Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the Archbishop Emeritus of Washington, D.C., has been removed from public ministry after a credible allegation he abused a teen 50 years ago while serving as a priest in New York Archdiocese.
Innocence? I believe McCarrick is lying, and that he knows he is lying. I have been waiting for this story to break since 2002.
Back then, I received a tip from a priest who had gone on his own dime to Rome, along with a group of prominent US Catholic laymen, to meet with an official for the Roman Curial congregation that names bishops. It had been rumored at the time that Theodore McCarrick, the Archbishop of Newark, was going to be moved to Washington, DC, and to be made a cardinal. This group traveled to Rome to warn the Vatican that McCarrick was a sexual harrasser of seminarians. The story this priest shared with me was that McCarrick had a habit of compelling seminarians to share his bed for cuddling. These allegations did not involve sexual molestation, but were clearly about unwanted sexual harassment. To refuse the archbishop’s bedtime entreaties would be to risk your future as a priest, I was told.
Rome was informed by these laymen — whose number included professionally distinguished Catholics in a position to understand the kind of harm this would cause –that McCarrick was sexually exploiting these seminarians, but it did no good. McCarrick received his appointment to the Washington archdiocese in 2000.
In early 2002, though, the priest who tipped me off wouldn’t go on the record. It would have meant the end of his priesthood, quite possibly. He gave me the name of a couple of medical figures who had been on the same journey. I called one, who confirmed it, but wouldn’t go on the record. I called the other, who gasped when I said it out loud, and who said, “If that were true, then I wouldn’t confirm it for the same reason Noah’s sons covered their father in his drunkenness.”
That’s where the investigation stood after a couple of days. For all I knew, these were only allegations. Then a personal friend of McCarrick’s — a closeted gay man, someone whose name you would know — contacted the news organization for which I was working on this story. The caller did so on McCarrick’s behalf, trying to get me pulled off the story. I won’t go into details, but the man who made the call conceded that McCarrick was guilty, but insisted that no laws had been broken, and therefore it wasn’t a big deal. My supervisor on the story, to his great credit, simply said to keep digging, but to keep him informed.
How did McCarrick find out? It turned out that the priest who tipped me off had only told his spiritual adviser, a well-known conservative cleric, who had almost certainly called McCarrick. My informant — remember, this was early 2002 — was still under the naive impression that you could tell the good guys from the bad guys in the Catholic scandal based on where they lined up theologically. Not true!
I never wrote the story about McCarrick, because I could not get anybody to go on the record. That spring, I fielded more than a few calls from Catholic priests from the New Jersey area who had direct personal knowledge of McCarrick’s sexual derring-do with seminarians. They would phone me, tell me what they knew, and then beg me to “do something”! I would tell them that I could do nothing until and unless they provided documents, and/or were willing to put their name to public accusations.
Nobody could or would do that. Whenever I would see Cardinal McCarrick on television that spring, wringing his hands about how terrible the abuse scandal was, and how the hierarchy really had no idea how extensive the crisis was, yadda yadda, I knew that I was looking at a world-class liar and hypocrite. Moreover, I knew for a fact that the Vatican had been warned about “Uncle Ted” before moving him to Washington, and that those warnings had meant nothing, because hey, Uncle Ted was well connected, and he was a champion fundraiser for the Church.
Let me make this clear: The Vatican had been warned in person, by credible Catholic laymen, and a Catholic priest in a position to know, that as Archbishop of Newark, Theodore McCarrick would compel seminarians under his authority to get in bed with him and cuddle him. These laymen traveled to Rome at their own expense to warn the Vatican about this man’s sickness. But Pope St. John Paul II, who I assume was not told of the allegations, made him a cardinal archbishop anyway.
Believe me, this single incident from the life of Uncle Ted, fifty years ago, is not the only one. I hope and pray to God that Theodore McCarrick is about to have his #MeToo moment. There are more, many more, stories to be told about Uncle Ted and his “ministry” to young men under his authority in the Church. I am grateful that they will now be coming out while he is still around to face some kind of justice, if only in the court of public opinion.
And there’s this: that Cardinal McCarrick was a sexual predator of some sort was the worst-kept secret among the East Coast media covering the church abuse scandal. Even though the McCarrick allegations, if true, clearly reflected deep moral corruption in a leading American Catholic figure, and were at the very least a matter of a man of great power within an organization using that power to compel those under him within the organization to satisfy his sexual desires. I wanted to pursue the story more deeply, and had an editor who was willing to let me do so, but I did not have the resources at the time to do the deep digging that was necessary. To the best of my knowledge, those journalists who did have the resources turned a blind eye to it. I do not know the reason, but I have my theories.
I do know this much: in 2012, one reporter I know personally nailed the McCarrick story, with on-the-record interviews and having dug up court papers. The major magazine for which he was doing the story killed it at the last minute. To this day he does not know why. Again, I have an idea, but it is only speculation. I do know from my extensive, detailed conversations with this journalist, as well as from my own conversations with sources in 2002, that there is a lot more on this story yet to come out — that is, if reporters and editors are interested in making sure Cardinal McCarrick has his #MeToo moment.
A word for all you Catholic priests and laymen who contacted me 16 years ago about Cardinal McCarrick, and told me what you knew, but who would not go on the record about it — it is time for you to find your voice. Speak up. Tell what you know. The young men who had to suffer this pervert’s attentions all these decades deserve to have their pain acknowledged and vindicated.
UPDATE: A statement from the current Cardinal Archbishop of Newark. Excerpt:
The Archdiocese of Newark has never received an accusation that Cardinal McCarrick abused a minor. In the past, there have been allegations that he engaged in sexual behavior with adults. This Archdiocese and the Diocese of Metuchen received three allegations of sexual misconduct with adults decades ago; two of these allegations resulted in settlements.
When did the archdiocese and the diocese receive these allegations? The wording is ambiguous. If settlements were made, when were they made, and why did church officials not disclose to the public that their former leader screwed around?
Why were so many bishops willing to run cover for Ted McCarrick all these years? Why?