The Vatican will investigate whether Catholic leadership knew about accusations of sexual abuse against former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick as many as 18 years ago.

Pope Francis sanctioned a deeper examination of Vatican archives to investigate allegations of sexual abuse against former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop emeritus of Washington, D.C., on Saturday.

The announcement of the investigation was the first response from the Vatican following McCarrick’s resignation in July.

The Vatican will investigate the Archives of the Dicasteries and Offices of the Holy See for information on McCarrick’s advancement through the church hierarchy and the decades of sexual misconduct allegations. The findings will be made public, according to the Saturday news release.

The announcement comes after a letter published Aug. 22 by former Vatican Ambassador to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, alleging the Vatican not only knew of the accusations against McCarrick as early as 2000, but also that Pope Francis elevated McCarrick despite this knowledge.

The letter also alleged that Pope Benedict XVI, the first pontiff to resign in almost 600 years, had censured McCarrick by barring him from public mass, giving lectures and living in a seminary. No evidence has surfaced supporting Viganò’s claims regarding Pope Francis or Benedict XVI.

Pope Francis did not specifically deny the contents of the letter, instead requesting that reporters critically examine its contents at a news conference Aug. 26.

“I will not say a single word about this,” the pope said. “I believe the statement speaks for itself. And you have the sufficient journalistic ability to make your conclusions.”

The news release published by the church on Saturday did not mention Viganò’s letter, describing the investigation as coming in light of “the publication of the accusations regarding the conduct of Archbishop Theodore Edgar McCarrick.”

The Vatican also said that it had ordered a preliminary investigation in September 2017 by the Archdiocese of New York into an allegation that the former Archbishop McCarrick had groped a teenage altar boy, initiating McCarrick’s resignation from the College of Cardinals — the second cardinal to resign since 1900. Later allegations emerged from seminarians and a young priest, including one Virginia man who claimed to have been abused for almost 20 years.

McCarrick denied the allegation from the former altar boy in a June 20 news release but has not responded to allegations from seminarians.

Gerard Mannion, Amaturo Chair in Catholic Studies at Georgetown, sees the investigation as an important first step in the church revealing the extent to which the Vatican knew of McCarrick’s history of abuse and harassment. Mannion suggested the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops may have worked to protect one of their own.

“I think much of that, if not all of that, was certainly known by the United States Bishops Conference, people within the Bishop’s conference, people within the U.S. church,” Mannion said in an interview with The Hoya. “How much of that did they fully share with Rome — that’s one of the key questions.”

The investigation should reveal the members of the church responsible for a potential cover-up, President of Catholic Women Erica Lizza (SFS ’19) wrote in an email to The Hoya.

“It’s critically important that the Church diligently reviews all information it has about McCarrick and other priests who have committed abuse so that we can identify who concealed this information and how,” Lizza wrote.

The U.S. Conference of Bishops applauded the move by Pope Francis to further examine the Vatican archives in a Saturday news release.

“The Holy Father’s ‘pressing invitation to unite forces to fight the grave scourge of abuse within the Church and beyond’ has been and will continue to be diligently accepted by the bishops of the United States,” Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, President of the Conference said.

Mannion also waits to see whether Viganò’s allegation that McCarrick was barred from public speaking will surface in the archives, as it could have implications for Georgetown.

“If that’s true, since 2011 McCarrick has appeared on campus and if he’s on campus and invited him to celebrate mass and be a public speaker — of course a lot of people on campus would not have known what we now know — but whether there was indication of suspicion on Cardinal McCarrick, then he wouldn’t be a suitable person to be inviting to do these things on campus,” Mannion said.

As the investigation has taken place, Georgetown students have also advocated the university rescind its honorary degree to McCarrick. On Sept. 14, ten students delivered a petition demanding the university rescind honorary degrees given to McCarrick and Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who was named in a Pennsylvania grand jury report for covering up abuse. It has gained 1,493 signatures as of Oct. 9.

Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia condemned the failure of the Catholic Church to address reports of sexual assault in a Sept. 8 university-wide email, with a university spokesman later specifying the university would consider revoking McCarrick’s honorary degree. The university has not taken any further action.

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