Chinese Spying on the Vatican: A McCarrick Connection? – PART II – Secondary effects

November 10, 2020 (Edward J. Barr) – In PART I we posited that Cardinal McCarrick may have been an unwitting agent of influence for the Chinese communist regime.  If he was, the goal of the Chinese would be to manipulate McCarrick to use his Vatican connections to promote Holy See policies beneficial to the communist regime.  If they could get the most visible religious denomination in the world to portray China as a “partner” in religion, it could create an illusion of openness to faith communities.  Thus, while crackdowns on underground Catholics and other Christians increases, and ethnic Uyghurs are placed in prison camps due to their Muslim faith, the Chinese can point out that they are have good relations with the Vatican.  If the Vatican is for them, what religious group could be against them?

The success of any such Chinese operation would have provided them intelligence on both the Vatican and United States.  Yet sometimes such well-crafted operations have additional positive effects for the intelligence service.  Recall that the two reasons McCarrick would have been of interest to the Chinese were his connections and his personality flaws.  It appears the Chinese worked carefully to ensure McCarrick developed an extremely positive view of the Chinese regime.  This is understandable.  Beijing knew everyone McCarrick met with in country and would work to embellish his image and cache with Vatican and US officials.  It appeared to work.  There is evidence that many bishops (and perhaps higher) knew of McCarrick’s immoral activities yet didn’t take any action to stop him.  The reasons probably included his senior position within the US Church and his perceived value with regard to Vatican-Chinese relations. 

McCarrick’s rise through the ranks of the US Church was accompanied by a growing admiration of the atheistic Chinese regime.  To the outside world he relished his role as unofficial Vatican, and even at times an unofficial US diplomat, with special contacts to China.  In his private ecclesial world, his perverted interactions with seminarians and parishioners were common enough that many saw his sexual misconduct as an open secret.  One can speculate why McCarrick was allowed to continue his sexual abuse unabated – was it the homosexual network within the Church, or his senior rank, or his perceived connections with foreign countries, or his ability to fundraise, or his support for the Pope – the fact remained he wasn’t called to account until after he retired, and that was due to civil investigations forcing the Church to take action.  

So, what was the positive secondary effect of the possible Chinese intelligence operation?  Rather than simply getting intelligence on the Vatican to craft a favorable agreement for the Chinese, the operation would have helped sow dissension within the Church through McCarrick’s “family tree.”  Consider McCarrick’s two main personas, overtly pro-Chinese diplomat and covertly pro-homosexual cleric.  Those whom he groomed and guided would probably be selected based on their adherence to and support of at least one of these two personas.  This is characteristic of any leader and organization; those selected for promotion must be loyal to the policies of the leader and organization.  A pro-life Republican candidate for President wouldn’t select a pro-choice Democrat as a running mate.  Given the open secret nature of McCarrick’s homosexual proclivities, it is probable most clerics coming into his orbit would be aware of both personas.

As Auxiliary bishop of New York, bishop of Metuchen, NJ, Archbishop of Newark, and Archbishop of Washington, McCarrick had substantial time to develop a loyal network.  In a detailed study on McCarrick’s social networks, authors Stephen Bullivant and Giovanni Radhitio Putra Sadewo provide unique insight into his influence within the US Church.  McCarrick has one of the largest influence networks among US bishops.  These include a number of prominent Cardinals, to include the current Cardinal Archbishop of Washington DC, Wilton Gregory, and his predecessor, Donald Wuerl, as well as Archbishop Joseph Tobin and Newark and the Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago, Blaise Cupich (it was reported that McCarrick intervened directly with Pope Francis to get Cupich his current assignment).  These Cardinals, like McCarrick, enjoy (or enjoyed) the favor of Pope Francis.  The member of the McCarrick family tree who has reached the highest heights within the Church is Cardinal Kevin Farrell, with whom McCarrick lived from 2002 to 2006.  He is the camerlengo at the Vatican (who leads the College of Cardinals when the pope dies) and was recently named to head a committee tasked with reviewing select Vatican financial decisions.  Now that’s influence!

Overall, Theodore McCarrick’s ecclesial network includes 43 bishops, each of whom possess their own networks of influence.  His location in Washington DC gave him the opportunity to influence the apostolic nuncio who makes the official recommendations on bishop selection and assignments.  While the extent of personal knowledge of McCarrick’s predilections cannot be known, it is probable that some of his network were selected and groomed based on adherence to one or both of McCarrick’s personas.  A cursory review of the senior members of the McCarrick family tree reveal a strong tendency to lessen the importance of Church teaching on intrinsic evils such as abortion (see Cardinal Cupich on not denying communion to pro-abortion politicians and Cardinal Tobin on voting for a pro-abortion candidate).  Their positions are quite similar to McCarrick’s views. In 2004 McCarrick was named Chairman of a USCCB committee to study whether pro-abortion Catholic politicians should be barred from communion.  When the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith provided guidance, McCarrick hid the truth.  Though the letter from then Cardinal Ratzinger said such politicians should be barred from communion, McCarrick claimed it was up to the individual teacher, pastor and leader to decide.  The reality of McCarrick and his acolytes having a less than orthodox view of Church teaching can be seen in his (and their) supporting Catholic politicians that disavow Church teaching.  This political nexus is further evidenced by McCarrick serving as a co-celebrant at the wedding of Joe Biden’s son, Beau.

The potential Chinese intelligence operation to influence Vatican policies had the secondary effect of seeding the US Church with numerous priests, bishops and Cardinals who were proteges of Theodore McCarrick.  To what level they agree with or follow his overt or covert persona is beyond the scope of this article.  However, there can be no doubt that his viewpoints were instrumental in furthering the careers of many senior Church officials.  That can’t be good. 

In PART I we noted the Chinese operation against McCarrick was similar to those conducted by Cuban intelligence.  The Cubans also benefited by secondary effects of a successful intelligence operation against the United States.  During the 1970s and 1980s nearly all CIA Cuban assets were double agents; the CIA thought they were working for them when in fact they were working for the Cubans. The Cubans targeted CIA officers whom they believed had vulnerabilities and would be susceptible to a “dangle” operation.  Here, the Cubans created an asset who would be attractive to the selected CIA officer.  Once the asset was recruited by the CIA the Cubans could use him to identify CIA sources and methods.  That was the primary effect.  The secondary effect was those less than stellar officers that the Cubans selected to target due to their identified vulnerabilities were promoted within the CIA.  Think about it.  The weak links were placed in positions of authority.  Has the Church done the same?

Edward J Barr, Esq. is a Catechist and former intelligence officer who teaches strategic intelligence at Northeastern University.  He holds a Master’s degree in theology from the Augustine Institute. Mr. Barr is a contributing writer for the Roma Locuta Est blog (

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