St. Fidelis to spend his days in prayer and penance?

"The Holy See alone can make that call," said Rocco Palmo, the Philadelphia-based insider whose "Whispers in the Loggia" blog is a hot spot for Vatican news, gossip and documents.

McCarrick has become the iconic figure at the heart of the latest round of Catholic clergy sex scandals, in America and around the world.

Here in America, the key will be whether bishops find ways to hold each other accountable, especially with talk increasing of a federal investigation of cover-ups linked to sexual abuse, said Palmo. But when it comes to probing the McCarrick scandals, and finding a way to guard the guardians, "anything that doesn't have Rome's permission isn't going to fly."

McCarrick's media-friendly career as a kingmaker – he publically claimed he helped elect Pope Francis – began in New York and New Jersey. He became a global figure, as well as a cardinal, while serving as archbishop of Washington, D.C.

After decades of rumors, McCarrick finally faced abuse accusations after a victim contacted the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program of the Archdiocese of New York. Since a cardinal was involved, the Vatican had to be notified and asked to authorize the investigation.

Eventually, a settlement led to church statements and media reports linking McCarrick to the abuse of a teen-aged boy, as well as decades of harassment and abuse of seminarians directly under his authority. He was the first American forced to resign from the College of Cardinals in a sexual-abuse scandal.

This media storm expanded in late August, when the Vatican's former U.S. ambassador, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, released a stunning testimony accusing Pope Francis of helping to rehabilitate and protect McCarrick after Pope Benedict had tried to ease him out of the spotlight. Vigano urged Pope Francis to resign.

Vigano released a second letter on Sept. 28 in which he asked if Francis had rejected to a plea from a delegation of U.S. bishops for a Vatican-backed investigation of McCarrick's activities. Vigano addressed one crucial question to Cardinal Marc Armand Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation of Bishops.

"Your Eminence, before I left for Washington, you were the one who told me of Pope Benedict's sanctions on McCarrick," wrote Vigano. "You have at your complete disposal key documents incriminating McCarrick and many in the curia for their cover-ups. Your Eminence, I urge you to bear witness to the truth."

The bottom line: The Vatican has ultimate control of those documents, since it has sovereign immunity as an independent state, said Matthew O'Brien, an equity analyst who has a doctorate in philosophy. But investigators should have more freedom probing the Vatican Bank, and nonprofits linked to the church, using tough laws on international finances, approved during the Obama administration.

Keep an eye on the Philadelphia-based Papal Foundation, which McCarrick helped create and build, during 30 years of work there. As an ex officio member of its board of cardinals, McCarrick voted on crucial Vatican grants – even while he knew that Rome was investigating sex-abuse charges against him.

"McCarrick was really good at fundraising and schmoozing. People really do love the smells and bells, talking to men in red hats and shaking hands with the pope," said O'Brien, author of "The Papal Foundation & McCarrick's Conflict of Interest," an essay just published by First Things.

"Cardinal McCarrick turned the Papal Foundation into the Vatican's version of the Lincoln Bedroom at the White House," he added. "He really was the globetrotting prince of the church and he had access to lots of money. Nobody knows where a lot of that money came from and no one knows where a lot of it went. That's part of this story."

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