Let's try to leave Pope Francis out of the picture, for a moment.
Instead, ask this simple journalism question: What did Vatican officials know about ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick's sexual harassment of seminarians and when did they know it?
Pinning down specific dates is crucial, during the hurricane of allegations surrounding the blistering testimony (full text here) offered by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the Vatican's U.S. ambassador from 2011-2016. The key is confirming information about the network of cardinals and other church officials who promoted and defended McCarrick.
When trying to nail down this kind of detail, editors really -- repeat REALLY -- like it when reporters find hard evidence to back up their sources. Yes, dated letters fit the bill.
With that in mind, let's discuss a major development in the McCarrick case that may, or may not, have surfaced in your news feed -- at least in a place where you could find it.
The key date (at least, at this point): 2000.
Let's start with a flashback to the bombshell July 16 report in The New York Times ("He Preyed on Men Who Wanted to Be Priests. Then He Became a Cardinal."). In many ways, this was the story that created the current media storm. Toward the end, there is this significant passage:
In 2000, Pope John Paul II promoted Archbishop McCarrick to lead the Archdiocese of Washington D.C., one of the most prestigious posts in the Catholic Church in America. He was elevated to cardinal three months later.
At least one priest warned the Vatican against the appointment. The Rev. Boniface Ramsey said that when he was on the faculty at the Immaculate Conception Seminary at Seton Hall University in New Jersey from 1986 to 1996, he was told by seminarians about Archbishop McCarrick’s sexual abuse at the beach house. When Archbishop McCarrick was appointed to Washington, Father Ramsey spoke by phone with the pope’s representative in the nation’s capital, Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, the papal nuncio, and at his encouragement sent a letter to the Vatican about Archbishop McCarrick’s history.
So would it be a big story -- something bigger than a wire-service report buried inside a newspaper -- if confirmation of this letter surfaced, offering hard evidence of a key detail in the Vigano testimony?