During the long summer afternoons of 2002, I sat and read to a blind, dying Cardinal. In the upstairs sitting room of a lovely upper-northwest Washington home, donated to the Archdiocese decades ago. A house for the retired Archbishop.
It was my final summer as a seminarian. I read Huckleberry Finn to James Card. Hickey, pausing when he would drift off. Picking back up again when he awoke, smiling meekly.
It nauseates me to imagine Theodore McCarrick sitting in that very same room now, which he probably is. But we can hope and pray: maybe he’s sitting at the desk in the alcove of that room. Sitting and writing his full confession. Repenting of all the ways in which he betrayed, manipulated, and harmed the faithful Catholics who believed in him. And making a full, clean breast of it.
I, for one, will hope for the day when McCarrick publishes such a confession. I will hope for that day until he goes to his grave. Because then we might actually be able to begin to learn to trust bishops again.
But this is not why I thought of my afternoons with dear, departed Cardinal Hickey. I thought of them because: I was there that summer at the request of a priest–the priest who usually lived with Card. Hickey, in those days.
The priest-secretary wanted to travel some that summer, go to World Youth Day in Toronto, etc. So he asked for a seminarian to cover for him, to help the Cardinal say his Mass and his breviary, help him entertain the occasional guests that came to visit, and keep him company.
The priest who asked for this help: then-Monsignor Barry Knestout. The seminarian who got the assignment: Me.
I have been wondering: Why did Bishop Knestout, now our father in God here in Richmond–why did he feel the need to censor this little weblog, and then play authoritarian mind games with me about it?
As you, dear reader, know, I have been trying to write my way through a faith-shattering blow: learning that the prelate who ordained me belonged in jail that day. I don’t believe that I have done anyone any harm with my tortured writings. After all, you can feel free to read other weblogs instead, if you find this one bothersome. Yet Bishop Knestout felt the need to try to manipulate me into feeling guilty about doing this. Why?
Could be that he got bad advice, or acted without fully informing himself. His letter to me showed that he may not have read carefully the very blog post that he censored.
But the question remains: Why fuss at me at all? When I’m harming no one?
I’m sure you recall that, on June 20, the Archdioceses of New York and Washington issued a public statement. The pope had suspended the ministry of Theodore McCarrick, because of a credible allegation that he sexually abused a minor.
But the statement also said something else, something so ridiculously opaque that its opacity itself counts as a crushing insult to the intelligence of the Catholic faithful. The Archdiocese of Newark NJ, and the Diocese of Metuchen NJ, had “earlier paid settlements because of McCarrick’s sexual misconduct with adults.”
The late Richard Sipe had published excerpts from the settlement documents in 2010. In August, the dioceses involved offered limited information, to a reporter. But we still know precious little about these settlements.
Now, customarily, at the gift procession at Holy Mass, someone carries a basket containing the monetary offerings up the aisle. The priest receives the basket and sets it at the foot of the altar.
We can only assume that the money paid in the McCarrick settlements came into the hands of the bishops in that way.
Which means that everyone involved in arranging the McCarrick settlements participated in a kind of sacrilege. In order to protect the reputation of the Archbishop of Washington (who was an acknowledged sexual predator), other bishops (in his previous sees) paid out money that the faithful had offered to God.
Let’s focus on the first settlement, apparently paid in 2005. At that time, McCarrick still reigned in Washington. (Donald Wuerl succeeded him in 2006.)
Who all was involved in arriving at that settlement? Who knew about the negotiations?
McCarrick himself. And the then-Archbishop of Newark, John Myers. And the victim, Mr. Robert Ciolek. Also: lawyers. Their secretaries, assistants, etc. Archbishop Myers’ confidential assistants and secretaries. And McCarrick’s confidential assistants and secretaries.
Then-Monsignor Knestout served as McCarrick’s appointment secretary from 2003-2004.
On July 30 of this year, Bishop Knestout wrote us Catholics of Richmond a letter. Some people in our parishes found the letter odd, since it meticulously answered a question which no one had asked, so far as we knew. And the letter simultaneously missed the chance to offer us the kind of fatherly love we needed, while we reeled from the gut-punch of the revelations about McCarrick.
The answer Bishop Knestout so meticulously gave: No, I never, ever received any allegations against McCarrick.
Some of my people asked me that weekend, when Bishop Knestout’s letter was published: Can this possibly be true? They asked me earnestly, knowing that I know more than the average bear about the inner-workings of the Archdiocese of Washington in the early 2000’s. So they asked me, ‘Father, can we possibly believe this?’
Yes, I replied. I believe it myself. I believe to this day that McCarrick had ceased to prey on his sexual victims by the time he arrived in Washington, at age 70.
But, in his letter of July 30, Bishop Knestout did not address another matter:
Did he know about the settlements?
We can believe that those involved in negotiating those settlements–the sitting bishops in the New Jersey dioceses, the lawyers, even McCarrick himself–we can believe that they probably thought they acted in the best interest of the Church. To prevent a shattering scandal.
But they would have been grievously wrong in thinking that way. They operated with a strange set of blinders on. They confused Jesus Christ’s Church with another kind of organization, namely the Mafia.
When will the Scandal be over? That seems a long, long way off.
But getting there certainly includes: the public repentance of everyone involved in negotiating those New Jersey settlements. Everyone who knew, and kept it secret. Everyone who didn’t blow the whistle. When a real God-fearing priest would have blown the whistle, loudly, to high heaven, no matter the consequences to his own career.
(The floor is yours, here, Excellency, if you think it good to answer. If you knew absolutely nothing, then I, for one, will truly be glad to know it. But then please go after the ones that did know, in Washington and in the Vatican. Instead of promising “to cooperate with any investigation into the McCarrick Scandal,” how about leading one?)