VATICAN CITY – The Vatican released a highly anticipated report Tuesday investigating how the disgraced former prelate Theodore E. McCarrick rose through the Roman Catholic hierarchy to become one of America’s most powerful cardinals, despite longstanding allegations of sexual misconduct that the ultimately led to his downfall.

The report, which, given Mr. McCarrick’s long career in the Church, had the potential to embroil three different papal houses in a scandal, did not hold Francis or his predecessors directly responsible for knowingly assisting or protecting him. However, a 14-page executive summary of the report, which included a who’s who of the Vatican’s power players and American church officials, seemed to put it on Pope John Paul II’s apostolic doorstep.

“Pope John Paul II personally made the decision to appoint McCarrick,” the report said, despite receiving a letter from Cardinal John O’Connor, Archbishop of New York, summarizing some anonymous allegations Mr. McCarrick had been involved in sexual conduct with another priest in 1987, that he had committed pedophilia with his “nephews” and that he shared a bed with young adult men and seminarians.

Pope John Paul II ordered an investigation to see if the allegations were true. The bishops found that Mr. McCarrick had shared a bed with young men but was unsure whether there was sexual misconduct, the report said. The report now considers the information presented by these bishops to be misleading.

“Research leading to the preparation of the report is now known to have provided the Holy See with inaccurate and incomplete information about three of the four American bishops about McCarrick’s sexual behavior toward young adults,” it said.

Mr. McCarrick also appealed directly to Pope John Paul II’s porter, Bishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, insisting on his innocence.

“McCarrick’s rejection was believed,” the report said, and the allegations were dismissed as rumors. The allegations of a priest who then accused Mr. McCarrick of sexual misconduct were also dismissed because that priest himself molested two teenagers.

The Vatican argued that “John Paul II’s experience in Poland of using false accusations against bishops” to hurt the Church “played a role in his willingness to believe,” McCarrick said.

New details on allegations against Mr McCarrick surfaced in 2005, and John Paul II’s successor, Pope Benedict XVI, “Urged” to replace Mr McCarrick as Archbishop of Washington. In 2006 he had to resign from Washington.

It was around this time that Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, who was later appointed Vatican Ambassador to the United States, wrote two letters asking his superiors to institute an ecclesiastical trial to address the allegations and rumors.

The subject was brought directly to the attention of Pope Benedict, who decided against this path. Instead, the decision was made to speak to McCarrick’s conscience and “keep a lower profile.”

The Vatican says there were no credible child molestation allegations against Mr McCarrick at the time and that Benedict was not “kept informed of” McCarrick’s activities in the United States or was subsequently supervised. When Archbishop Viganò became ambassador, the Vatican said it had not conducted an investigation as requested.

According to the report, Pope Francis received notification of Benedict’s earlier clues from senior officials of the Church, but did not receive documents related to the allegations against Mr McCarrick until 2017. The Vatican believed they had already been thoroughly scrutinized and said Francis did so I see no need to change the approach taken in previous years. “

Jason Horowitz reported from Vatican City and Sharon Otterman from New York. Elisabetta Povoledo reported from Rome.

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