A saddened Archbishop Alexander Sample discusses the McCarrick report Nov. 13 in a livestreamed talk from his home chapel.
A saddened Archbishop Alexander Sample discusses the McCarrick report Nov. 13 in a livestreamed talk from his home chapel.
" ‘You can certainly question Pope John Paul II’s judgement around this, but to impute any malice on the Holy Father’s part is simply incorrect.’
" Archbishop Alexander Sample On the 2000 promotion of Theodore McCarrick to the Archdiocese of Washington
A shaken Archbishop Alexander Sample last week reflected on the Vatican’s report on former cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Two decades ago, McCarrick rose to high leadership in the church despite serial sexual misconduct.

“I can’t be very upbeat at this moment,” the archbishop said during a Nov. 13 livestreamed talk from his home chapel. “This has been a tough thing to read.”

Archbishop Sample had just finished reviewing the 400-page document, which details how McCarrick manipulated seminarians into his bed and engaged in inappropriate touching for years. McCarrick, cast in the report as a lying self-promoter, adamantly denied accusations and in 2000 deceived Pope John Paul II into thinking he was worthy of leading the Archdiocese of Washington, eventually being named a cardinal. In 2017, credible accusations of pedophilia emerged against McCarrick.

“I need time to digest this,” Archbishop Sample said of the report. “I am very sad.”

Explaining that his response was personal, not an official statement, Archbishop Sample said the details of the in-depth Vatican investigation made him almost physically ill.

“It points to a tremendous institutional failure on the part of the church,” he said.

But the archbishop urged viewers to engage the report not with the benefit of hindsight, but as if they were immersed in the time more than 20 years ago. He reminded them that before 2017, there were no concrete allegations of child sexual abuse against McCarrick, just unsigned accusations that were so vague no one could follow up on them. Two priests who leveled accusations against McCarrick seemed unreliable.

But Archbishop Sample, who became a bishop in 2006, said that many people did know about McCarrick’s behavior with seminarians and young priests. The Vatican report leaves unanswered why four bishops who were asked about the rumors provided Pope John Paul II with what Archbishop Sample called “inaccurate and incomplete information.”

The archbishop said it’s possible to criticize the sainted pope’s decision to go ahead with the promotion to Washington, but said Pope John Paul did not know McCarrick was a pedophile and did not believe the talk of sexual misdeeds. The report said that, as a church leader in communist Poland, the future pope had seen the church’s foes sometimes fabricate sexual allegations to discredit churchmen.

“You can certainly question Pope John Paul II’s judgement around this, but to impute any malice on the Holy Father’s part is simply incorrect,” Archbishop Sample said. The archbishop praised the efforts of Pope Francis to put provisions in place so misbehaving bishops can be reported. Several U.S. prelates are under investigation now for how they handled abuse reports.

McCarrick’s abuse of power and “sick psychological makeup” have led the archbishop to redouble his own efforts to avoid pride and ambition.

“What I want more than anything else is to be a holier man and a holier bishop,” Archbishop Sample said. He also urged prayers for victims of abuse. 

His 30-minute talk drew 4,600 viewers and more than 100 comments.

“That was really tough,” said Clarice Mattes Harmon. “It does make us sick, pained, wounded and suffering for the survivors. I join with you in looking inward to dispel any pride or dismissiveness toward others.”

Ann Austin promised prayers for the archbishop and all priests who are living holy lives.

“I’m so sorry, Archbishop,” Austin said. “You are a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. This corrupt priest’s actions do not diminish my love and respect for all the innumerable good and faithful priests like you! My love and prayers to you and all our holy priests!”