Step into the journalism Wayback Machine for a moment, please.
So how did this wild game of Vatican news, commentary and rumors get started? While reporters continue to jump up and down on Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano (his infamous letter is here), U.S. papal nuncio from 2011-2016, it may help to look back at the first card that was played in this poker match.
Well, let's say that this was the first card played in public.
I am referring, of course, to the New York Times piece that ran on July 16 under this headline: "He Preyed on Men Who Wanted to Be Priests. Then He Became a Cardinal."
I realize that there were stories in June, when McCarrick -- one of the most powerful Catholic media figures for decades -- was hit with charges that he abused a male teen-ager. Our own Julia Duin began writing posts about McCarrick's shady reputation and how reporters had never been able to get the right sources, on the record, that would allow them to nail down reports about McCarrick that had circulated for many years.
But the Times report on "Uncle Ted" and his years of abuse and sexual harassment raised haunting questions: Who had protected McCarrick and promoted him throughout his career? How many men in red hats were loyal to him, because he helped them? How high did these connections go, in the Catholic hierarchy in America and in Rome?
This is the deeper background behind this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in), which focuses on what I believe is the core story linked to the Vigano letter. Yes, Vigano said that media superstar Pope Francis should resign -- a sure headline maker under any circumstances. But the real story here remains McCarrick and the network that surrounded him.
Was Francis part of that network, in recent years or in the past? If Vigano is telling the truth, then the odds are very good that all the details will be in church files in Washington, D.C., and Rome. Vigano is saying what a five-star source would say, as a story like this unfolds: Open the files. Prove me wrong. Make my day, pope.
Meanwhile, what about the news media? It the Times -- the ultimate game changer -- played a key card in this game, what will the media do next?