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Uncle Ted’s Family Tradition

Uncovering the 'genealogy' of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church
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Handsy Archbishop (formerly Cardinal) Ted McCarrick’s name did not come up in the Pennsylvania grand jury report, but his shadow looms large over the burgeoning scandal engulfing the US bishops. McCarrick loved for seminarians and priests to call him “Uncle Ted” — an endearment he also instructed “James,” a man he began molesting when James was only 11, to call him.

Uncle Ted will not be going to Pope Francis’s World Meeting of Families in Dublin later this month, but some of his clerical family will be present.

The Associated Press reports that Washington’s Cardinal Donald Wuerl is facing trouble on two fronts: one having to do with his failures to police clerical molesters as Bishop of Pittsburgh, and the other related to his hard-to-credit claim that he had no idea that McCarrick, his predecessor in Washington, was a known molester — this, despite two claims having been quietly settled by the dioceses of Newark and Metuchen.

Cardinal Wuerl is set to speak at the World Meeting of Families in Dublin later this month:

Judging from the grand jury report, there are some families in the Diocese of Pittsburgh who would question Donald Wuerl’s credentials to speak on the welfare of the family.

Also speaking at the World Meeting of Families: Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark and curial Cardinal Kevin Farrell. Tobin — he of the infamous “Nighty-night baby, I love you” tweet — is a successor of McCarrick’s, and as such, knew or should have known about the settlements with his victims, at least from the time of his 2017 installation in Newark. Farrell was an auxiliary bishop in Washington under McCarrick, and has publicly credited McCarrick as a mentor. Though he shared a flat with Uncle Ted in DC, Farrell has publicly denied that he had the slightest inkling that McCarrick was a molester.

I don’t believe it for a second. Even if it happens to be true, well, demonstrate it somehow. I will not believe it until and unless it is demonstrated.

Here’s one reason why: today’s report from Catholic News Agency about how widely know McCarrick’s behavior was in Newark. Excerpts:

The religious priest who spoke to CNA said when he studied in a seminary in New York, McCarrick, who was then an aide to Cardinal Terence Cooke of New York, would sometimes visit the seminary. The priest said that McCarrick’s reputation was already well established by this time.

“The dean of our theology school was a classmate at CUA with McCarrick, and he knew about the rumors,” the priest told CNA, “he spoke about them with the other faculty and theologians very openly.”

So well-known was McCarrick’s reputation, the priest said, that when McCarrick would accompany Cooke to visit the seminary there was a standing joke that they had to “hide the handsome ones” before he arrived.

The same reputation reportedly followed the archbishop years later, when he served from 1986-2000 as Archbishop of Newark. One priest of the Archdiocese of Newark told CNA it was an uncomfortable experience when McCarrick came to visit the seminary.

The priest said that McCarrick would often place his hand on seminarians while talking with them, or on their thighs while seated near them.

“It was really unnerving. On the one hand you knew – knew – what was going on but you couldn’t believe it.”

More about the world McCarrick and his successor John Myers — a conservative! — sustained:

Three Newark priests independently gave CNA nearly identical accounts of being invited to these parties when they were newly ordained.

One recalled that he attended a cocktail party, thinking he had been invited to a simple priests’ dinner. “I was led into the room to a chorus of wolf-whistles,” he said. “It was clear right away I was ‘on display.’”

Another priest told CNA that he was also invited to a party hosted by the priest. “They were all carrying big mixed drinks, pink ones, it was like something out of Sex in City.”

He recalled that after asking for a beer, he was told by his host, “you need to try something more girly tonight.”

All recounted overtly sexual conversation at the cocktail parties.   “I was fresh meat and they were trying me out,” one priest said.

All three said they left quickly upon realizing what was going on. “Everyone was getting loaded and getting closer on the couches, I wanted out of there,” a priest told CNA.

“Everyone kept calling me a ‘looker’ and saying they had to ‘keep me around’ from now on,” a third Newark priest told CNA.

The archdiocese declined to answer questions related to those parties.

All three priests told CNA that while the experience was deeply unpleasant, they had seen similar behavior in Newark’s seminary.

Seminarians and priests from ordination classes spanning 30 years, during the terms of McCarrick and Myers, reported to CNA that they had observed an active homosexual subculture of priest and seminarians within Newark’s Immaculate Conception Seminary.

One priest ordained in the early years of McCarrick’s term in Newark said that “a lot of people lost their innocence in the seminary.”

He told CNA that there were two distinct groups of students. “You had the men who were there because they had a deep love of the Lord and a vocation to serve his Church,” he said, adding that those men were the majority of seminarians.

“But there was a subculture, with its own group of men, that was openly homosexual and petty and vindictive with everyone else,” he explained.

The priests say things have improved at the Newark seminary, but that a lot of the bad guys were ordained, and are in ministry today:

As for the problems with priests already in ministry, the priests agreed it was demoralizing, for priests and lay Catholics alike.

One said that priests living unfaithful lives are a scandal playing out “with the mute button on.”

“Our people aren’t stupid. They know who their pastors are, for good and bad. They know who drinks too much, they know if their priest is celibate or not. But they see nothing is done about it and they understand that the Church doesn’t mean what it says, or even care.”

Another told CNA, “nobody is fooled by the medical leave thing anymore. I’m terrified I might actually get sick, my parishioners would probably think I’d done something terrible.”

Read the whole thing. 

I’m telling you, if the media ever start really digging into the life and times of Theodore McCarrick, and examining the system that produced him, and that he sustained, they are going to expose malicious networks of sexually active gay priests who use their power to protect and promote their kind. The late Richard Sipe wrote about the “genealogy” of sex abuse among clergy — see here for the basics — which was his way of characterizing the systemic, intergenerational way that patterns of abuse pass down through the Catholic priesthood. Powerful clergy — bishops and others — who are sexually active permit sexual activity among their priests, and recruit others to join in.

Cardinal Francis Spellman, who ruled the Archdiocese of New York from 1939 to 1967, was widely known in clerical circles for his active homosexuality. A personal friend of mine attended a gay party at the archbishop’s mansion on Fifth Avenue, and was given a tour of the place by His Eminence. One of the stories told about Spellman was that he was once asked by a gay lover how he thought he could get away with his double life. Spellman answered, “Who would believe it?”

Indeed, who would? Spellman was famously anti-communist and rigidly moralistic — in public. When I was working in New York, I heard stories about him from people like my friend, as well as from a Catholic cop, that had never been made public, but which were right in line with those that had been publicized. In the third volume of her provocatively titled 2006 book The Rite Of Sodomy,  Catholic writer Randy Engel takes a deep dive into the Spellman legacy, and the role of homosexuality in the Catholic hierarchy of the Boston-New York axis in the 20th century. Spellman ordained McCarrick, whose rise to power began when he served as personal secretary to Cardinal Terence Cooke, Spellman’s successor.

Spellman’s homosexuality is no secret. What I learned from Engel’s book — which is much better researched and argued than the bomb-throwing title would lead you to believe — is that Cardinal William O’Connell, archbishop of Boston from 1907 to 1944, was gay. So too was Cardinal John Wright, made an auxiliary bishop of Boston in 1947 under O’Connell’s successor, Cardinal Richard Cushing. Wright went on to become the Bishop of Worcester, Mass. Engel writes:

From the time Pius XII made John Wright the first Bishop of the new Diocese of Worcester, the diocese has remained a clerical pederast’s paradise.

Anyone who has spent even a small amount of time tracking clerical sex abusers on the Internet cannot help but be impressed with the number of times the Diocese of Worcester pops up on the screen. To date there have been at least 50 cases of clerical sex abuse reported in the diocese, mostly diocesan priests who attended St. John’s Seminary in Brighton and a handful that received their formation and training for the priesthood at the North American College in Rome.

Engel collects a lot of data on Wright, who moved on to become Bishop of Pittsburgh in 1959, and then migrated to Rome in 1969 to become a cardinal and the highest-ranking American in the Roman Curia. He participated in the conclave that elected Pope John Paul II, but because he was ill and confined to a wheelchair, his personal secretary, Monsignor Donald Wuerl, was allowed to accompany him into the conclave. Wright died in 1979.

Here is something startling from Engel’s book:

To the best of my knowledge, even though Wright’s pederastic predilections were an “open secret” in the Archdiocese of Boston and its satellite dioceses of Worcester and Springfield for many years, no one has come forward to accuse him of sexual abuse until now.

His accuser is Mr. William Burnett, whose uncle, Rev. Raymond Page, served under Bishop Wright in Worcester and whose exploits we have already detailed in connection with Bishop Weldon.

According to Burnett, his uncle-priest owned a rustic private lakeshore retreat that he had built from an old cabin on the Massaconnet Shores of Hamilton Reservoir in Holland, Mass. When I asked him what he recalled about the lodge, Burnett said he remembered that the living-room/den was covered with heavy area rugs.

Burnett said that Bishop Wright was a regular guest at Page’s private retreat when he was there. He said like most Catholics, he was in awe of the bishop.

Burnett agreed to provide this writer with details of his sexual abuse at the hands of Wright and Page even though he said it was a difficult thing to do.

The following descriptions of acts perpetrated on young Bill Burnett are not related as an exercise in idle prurient interest. Rather they are intended to show the absolute depravity of the acts committed against Bill Burnett at the hands of his own uncle and that of Bishop Wright, and to ask the reader about how he would feel if William had been his own son.

Burnett stated that the abuse ritual began with drinks, a coke for him and coke and alcohol for Page and Wright. Wright would then undress him, fall on his knees before the standing boy and cover him with kisses.

I don’t want to publish here the pornographic details — not on this blog. They’re in Engel’s book, and she’s right: she doesn’t post them for prurient reasons, but to compel readers to understand exactly what we’re talking about here. Let’s just say that according to Burnett, Wright and Page engaged in various sexual acts with him, as a boy, and with each other. Regarding the boy Burnett, we’re talking about rape. More Engel:

When it was all over, Wright handed Bill a $20 bill like he always did.

Significantly, Burnett said that Bishop Wright encouraged him to study for the priesthood for the Diocese of Worcester when he graduated from high school.

According to Burnett, his abuse at the hands of Wright and Page occurred mainly from 1952 to 1955.

Donald Wuerl became private secretary to Bishop Wright not long after his 1966 ordination. He moved into Wright’s residence in Pittsburgh, and of course followed him to Rome, after Wright was named Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy — that is, head of the Vatican’s apparatus for overseeing priests worldwide. The New York Times obituary for the cardinal said:

Meanwhile, he enjoyed the trappings of his post in the Vatican. He shared his fifth‐floor apartment with his secretary, the Rev. Donald Wuerl, whom he had taken with him from Pittsburgh. The apartment was said to be crammed with stereo equipment and his many books. Cardinal Wright enjoyed long conversations over a large dinner of pasta and he once said that he “confessed to Romanitas.” [In this context, affection for the culture and style of Vatican life. — RD]

Guilt by association is a fallacy. We do not know that Cardinal Wuerl is gay, or personally guilty of any sexual misconduct. I am not here asserting, or even insinuating, that he is.

But there is reason to believe that Wuerl’s great mentor, spiritual father, and patron, the cardinal he served for 13 years, was an active homosexual, and indeed — on Bill Burnett’s testimony — a pederast. What, if anything, did Donald Wuerl know about Cardinal Wright’s private life? Was Wright personally compromised? What did Wright teach him about how to think about sexual activity among priests? Given what Richard Sipe has said about the “genealogical” aspect of clerical sexual abuse and misconduct — that is, this phenomenon passing down through the clerical ranks by sexually active prelates and seminary rectors recruiting and promoting those who share their sexual enthusiasm — the questions ought to be asked.

As Sipe tirelessly argued, sexual disorder among priests, cloaked by a veil of secrecy, provides a hothouse culture into which sexual criminal behavior with minors can thrive. Most sexually active priests would never molest a minor, but the importance of keeping their own sexual sins hidden made them likely to turn a blind eye when other priests did harm minors.

Ted McCarrick might be the keystone whose fall brings the entire secret world of closeted bishops and powerful gay sexual networks falling down. This, I believe, is why Wuerl wants to make McCarrick look like a one-off, an aberration. In his recent videotaped interview with Father Rosica, Cardinal Wuerl (at 3:13) says, “I don’t think this is some massive, massive crisis.” To which Marc Thiessen, in a Fox News commentary, responds:

It is a massive, massive crisis. How was McCarrick allowed to rise through the hierarchy despite the countless warnings to both his fellow bishops and the Vatican that he was a sexual predator? Who knew? Who helped him? The same conspiracy of silence that allowed sexual predators to flourish in Wuerl’s Pittsburgh diocese for decades also allowed McCarrick to become, until just a few weeks ago, one of the most powerful American cardinals, even in retirement.

This is not just a matter of getting rid of a few bad apples. There is a ring of abusers and their enablers in the Catholic hierarchy that must be rooted out. Every report of abuse that was overlooked or ignored, every abuse that was covered up with a nondisclosure agreement, must be exposed. The bishops and cardinals who ignored or covered up abuses are complicit and must be removed. The church must be cleansed, and the conspiracy of silence ended.

Exactly right. Again and again: the only way to do that is to start digging deep into the root networks. I was told to read Engel’s book by a prominent Catholic layman, who said she really is onto something with Wuerl and Wright. I had not seen the book before because based on the title alone, I figured it was something fringey, which it kind of is, but much less so than I expected. When I mentioned that to a priest who teaches in one of the leading Catholic universities, he said to me, “Ross Douthat was right: If you want to know the truth about these things, you have to go to the fringes.”

Here’s the passage from the Douthat column in question:

It was the early 2000s, I was attending some earnest panel on religion, and I was accosted by a type who haunts such events — gaunt, intense, with a litany of esoteric grievances. He was a traditionalist Catholic, a figure from the church’s fringes, and he had a lot to say, as I tried to disentangle from him, about corruption in the Catholic clergy. The scandals in Boston had broken, so some of what he said was familiar, but he kept going, into a rant about Cardinal McCarrick: Did you know he makes seminarians sleep with him? Invites them to his beach house, gets in bed with them …

At this I gave him the brushoff that you give the monomaniacal and slipped out.

That was before I realized that if you wanted the truth about corruption in the Catholic Church, you had to listen to the extreme-seeming types, traditionalists and radicals, because they were the only ones sufficiently alienated from the institution to actually dig into its rot. (This lesson has application well beyond Catholicism.)

I’ll end with this. The late Richard Sipe was very much a progressive Catholic. He thought there was nothing morally wrong about homosexuality, wanted to see celibacy ended, and the clerical closet closed for business. He had no complaint at all about gay priests. What he hated was lies, double lives, and exploitation. On that last point, he and conservative Catholics would agree.

It is time to disrupt Uncle Ted’s family tradition. Uncover the dirt, expose the roots, depose corrupted prelates, dismiss from the priesthood those who will not live cleanly and faithfully. The fate of this family is decisive for the future of the Catholic Church.

What is the alternative? Read the newspaper. Look around you.

UPDATE: Good news! Disgraced Cardinal Wuerl has now withdrawn from the World Meeting of Families.