At the outset, I cannot emphasize enough the tremendous value and insight provided for the framing of this reportage by What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About #MeToo by JoAnn Wypijewski, an important anthology of sex crime journalism offering an essential lens for analyzing our neurotic social mores about sex, crime, public hysteria, and justice. Its important chapters on the Boston clergy abuse scandal gave me the backbone to write the following report
After nearly two decades, the Best Picture Oscar-winning Spotlight, and a purported top-to-bottom institutional reform that has defrocked hundreds of clerics while leading to the disgraced retirement of a bevy of Bishops, Cardinals, and maybe even a Pope, what more could be said about the Catholic Church’s clergy child abuse scandal? How could this grisly episode, a moment that tore away one of the most painful scabs on one of the world’s oldest theological bodies, still have any novel insights?
For the casual observer, the recent headlines about former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who almost overnight went from jet setting with Davos elites to a defrocked hermit’s existence in an undisclosed location somewhere in the United States, seemed like a tragic yet just conclusion to a Shakespearean saga of power and perversion. The Vatican published the so-called McCarrick Report in November 2020, an extra-ordinary text the Holy See allowed to be authored by a lay attorney who in turn invoked copyright protections in a fashion I have not seen on any judicial document before. It not only condemned McCarrick once and for all but laid substantial guilt at the feet of Pope St. John Paul II. The Polish pontiff was allegedly appraised repeatedly of McCarrick’s awful behavior and yet, due to his own history in Krakow dealing with a Communist government that frequently made similar accusations against clerics for seemingly-politicized reasons, allowed the American to continue to ascend upwards through the hierarchy to become a Prince of the Church.
But what if the background machinations of the situation, informed by the grotesque, no-holds-barred ethics of Republican apparatchiks groomed in Roger Stone’s Watergate school of politics and buttressed by media operatives aligned with Steve Bannon, simultaneously made McCarrick into the scapegoat for a multi-decade civil war in Vatican City that included an attempted coup against Pope Francis before it was concluded? What if we have unknowingly witnessed an osmosis of Nixonian dirty tricks, complete with an enemies list and sabotage operations, into one of the oldest theocratic governments in Western Europe?
Is it remotely possible that, while McCarrick abused his power and position in service of his very human and carnal frailties, he was also weaponized against a papacy whose criticism of ecological degradation, economic inequality, and heightening white nationalist xenophobia in the Global North has deeply offended sections of the financial and political elite that support regressive politicians? Does the McCarrick Report leave more questions open than answered as well as invite deeper contemplation about the double standards, hypocrisy, and contradictions inscribed into the cis-/hetero-sexist matrix underwriting the foundations of both Roman Catholicism and the jurisprudence of the secular North American social contract?
Andrew Stewart is a documentary film maker and reporter who lives outside Providence. His film, AARON BRIGGS AND THE HMS GASPEE, about the historical role of Brown University in the slave trade, is available for purchase on Amazon Instant Video or on DVD.
First published by CounterPunch – original here.