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Cardinal McCarrick: Everybody Knew

Uncle Ted and his army of enablers need to have their #MeToo moment

Remember how, after Harvey Weinstein was busted as a serial sexual abuser, it emerged that a whole lot of people knew this about Weinstein, but never said anything about it? The same thing is true about Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who was outed today (by the Catholic Church) as having sexually abused a minor years ago.

I had never heard that McCarrick abused minors, but I heard from many sources that he  would go after seminarians. He had a habit of inviting them to his beach house, and always inviting one more young man than there was bed space for. The unlucky mark had to bunk with the Archbishop, who loved to snuggle.

Here are excerpts from an “open letter” to Pope Benedict XVI, written a decade ago by the sociologist Richard Sipe, a former Benedictine monk who specializes in studying the sexual behavior of Catholic priests:

While I was Adjunct Professor at a Pontifical Seminary, St. Mary’s Baltimore (1972-1984) a number of seminarians came to me with concerns about the behavior of Theodore E. McCarrick, then bishop of Metuchen, New Jersey. It has been widely known for several decades that Bishop/Archbishop now Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick took seminarians and young priests to a shore home in New Jersey, sites in New York, and other places and slept with some of them. He established a coterie of young seminarians and priests that he encouraged to call him “Uncle Ted.” I have his correspondence where he referred to these men as being “cousins” with each other.

Catholic journalist Matt C. Abbott already featured the statements of two priests (2005) and one ex-priest (2006) about McCarrick. All three were “in the know” and aware of the Cardinal McCarrick’s activities in the same mode as I had heard at the seminary. None of these reporters, as far as Abbott knew, had sexual contact with the cardinal in the infamous sleepovers, but one had first hand reports from a seminarian/priest who did share a bed and received cards and letters from McCarrick. The modus operendi is similar to the documents and letters I have received from a priest who describes in detail McCarrick’s sexual advances and personal activity. At least one prominent journalist at the Boston Globe was aware of McCarrick from his investigation of another priest, but until now legal documentation has not been available. And even at this point the complete story cannot be published because priest reporters are afraid of reprisals.

In 2012, I was approached by a freelance journalist working for The New York Times Magazine on this story. Someone had told him to contact me, that I might be able to help him. It turns out that he didn’t need my help. This journalist had done what no others had been willing or able to do: found court documents about Uncle Ted’s settlements with adult men he had forced himself on, and land at least one on-the-record interviews with a victim.

The man, I was told, was an unwilling victim, but allegedly let McCarrick get away with it because as a bishop, McCarrick was in a position of total power over his future as a priest. It was the exact same reason that actresses submitted to Harvey Weinstein.

Why did this story never get published? That’s a good question. When I first spoke to the reporter, he was on the verge of publishing. Weeks, then months, went by, and no story. When I contacted him again, he told me he had no idea. The editor on the story had changed, and the new editor kept making him go re-report things he had already nailed down. This was a mystery to him.

Mind you, this reporter was coming at the story from an abuse of power in the workplace angle. He was not a Catholic, nor did he understand the intra-church dynamics of the scandal. I asked him for the name of the editor. He told me. I looked it up. The editor was a gay man whose marriage announcement had recently been in the Times.

Did that fact have anything to do with the fact that the McCarrick story was killed by the Times magazine? It is impossible to know at this point, but if I were Times executive editor Dean Baquet, I’d want to know why my newspaper had a good story about a Catholic cardinal using his power to sexually exploit his employees, but did not publish it.

But I can tell you this: back in 2002, a liberal Catholic journalist and I were trading stories about covering the abuse scandal, and the obstacles to covering the story that we found on our own ideological sides. I told him that on the Catholic Right, I found a strong unwillingness to contemplate the possibility that mandatory celibacy played a role in creating a culture of secrecy and abuse. Also, there was a deep reticence to think critically about the role of authority within the Catholic hierarchy, and how that played into a culture of abuse and cover-up. We conservative Catholics had made such a big deal about the loss of authority within the Church, and had developed within ourselves a chronic reluctance to confront facts that called the integrity of the system into question.

Father Richard John Neuhaus, for example, once upbraided me angrily on the phone for publishing a story about Bishop James Timlin’s handling of the Society of St. John situation.

“The bishop told you there was no story there!” he growled.

I pointed out to Father Neuhaus that I had quoted the bishop saying that in the story. Neuhaus was aghast that I had published the story at all, given the bishop’s words.

“Father Neuhaus, why should I believe Bishop Timlin?” I said.

“Because he is a bishop of the Roman Catholic Church!” Neuhaus shouted.

Really, he shouted. Remember, this was February 2002, only a month after the scandal broke big in Boston. Churchmen like Father Neuhaus would come to learn in time how very wrong they were. I seem to recall Neuhaus writing about this, eventually. I bring it up here to point out how the scandal radically challenged fundamental views conservative Catholics had about the Church and how it works — so much so that they didn’t see what they didn’t want to see, in many cases.

That’s the kind of thing I told my liberal Catholic colleague. For his part, he told me that on the Catholic left, nobody will deal with the homosexual aspect of the scandal, in particular the gay networks within the Catholic Church. It was a third rail. They had an ideological commitment that this kind of thing was nothing more than a trumped-up fantasy of homophobic right wingers. The Catholic left was as committed to that view as the Catholic right was to its own shibboleths.

The thing is, you couldn’t really understand the Catholic abuse scandal without taking into account the homosexual networking, as well as the celibacy rule, and the culture of authority within the Church. None of these factors were or are complete explanations, but a complete explanation was impossible without taking them all into consideration. This was exactly what many Catholic partisans on both sides did not want to do. They only wanted confirmation of their prior beliefs. The facts of the scandal made fools of us all, eventually. My own foolishness was exposed when I accepted the lies told by a conservative Catholic priest in 2005 — that he had been driven out of Pennsylvania by church liberals — because it played into my own prejudices, and besides, I was sure that I could tell who was lying and who wasn’t.

I was wrong. And I was a fool.

Now, the secular media has its own biases when it comes to covering the Catholic Church. Among them, in my experience, was a refusal to examine the role of homosexual networks within the Catholic priesthood in creating and protecting a culture of abuse within the Church. I do not know the extent to which these are still active, but this is what Richard Sipe told me for National Review in 2002:

One disturbing facet of this willingness to overlook serious sexual sin, say a number of priests and seminarians, is the existence of a discreet but powerful homosexual network within seminaries and chanceries. A. W. Richard Sipe, a psychiatrist and former Benedictine monk who has treated scores of sexually abusive priests and has written extensively about the phenomenon, says that the reality of the gay network is well known to clerics and others closely familiar with the workings of the Catholic Church, though difficult to prove from public sources.

“I’ve reviewed over 100 cases of sexual abuse by priests. In there you get the documentation, which unfortunately often gets sealed by the Church after they settle the cases,” says Sipe, who is an expert witness in abuse cases. “It’s very clear that you can trace [the network], one person to another, through a sequence of appointments, the sequence of who follows whom in what position, and how they got there. It is a fact, and nobody can sincerely deny it.” A typical pattern involves a priest becoming sexually involved with a seminarian or younger cleric, and then the junior man following his elder up the diocesan hierarchy. Sipe and others interviewed say this “bond of secrecy” introduces the possibility of blackmail: Those in positions of authority are prevented from acting against others because they themselves are compromised. It’s a form of mutually assured destruction.

Richard Sipe is not a conservative. He’s a social scientist who was telling me how the system works. When I was working on these stories, I learned that most gay priests who are sexually active do not molest children or adolescents. The problem is that they — as well as straight priests who are sexually active — have secrets, and learn to keep their mouths shut as part of an informal system of self-preservation.

And the psychological pressure they put on those who are relatively powerless within the system is enormous — or, I should say, was enormous. I haven’t reported on this stuff in over a decade. I don’t know to what extent any of this is still the case. I’m remember now a series of abuse stories I was working on in 2001 for the New York Post, before things blew up big out of Boston. A source — a devout young Catholic man — had been telling me that he left seminary because he couldn’t stand the constant pressure from priests there to have sex with them. One of the seminary leaders told him that if he’s not gay, fine, but to go get a girlfriend. To me, it was clear that the priest-professor was trying to lead the kid into his own web of corruption, one way or the other. This young man was stricken and confused.

We had set up a time to meet to have an on the record conversation for my column. That morning, he phoned me, crying. He told me that he had e-mailed his professor the night before, telling him that he was going to sit down with me and spill his guts. The priest-professor asked if he could come over. The young man said yes. The priest-professor convinced him that if he went public, he would hurt the Church terribly. Is that really what the young man wanted to do? No, the kid said, it wasn’t. The kid — I say “kid,” but he was in his early 20s — wept on the phone with me, and said he was cancelling our meeting. He couldn’t do that to the Church. Nothing I said changed his mind. That devil had gotten inside this devout young man’s head, and done a number on him.

Are Catholics today, in 2018, less susceptible to that kind of manipulation? I don’t know. I’d like to think so, but I don’t know. Believe me when I tell you that a lot of people in the church knew about Cardinal McCarrick’s sex life. How many of them have gone public with it? Not Cardinal McCarrick’s successors in Newark, Archbishop Myers (a conservative) and Cardinal Tobin (a liberal), who knew about at least two settlements with McCarrick’s victims. I just found this posted in 2010 by Richard Sipe. Excerpt:

There is documentation that records McCarrick’s sexual activity and sleeping arrangements with seminarians and young priests even when he served as the first bishop of Metuchen after serving as an auxiliary bishop in New York. On file are the unsealed “MEDIATION DOCUMENTATION FOR FR. G.” that involved McCarrick, the dioceses of Metuchen and Newark, NJ. (2006) A financial settlement was reached. The case was sent to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome, but it has not yet responded. Documents include the history of McCarrick’s initial sexual gesture and approach to the victim then a seminarian, in the bishop’s Metuchen residence in 1986.

Documentation includes hand written correspondence (letters and cards) from McCarrick postmarked between 1987 and 2005. Many of the letters are signed “Uncle Ted.” The names of other priests who were either seen having sex with McCarrick or witnessed McCarrick having sex with another priest are also included in the file. One of the priests is still in active ministry another left the ministry and was assisted by the church and McCarrick to re-educate for another profession. The names of other sexually active priests are also in the reports. Records of McCarrick’s activities with these priests are also included in medical evaluations and records all reviewed by Bishop Hughes of Metuchen already in 1995.

Excerpts from the legal Settlement Documents include firsthand accounts that are also in the Newark Archdiocese records of an incident on a trip with McCarrick, then Archbishop of Newark, New Jersey, with a seminarian and two young priests when they shared a room with two double beds, it reads:

McCarrick, wearing just underwear, got into bed with one of the priests: “Bishop McCarrick was sitting on the crotch of Fr. RC As I was watching TV with Fr BL [full names appear in the documents], bishop McCarrick was smiling and laughing and moving his hands all over Fr. RC’s body. Bishop McCarrick was touching Fr. C’s body, rubbing his hands from head to toe and having a good time, occasionally placing his hands underneath Fr. C’s underwear. [I was] feeling very uncomfortable while trying to focus on television, and Fr. B.L., started smiling. As I looked at the bed next to me, Bishop McCarrick was excitedly caressing the full body of Fr. R.C. At that moment, I made eye contact [with] Bishop McCarrick. He smiled at me saying, “Don’t worry, you’re next.” At that moment, I felt the hand of Fr. B.L. rubbing my back and shoulders. I felt sick to my stomach and went under the covers and pretended to sleep.”

McCarrick continued to pursue the young man, sent him notes and telephoned him. Notes reveal that it was the custom the Archbishop McCarrick to call his protégés “nephew” and encouraged his entourage to call each other “cousin” and for them to call him “uncle Ted.” On another occasion McCarrick summoned the young man to drive him from the Newark Cathedral to New York City. He took him to dinner; and after, rather than returning to Newark as anticipated McCarrick went to a one-room apartment that housed one bed and a recliner chair. McCarrick said that he would take the chair, but after showering he turned off the lights and clad in his underwear he climbed into bed with his guest. Here is the account from the documents:

“He put his arms around me and wrapped his legs around mine. Then He started to tell me what a nice young man I was and what a good priest I would make someday. He also told me about the hard work and stress he was facing in his new role as Archbishop of Newark. He told me how everyone knows him and how powerful he was. The Archbishop kept saying, “Pray for your poor uncle.” All of a sudden, I felt paralyzed. I didn’t have my own car and there was nowhere to go. The Archbishop started to kiss me and move his hands and legs around me. I remained frozen, curled up like a ball. I felt his penis inside his underwear leaning against my buttocks as he was rubbing my legs up and down. His hands were moving up and down my chest and back, while tightening his legs around mine. I tried to scream but could not…I was paralyzed with fear. As he continued touching me, I felt more afraid. He even tried several times to force his hands under my shorts. He tried to roll me over so that he could get on top of me, but I resisted, I felt sick and disgusted and finally was able to jump out of bed. I went into the bathroom where I vomited several times and started to cry. After twenty minutes in the bathroom, the Archbishop told me to come back to bed. Instead I went to the recliner and pretended to fall asleep.”

In a letter dated four days after this incident McCarrick wrote a note signed “Uncle Ted” that said in part: “I just wanted to say thanks for coming on Friday evening. I really enjoyed our visit. You’re a great kid and I know the Lord will continue to bless you…Your uncle has great spots to take you to!!!”

There are additional documents that substantiate this particular relationship. One can safely say that now-retired Cardinal McCarrick was same-sex active and can be presumed to have a homosexual orientation. Neither fact has interfered with his career as a cleric in the Roman Catholic Church.

The power position of a cardinal places him above suspicion and makes him immune from criticism; this in defiance of the solid historical record of periodic moral violations of some clerics (and politicians) in high places. The facts are clear, simple, and typical of the heritage of tolerance of abuse and cover-up inculcated by Theodore E. McCarrick, archbishop of Newark (1986-2000). There is documentation that records McCarrick’s sexual activity and sleeping arrangements with seminarians and young priests even when he served as the first bishop of Metuchen after serving as an auxiliary bishop in New York.

The journalist who wrote the spiked story for The New York Times Magazine had all of this information, and the priest he interviewed was the priest who vomited. It’s part of the legal record. Can you imagine having a reporter who had all this information on a Roman Catholic cardinal, and you being an editor who decided not to publish it? On what possible grounds can you justify that? That because it wasn’t minors, it might have been consensual, and that We May Never Really Know?

Bull. I find it far more plausible that it have been the possibility that once you start pulling on the McCarrick thread, an entire sexual underground of gay clerical cruising might have been revealed.

I don’t know, but I hope now, in this era of #MeToo, priests and others who have suffered under this conspiracy of silence find their voice. And I hope that media organizations — secular and religious — who knew about McCarrick, but chose to stay silent, are shamed, and make up for their silence by seeking out victims and reporting on their stories.

The cover-ups have to end. The conspiracies of silence must stop. In its report on today’s news, the Times reports on the sordid details of what the church commission finds that McCarrick did. Note the final quote from the victim’s attorney:

The monsignor, “under the guise of measuring his inseam, unzipped his pants, and sexually assaulted him,” Mr. Noaker said. “The kid had just turned 16, and kind of pulled back, and McCarrick was a little surprised by that.”

“Let’s not tell anyone about this,” the monsignor told the student, according to Mr. Noaker.

Over the following year, Monsignor McCarrick occasionally saw the teenager and told him how good-looking he was. The young man was again selected in 1972 to be a Christmas Mass altar boy, and vowed to be more cautious this time, his lawyer said. Another man did the measuring, but Monsignor McCarrick was there and cornered him in a bathroom, Mr. Noaker said.

“He just came in, grabbed him, shoved his hand into his pants and tried to get his hand into his underwear, and the kid had to struggle and push him away,” the lawyer said.

“These were significant sexual assaults,” Mr. Noaker said. “If someone like that is running an entire archdiocese, what does that mean for predators in the diocese? It probably means that they have secrets that they keep.”

I’m with Michael Brendan Dougherty here:




Watch to see what happens with the McCarrick story. We are about to find out if #MeToo also covers gay bishops who sexually abused men under their authority, and punished, or threatened to punish, those who might have outed them. Watch especially to see how The New York Times reports on this, given its 2012 failure.

Finally, if there is any justice, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, head of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, will not be able to get away with this as his only statement on the McCarrick scandal:

“As clergy in God’s Church, we have made a solemn promise to protect children and young people from all harm. This sacred charge applies to all who minister in the Church, no matter the person’s high standing or long service. This morning was a painful reminder of how only through continued vigilance can we keep that promise. My prayers are with all who have experienced the trauma of sexual abuse. May they find healing in Christ’s abundant love. The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People (https://www.usccb.org/charter) outlines a process for addressing allegations, holding us accountable to our commitment to protect and heal. I express my gratitude to Cardinal Dolan, who has carried forward with clarity, compassion for the victims, and a genuine sense of justice. With him, I express my deep sadness, and on behalf of the Church, I apologize to all who have been harmed by one of her ministers.”

Does that include seminarians and priests, Your Eminence? I find it impossible to believe that Cardinal Dolan, or McCarrick’s successors in Metuchen, Newark, and Washington (including Cardinals Wuerl and Tobin) , knew nothing of Uncle Ted’s Gay Predation. Yet they allowed him to retire with dignity, to play a key role (by his own recollection at Villanova a few years ago) in the election of Pope Francis, and to serve as an envoy of sorts for Francis. What did these cardinals know, and what did they do about it? And who else in power knew, and said or did nothing? Why not? What kind of power did McCarrick have, anyway?

It might surprise you to learn that the person who tried to get me taken off the McCarrick trail back in 2002, was a prominent conservative layman, a closeted gay man who intervened at his dear friend the Cardinal’s request. He did not succeed; I failed to get the story because none of the people who were telling me what they knew about McCarrick were willing to go on the record. Still, you would not have expected a man like this to run interference for a liberal cardinal who loved to force seminarians to share his bed.

But then, you wouldn’t expect a New York Times editor to spike a story about a Catholic cardinal who sexually exploited those in his employ. This scandal has made for some very strange bedfellows. In 2001, when I first contacted the heroic Father Tom Doyle for a comment on a sex abuse story I was working on for the New York Post, he warned me that if I continued on the path of investigation, I would “go to a place darker than you can imagine.” He was trying to warn me. He was right. It’s still dark — but on days like today, when the truth finally comes out, there is light.

More light, please.

UPDATE: A reader comments:

Rod, I often chide you for your closed views of gays, but I can understand this from a different perspective. I worked at a gay bar for years and we had many current and ex- priests come in there. (As well as married guys – but that’s a different subject.)
One slow night, I talked to a retired priest about the prevalence of gay priests, and he just nodded his head. “So how many would you estimate?” I asked. He paused: “Seventy percent.” Seventy?? I was flabbergasted.
“But why volunteer yourself for such a thing if you know the Catholic stance on it,” I asked. From his perspective, he said it was guilt and self-loathing. He was raised Catholic, taught gay was bad and thought a self- imposed celibacy would cure him of his feelings. It didn’t.
He never mention an underground but said gay priests were well known in the diocese and even by parishioners, who ignored father so and so’s boyfriend cause “he was a caring priest.”
After the conversation, I rethought a movie I saw in the ‘90s called Priest about the secret life of a gay priest. The film seemed a bit heavy handed at the times, but after this priest, I wondered if there wasn’t more truth to it than I first thought.



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