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Disgraced Former Cardinal Made Payments To Vatican Officials During Sex Abuse Case

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

For nearly two decades, the Vatican knew about allegations of sexual abuse by one of the most powerful cardinals in the U.S. and did not act until recently. All that time, the now-former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was sending hundreds of thousands of dollars to church authorities. This is all laid out in a Washington Post investigation of McCarrick. Shawn Boberg is one of the reporters on the story, and he joins us now. Welcome.

SHAWN BOBURG: Thank you.

CHANG: So McCarrick was defrocked earlier this year after being found guilty of sexual abuse. Can you briefly remind us just how powerful he once was before these allegations came to light?

BOBURG: Cardinal McCarrick was widely considered one of the most prominent names in the U.S. Catholic Church. He built his reputation as a prolific fundraiser and also a very visible presence after the sex abuse scandal in 2001 as a leader who spoke out against sex abuse in places where the church was very strong and active - the New York metropolitan area and then, of course, Washington, D.C.

CHANG: I mean, yes, he was a very prominent fundraiser, and in your story, you noted that he sent somewhere around $600,000 to clerics within the church. Do you have a sense of where that money came from? Was it from his fundraising?

BOBURG: Yes, and he mostly did fundraising from wealthy Catholic donors. One such donor who's the most generous was President Trump's sister and former appellate judge Maryanne Barry Trump. And he managed to raise $6 million over 17 years and essentially had the ability to spend the money however he saw fit.

CHANG: One thing that your story found was some of these checks went directly to the pope - first John Paul II and then to Pope Benedict, right?

BOBURG: That's right - $250,000 in one check to Pope Benedict. John Paul II got a total of about $90,000.

CHANG: Wow.

BOBURG: And the higher up the officials were in the Vatican, the more money they got.

CHANG: Interesting. And what has the Vatican said about these gifts to John Paul II and Benedict?

BOBURG: They didn't respond. We did reach the personal secretary of John Paul II, who said that any checks that came to the pope he would direct to the secretary of state. We did not hear from any representative of Pope Benedict.

CHANG: And did either the Archdiocese of Washington or McCarrick himself explain why these payments were being made?

BOBURG: So the Archdiocese of Washington is now led by a new archbishop. They didn't offer a reason for those gifts. Of course, former Cardinal McCarrick did not respond to our request for an interview, and his lawyer also declined to comment.

CHANG: So are there indications that this story that you discovered - someone high up in the Catholic Church under investigation for sexual abuse - was sending payments to clerics within that church during the investigation? Is that part of a larger pattern?

BOBURG: Well, one of the striking things that we got in the responses was from the secretary of state of the Vatican, who said these are just common gifts among clerics during the holidays. But if you take a step back and think about it, the practice of giving cash gifts to superiors who have a direct oversight role, in the broader world, would be regarded as not kosher.

CHANG: Right.

BOBURG: It also takes on a different complexion when you're talking about the giver of the gift being accused of wrongdoing and the organization more generally being accused of not doing enough to hold that person to account.

CHANG: That is Washington Post investigative reporter Shawn Boberg. Thank you very much for joining us today.

BOBURG: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF KAREN O & DANGER MOUSE SONG, "LUX PRIMA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.