Bruce Springsteen played a beach bar called The Stone Pony in the 70’s and 80’s, in the New Jersey town of Asbury Park. The Jersey Shore shimmers with the beauty of The Boss’ poetry.
Which makes it even more excruciatingly painful to contemplate the sufferings of Mr. John Doe 14. Victimized by Theodore McCarrick, a couple of towns down Ocean Avenue from the Asbury Park Convention Hall (where Springsteen saw the Doors, when he was nineteen).
John Doe 14 calls himself by that name because McCarrick first abused him at age 14. I could have known John Doe in school, if I lived up in those parts. John Doe was born three years before your unworthy servant.
In high school, Doe had an apparently ruthless sex-abuser for his Catholic-school principal. This man waylaid ninth-grader John Doe into McCarrick’s Sea Girt, NJ, beach-house sex ring.
Bruce was rocking in his early prime in those years. He had released The River, then Nebraska, and he was cranking out all his Born-in-the-USA hits. Just up the beach.
John Doe filed suit last week in New Jersey. Against all the Catholic institutions that failed him: the school, parishes, and dioceses implicated in the sex-ring. His lawsuit brilliantly seeks to accomplish by external compulsion something that has not happened by way of in-house purification. Namely: genuine accountability for these institutions. If they were secular corporations, they would all have to enter some kind of moral receivership.
The simple fact is this: John Doe got dragged into an organized, far-reaching sexual-exploitation operation, headed by the chief executive of the diocese. Doe names five priests and religious in the lawsuit. But other priests were involved. Doe just never knew their names.
Theodore McCarrick belonged in jail, when the pope’s ambassador came to the new diocese of Metuchen, NJ, to hand McCarrick the crozier. John Doe entered the ninth grade the following year. McCarrick had already committed too many criminal sexual acts against minors for him even to remember them all. He belonged behind bars. Instead, he ran a sexual exploitation operation, victimizing minors, out of the diocesan beach house.
When John Doe was nineteen or twenty, Pope John Paul II made McCarrick the new Archbishop of Newark. John Doe saw the man who had abused him like a sex slave during ninth and tenth grades–he saw him adulated as the new pope of the Garden State.
Shortly thereafter, McCarrick abused Mr. John Bellocchio, about whom we wrote a few months ago.
…On the morning of September 11, 2001, Springsteen went out to the Jersey beach, to look north and watch the smoke rise from lower Manhattan. Songs began to come into his head.
He could write a song about this. About John Doe 14 and the scores of abused brethren he has–high school boys, seminarians, young priests.
The song needs some heavy guitar riffs, to cover us while we punch holes in the wall. Then it needs to resolve into tragic sadness, while we think of the terns bobbing in the seawash on the beach at sunset. And we weep over the colossal desecration that our holy Church has suffered, but still not faced.
In February 2019, the Vatican hosted a meeting on sex abuse of minors. A German Cardinal gave a speech at that meeting, touching on ‘transparency.’
The Holy See had just defrocked McCarrick then. As I noted at the time, the utter secrecy of the case rendered the outcome open to grave doubts about its judicial integrity.
Cardinal Marx spoke on that subject. He said:
Proper legal proceedings serve to establish the truth, and form the basis for imposing a punishment which is appropriate for the relevant offence. People in the Church have also to see how this judge comes to the sentence and what is the sentence; nearly all are secret, we cannot see this. I think that in our situation it is not good. In addition, they establish trust in the organisation and its leadership. Lingering doubts about the proper conduct of court proceedings only harm the reputation and the functioning of an institution. This principle also applies to the Church.
If the Holy Father had taken this advice, Mr. Doe and Mr. Bellocchio might not have had to file their lawsuits. The institutions they have sued might have acknowledged the full truth, back in 2019.
But the pope did not take Cardinal Marx’s advice. To this day, one wonders why.