On Tuesday night, I spent an hour on the phone with a man who has been identified in the media only by his first name, James. He is 60, a native of New Jersey, and one of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s molestation victims. McCarrick was a longtime friend of his family. James (whose full name I am withholding at his request, to protect a family member) told his story first to The New York Times, though he has spoken to other media outlets since the Times published his account on July 19.
But James’ allegations — that he was repeatedly sexually abused as a minor — are the most explosive yet to be leveled against the cardinal, who is now 88 and living in seclusion in the Washington, D.C., area. On Monday, James filed a police report detailing his accusations against the cardinal with the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office in Virginia, where he lives.
Cardinal McCarrick, through a spokeswoman, Susan Gibbs, said on Wednesday that he had not been notified of the accusation, so he could not respond. But she said he was committed to following the process the church has put in place for abuse allegations.
James said he had tried to tell his father that he was being abused when he was 15 or 16. But Father McCarrick was so beloved by his family, he said, and considered so holy, that the idea was unfathomable.
James was baptized by Father McCarrick on June 15, 1958, two weeks after he was ordained as a priest, records from Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Tenafly, N.J., show.
“He had chosen me to be his special boy,” James said in the phone interview, with his lawyer, Patrick Noaker, listening. “If I go back to my family, they tell me that it’s good for you to be with him. And if you go to try to tell somebody, they say ‘I think you are mistaken.’ So what you do is you clam up, and you stay inside your own little shoe box, and you don’t come out for 40 years.”
When I speak to James by phone, I ask him what he would have to say to the people – bishops, priests, and laymen – who know who Theodore McCarrick is and what he did to people, but who are to this day keeping the old man’s secrets.
“I would say, ‘What is so important that you are afraid to lose? Why do you believe that you are more important than so many other lives? Why can’t you just let us all know what you know? Otherwise, all his cronies that he brought on to replace him will continue his abuse in the church. They believe that if they speak out, the Catholic Church will no longer be. They piss me off because they don’t have the guts to step up and say something.”
As the Times reported, James’s abuse at McCarrick’s hands started when James was 11. James suspects it might have started earlier, on evidence of his unusually disruptive and anti-social behavior at home. He did poorly at school. He stole money. He was a hothead, and threw baseballs at people in anger.
“Where does that anger get generated?” he muses. “My mother and father were great people.”
The family moved from New Jersey to Hillsborough, California, which is when the main abuse at McCarrick’s hands started.
“You know, Theodore was a big fundraiser for the Church. When Patty Hearst got abducted, he spent weeks in Hillsborough, where we lived then. The day he masturbated me in the beach parking lot, we were late coming back, and I tried to tell my father. He told my dad that ‘this idiot shook up a coke he bought, and when he opened it, it got all over him. It ruined my car. That’s why his pants are wet.’
“I told my dad that that’s not true. He just said, ‘You gotta go to your room.’”
James says that as a boy, he had no safe place to discuss what was happening to him. “No place. No place. My father was just not going to hear it.”
James descended into juvenile delinquency – stealing, breaking into houses, anything to get attention. This is a common behavior among abused boys who have to keep it all in. “My father could not bear to see his son fail, but he couldn’t put his arms around what was going on,” he recalls.
“I tried a couple of times with my mother, but she would say ‘I think you’re mistaken.’ My father was born in 1918, my mother was born in 1920. They were raised in a way that the Catholic Church was everything. My father was a holy guy. He’d walk around with a rosary in his hand all day. My parents were very holy, and their parents were very holy. Their whole idea about life was that way.”
According to James, McCarrick continued to abuse him throughout his teen years, and into his twenties. He describes the process of his own entrapment, one that is a familiar story in the world of clerical sexual abuse.
“What they do is they lure you in with presents and booze, and they promise you everything, give you nothing, and then take everything,” James says. “They woo you in to trust them. And then they start abusing you. They start making you do things that you don’t want to do because you’re afraid. Fear takes over.”
Fear of what? I ask.
“That no one is going to believe me. That I was doing something wrong. He would always tell me that I was his special boy, that God gave me to him, so we could worship together and be happy together. He told me he had the power to get God to forgive me all my sins. That my father didn’t have that power. That’s the aura.”
From an early age, says James, McCarrick used liquor to seduce him. “Every time we got together we were drinking beer or vodka, always. I told him I didn’t like the taste of beer, so he said put some tomato juice in it.”
James says McCarrick often called his parents asking to get together with him, to check on him and see how he was doing. Those calls always involved sexual contact. Did no one question why you were spending so much time with a priest? I ask.
No, says James. He was always getting in trouble. His parents thought it was good that he spent time with a Catholic priest, because that might straighten him out. That relationship lasted for years.
“When he became auxiliary bishop in New York, I was at his party. When he went to [become bishop of] Metuchen [in 1981], I went to Metuchen. When he went to Newark [in 1986], I went to Newark. He would call me and ask me to come visit. That meant sex.”
James claims to have been present for gay sex parties at the bishop’s residence when McCarrick was at Metuchen. A nun who knew what was happening spoke out against it, and found herself quickly sent away, he says.
James married in 1989. McCarrick — then the Archbishop of Newark — performed the ceremony. Wasn’t it bizarre to stand in front of the priest who had been molesting you since childhood as he solemnized your wedding vows?
“I was pretty drunk at the time. I didn’t feel much at all,” James says. “My mother had asked [McCarrick], ‘Can you do that for us?’ He did it for six of the kids [in James’s family]. I did it to appease other people. I’m a people-pleaser. Anytime the family wanted Theodore to do anything in the house, for any of my brothers and sisters, they would call me first: ‘Can you get him to come do this?’ I was his special boy who could get him to do things that nobody else could. So it seemed.”
The marriage lasted 17 months. After it ended, James spiraled further into drug and alcohol abuse. “They give you so many hang-ups that you don’t know what’s right and what’s wrong,” he says, of abusers. “The only way to turn off the noise in your head is to do drugs and alcohol to turn off the noise in your head.”
After trying to kill himself with an overdose of painkillers washed down with gin, James embraced sobriety on November 21, 1991. He was 33 years old.
He says that McCarrick, who had quit having sexual relations with him, prevailed upon Cardinal Bernard Law to get him into a Boston halfway house for released prisoners transitioning back to the mainstream. He says he was visited by two priests he describes as “thugs,” on what he believes was a mission from Cardinal Law to intimidate him into silence. James alleges that one of those priests was Father Paul Shanley, who later went to jail for child rape after the Boston scandal broke in 2002. The other priest, Father Bill Cummings, put his hands down James’s pants and warned him that he was never to say a word about what had happened between him and McCarrick.
Father Cummings told James that he would henceforth be his spiritual father, and that he was to start attending his parish, so he could keep an eye on him. Father Cummings was an accused molester who died in 1994, shortly after telling his congregation that he was sick with AIDS. After Cummings died, James decided to leave Catholicism for good.
“There are a lot of gay priests in the Church,” he recalls, “and I said this is not for me.”
James says he still has his father’s strong belief in God’s presence, though he has repudiated his Catholic faith.
“My father was built that way, he was raised that way, and he raised us in his image. I thank God for that, because I have an exact religion that I no longer practice. But I have a God that is as strong as ever. He keeps me sober every single day.”
The last time he saw McCarrick, James says, was in 2012. He confronted the retired cardinal and told him that if he didn’t agree to say the funeral mass for his mother, he was going to expose their past.
“Theodore told me, ‘No way you can do that, because you’re a drunk and no one’s going to believe you. Don’t you know how important I am?’”
I ask James to explain how McCarrick could have maintained an avuncular, soothing public image for so long while carrying on such a wicked secret life.
“He lives in his own little private world,” says James, his voice rising in anger. “He believes most of the shit that he says for himself. His ego is bigger than yours and mine and 300 people put together. He believes that he is untouchable, and that there’s nobody else in the world who can put him aside.”
I point out that senior churchmen who have been close to McCarrick, like the Roman curial Cardinal Kevin Farrell, are saying that they had no idea that McCarrick had been sexually corrupt.
“They lie,” he growls. “They lie through their teeth and hoping that everything will go away, because the great Oz behind the curtain, Cardinal McCarrick, is going to fix things again. But he’s done. He’s finally done! Somebody finally got Dolan to say what he did, and I got down on my knees and said, ‘That’s it, I’ve had enough! I’m going to talk.’”
James is referring to the June 20 statement from New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, announcing that a formal church investigation substantiated claims that McCarrick had abused a boy when the retired cardinal was a priest of the New York archdiocese, and that Pope Francis had therefore forbidden McCarrick from exercising public ministry. That announcement was the beginning of the end for McCarrick’s reputation.
If Pope Francis doesn’t act clearly and strongly to clean up this mess, says James, the Catholic Church will collapse under the weight of the bishops’ corruption. He doubts that the bishops and priests who depended on McCarrick’s patronage for their clerical careers will ever rat their godfather Uncle Ted out. Part of it is loyalty, he contends, and part is because many of them know too much about each other’s sexual secrets, and are bound by a self-protective vow of silence.
“They believe that they are more important than the religion itself,” James says. “They believe that man is better than God. That’s not possible. McCarrick believed that he was my direct contact with God. He told me that hundreds and hundreds of times: God will only listen to you when you are with me.”
“Did you believe that?” I ask.
“For a while, yes. When he kissed my penis, yes.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“That’s okay,” says James. “God has given me the strength to get this story out there, and for that I thank God. I have to keep talking. I have to keep talking to other people. Even if I have to tell this story 800 times, I’ll keep saying it until somebody finally listens.”
UPDATE: The reader who sent this last week gives me permission to publish it:
Since the Cardinal McCarrick story broke and your many blogs, I’ve deliberated contacting you. I found the descriptions of “Uncle Ted” with seminarians particularly disturbing but familiar. You see, I was a “nephew”; however, I was not a seminarian. I was a minor.
When I read the story about James in today’s New York Times and saw the photo of McCarrick with his accuser, I felt I could have transposed either myself or my brother in the picture. McCarrick took my brother and me on the same trips. I was astounded to find an identical pattern in locations and experiences. We were taken to the fishing lodge in Eldred and the Tonga Room in San Francisco. During a trip to California I even recall my awe when I learned he’d just gotten off the phone with a “Dolores” who turned out to be Dolores Hope, Bob’s wife. As you remember, James also referred to McCarrick’s connection to Hollywood royalty including Bob Hope. Although I was never sexually abused or violated, his behavior was clearly inappropriate. Every description of unwanted touching rings true.
Like James, my family had a close connection with McCarrick. Cardinal McCarrick “adopted” various Catholic families as he rose to power. My family was one of these families, all with boys. He’d offer to take us on various trips in the tri-state area, an honor in the eyes of our devoted Catholic parents. Often, I traveled with other “nephews.” Although his name was not revealed in the Times article, I may very well have known James.
The reader adds today, after reading James’s account in TAC:
I just read your post regarding James. Another Deja vu moment! When he’d visit for dinner, McCarrick’s drink of choice was beer and tomato juice! In the post, the word “aura” was a perfect choice to describe McCarrick’s effect on others, pre-Vatican II parents in particular.
If you haven’t read it yet, look at today’s article in America reporting Father Rossi’s harassment [by McCarrick]. One thing in the story was also familiar: frequent inquiries into my weight and if I was “staying in shape.”