The world awaits the Vatican’s “McCarrick Report.”
We will see tomorrow morning how long the Vatican report is. I wager: staggeringly, painfully long.
We will see how informative the Vatican report is. I wager: So-so. It will have plenty of information about men who have reached the age of 80–or the grave. It will protect all churchmen who currently hold power.
We will see how readable the Vatican report is. I wager: Probably not as readable as…
What I Think Happened with McCarrick
(the new-and-improved Chapter II of Ordained By a Predator)
Pope John Paul II rode up Connecticut Avenue in Washington, D.C., standing in the back of an open car, smiling at the crowds lining the street, arms outstretched. It was October 1979. We saw him from the window of my father’s boss’ office–my whole family, along with a number of my father’s co-workers and their families.
The sight impressed my nine-year-old mind. I had vaguely taken on board the events of the previous fall, which involved smoke emerging from a pipe coming out from the roof of a church in a land called Italy, where they had invented spaghetti. The whole business of the Sistine Chapel seemed impossibly foreign to my little Protestant soul, yet it intrigued me. One Italian pope had died. The red-robed men elected another one, but then suddenly he died, too. Then they threw me yet another curveball by electing another pope, a second foreigner, but this time a different kind of foreigner. Polish, like my friend Alex at school.
Now here he was, on Connecticut Avenue, in front of my father’s office building. I had seen President Jimmy Carter in a parade, and this man in the white robe made our president look skinny and unimpressive, by comparison. Pope John Paul II exuded calm, broad-shouldered confidence.
Sixteen years later, I had grown from Protestant boy to new-Catholic young man, and John Paul II came to Baltimore, Maryland. It was the fall of 1995, and Cal Ripken, Jr., had just broken Lou Gehrig’s record for most consecutive major-league baseball games played. The pope came to celebrate Mass in the same stadium, a few weeks later.
This particular chilly October morning saw the stadium filled with thousands of good-hearted Catholics, bused in from Baltimore’s many large suburban parishes. The Secret Service insisted on everyone taking their seats a couple hours before the pope arrived. Some clever soul from the Archdiocese devised a program of ever-increasing hype, to whip up the shivering crowd’s enthusiasm for the celebrity’s arrival. The jumbotron showed Shepherd One descending, then landing. The motorcade moved out towards the baseball stadium. It seemed like we were waiting for Michael Jackson.
When he arrived, the pope gave a lengthy homily about Catholicism and American ideals. It probably missed most of the listeners. John Paul II read his English text with a thick accent, and he had aged a lot since I saw him sixteen years earlier. The manic enthusiasm in the baseball stadium, however, did not wane.
Anyone who has ever met Theodore McCarrick in person knows that the Lord cut him out for leadership. He always seemed genuinely glad to see you, and he immediately asserted a charming, avuncular authority over you. He speaks from the pulpit or lectern with effortless mellifluence, never at a loss for words. He almost always wins over his audience. He connects. He extends his network of allies. McCarrick’s mind moves faster than anyone else’s around him, and he employs his quickness on political maneuvers. He grasps ideas, but only as far as they tend toward a political goal of his. I do not think I have ever met a priest with less interest in theology, or even religion. McCarrick celebrated sacred rites in a controlled, perfunctory manner. I heard him give dozens of homilies and talks; I never heard him mention Jesus Christ by name, or even refer to Him directly.
McCarrick finished high school at Fordham Prep in the Bronx in 1949. Then he went to Switzerland for a year. He spent his twentieth birthday on a week-long retreat with the Carthusian monks at La Valsainte monastery. McCarrick had thought about becoming a priest ever since childhood. On this retreat, it became his adult choice, according to his recollections sixty years later.
James, the man who went public with McCarrick’s decades-long abuse in the summer of 2018, revealed his full name the following fall: James Grein. James has spoken openly about his own understanding of McCarrick’s youth. James recounted that his uncle provided the money for McCarrick’s year in Switzerland. James believes that, during that year, McCarrick fell under the influence of Communists trying to infiltrate the Catholic Church. Thus, from the beginning, James believes, McCarrick sought the priesthood in order to abet the destruction of Catholicism from within. McCarrick sought and obtained Church preferment, and quickly rose to prominence, as a Communist plant, a spy, an enemy. When I first heard James tell this tale, I had a hard time crediting it. But who knows?
What we know for sure: A self-professed zealous anti-Communist ordained McCarrick a priest at the end of May 1958. Francis Cardinal Spellman ruled “the Powerhouse”–the New York Archbishop’s residence on Madison Avenue–for three decades. He fostered the ecclesiastical careers of McCarrick and the late Christopher Weldon, who became bishop of Springfield MA in 1950. In 2020, it came to light that Weldon had participated in a criminal sex-abuse ring in his diocese.
The public knew Spellman as a champion of morals, but apparently he was a colossal hypocrite. In 1984, seventeen years after Spellman’s death, John Cooney sent the manuscript of his biography of the Cardinal to the publisher. Cooney included three pages about Spellman’s closeted homosexual life. These pages sprang from the testimonies of four on-the-record sources Cooney had interviewed, all of them conveying reliable second-hand information. Cooney also spoke with multiple anonymous first-hand sources.
As of late 1984, however, the Archdiocese of New York still exercised some control over the New York press. The newly arrived Archbishop, John O’Connor, got wind of the content of these three pages of Cooney’s draft. O’Connor used a back channel to get those pages removed from the published biography of his predecessor. News of this whitewashing of Spellman’s biography got out into the New York papers, however, so a prominent Catholic writer criticized Cooney’s book for having gotten into Spellman’s sexual life at all. Only the Cardinal’s public life and institutional success mattered; his dalliances were his own private business.
This was the world in which McCarrick grew up as a priest. McCarrick always gravitated toward handsome young men, beginning when he himself was something of a handsome young man. He never did much by way of serving in a parish.
During the first decade of this century, my mother and I always spent a few days after Christmas and Easter visiting my brother and his family on the Upper West Side of Manhattan island in New York City. I would concelebrate the late Father William Toohy’s early Mass at Blessed Sacrament church on West 70th Street. Father Toohy and McCarrick were contemporaries, and the old priest liked to reminisce with me in the sacristy after Mass. McCarrick’s only service as a parish priest occurred in that church, from 1969 to 1971. At a new-priest luncheon back in Washington, I mentioned my visits to Blessed Sacrament to McCarrick. “Gorgeous Gothic church,” he recalled. He shared no memories of interacting with the people.
In the fall of 1969, McCarrick exposed himself to James Grein and molested him. Eleven years had passed since McCarrick baptized James as an infant, the first baptism McCarrick ever performed. There were other families, also, with which McCarrick ingratiated himself to gain the opportunity to sexually abuse the children. The Christmas after McCarrick’s brief tenure at Blessed Sacrament ended, he molested the sixteen-year-old who eventually blew the whistle that finally brought McCarrick down. That particular penis-fondling took place in the sacristy of St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue.
McCarrick was ordained auxiliary bishop of New York just before his 46th birthday, in 1976. That same year, he met the future pope, Karol Cardinal Wojtyla. McCarrick made an impression at that meeting. John Paul II remembered the New Yorker when they saw each other in Rome, days after the end of the October 1978 conclave that made Wojtyla the pope. In 1981, His Holiness decreed the carving out of a new diocese in New Jersey. McCarrick became an “ordinary,” the chief executive of the new diocese of Metuchen.
The new diocesan bishop hit the ground running when it came to comforting himself with young bedfellows. He maintained an apartment on the top floor of a hospital in Manhattan where he could take seminarians and force them into bed with him. McCarrick also had the new diocese purchase a beach house, where he ogled, fondled, and molested boys, seminarians, and young priests.
The author E.J. Fleming had a childhood acquaintance who was murdered, Danny Croteau. Danny’s unsolved murder haunted Fleming for decades, so he finally investigated the case himself. His investigation revealed a multi-generational ring of criminal priest sex abusers in the diocese of Springfield, Massachusetts. The colossal scandal there lingers, unaddressed by the Church to this day. As I mentioned, fellow Spellman protegé Christopher Weldon served as bishop in Springfield, while McCarrick worked his way up the ranks in New York.
Fleming found evidence of interlocking rings of priest sex-abusers along the eastern seaboard. Another author, Randy Engel, has also written about this in her extensive study Rite of Sodomy. Neither of these authors placed McCarrick anywhere in the interlocking rings, but more evidence has emerged since they wrote their books. During his tenure in Metuchen, McCarrick told one seminarian victim, “I don’t like to sleep alone.”
Which came first? McCarrick’s cultivation of his prodigious talents and charisma, for the sake of becoming a globe-trotting Church careerist? Did he then realize that he had the power to force subordinates into sexual situations? Or was he fundamentally a pederast who cannily created the perfect world for his exploits? Did he pursue his career in order to have “gifts” to offer teenagers and young men to lure them into his web?
I do not propose to psychoanalyze the man. I do know that, sometime in his youth, McCarrick began to desire a high-ranking churchman’s fame and power. He idolized the TV-star bishop of the 50s, Fulton Sheen, and John Paul II’s star quality enchanted him. McCarrick indoctrinated his victims into a particular myth. Church celebrities inhabit a glittering world, and your Uncle Ted can give you entreé into that world.
McCarrick successfully sold the myth of his glittering celebrity status not just to his victims but to a wider circle. Newark needed a new Archbishop in 1986; McCarrick became the young pope of New Jersey. His predecessor, Peter Gerety, claimed to have grown old at age 73, even though he went on to live to 104. When announcing the transition in leadership in Newark, Gerety referred to McCarrick’s “outstanding success” in Metuchen, which “augurs well for the future of the archdiocese.”
Meanwhile, word had already begun to spread about McCarrick’s habitual sexual abuse. While on the faculty of St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore in the early 1980’s, Richard Sipe learned of the beach-house sleepovers. Seminarians were talking about it. But McCarrick had too much power for anyone to stop him. In Newark, the abuser had a seminary of his own at the diocesan Catholic university, Seton Hall, which gave him constant access to handsome young men who were subject to his absolute authority.
At one point in the spring of 2002, McCarrick had a luncheon with the top brass of the Washington Post. The Cardinal had these supposedly hard-bitten reporters completely under his spell, and he told them the story of an episode that had occurred a decade earlier, during the first years of his tenure as Archbishop of Newark. An anonymous detractor had written to a number of neighboring bishops, accusing McCarrick of pedophilia with members of his own family. McCarrick told the reporters and editors, “I immediately wrote a response and sent it to the Nuncio because I figure everything’s gotta be clear. And then I brought it to my Presbyter Council, the council of priests in the diocese. I said, ‘This is what I got. I want you to know it.’ And then nothing happened. He never wrote another letter or anything.”
The Archbishop of Newark had brazenly pushed his way through the incident. And at this Washington Post luncheon at the height of the 2002 scandal, he did it again. At no point did McCarrick ever explicitly deny the actual truth. He went on to declare to the reporters, on the record, that he had never sought, nor had, sexual relations with anyone–man, woman, or child. True enough, if you define ‘sexual relations’ very precisely. That is, if you will pardon the explicitness, as some kind of penetration. Ogling, stroking, fondling, humping, and masturbation do not count as sex, according to this reasoning. Forcing someone who cannot say no to share your bed does not count.
No one insisted on greater clarity or pressed him for more details, so McCarrick never had to deny his aversion for sleeping alone–not to the nuncio at the time of the incident in the early 1990s (who would have been either Pio Laghi or Agostino Cacciavillan), nor to his ‘Presbyter Council,’ nor to the luminaries of the Washington Post ten years later.
Creepiest of all was the fact that the unnamed author of the original letter had denounced McCarrick for molesting his “nephews.” McCarrick has no blood nephews; he has no brothers or sisters. He lost his father at age three and grew up an only child. Somewhere along the line, he adopted the fanciful custom of styling his younger male companions his ‘nephews.’ For fifteen years or more, McCarrick managed to charm most of his clergy and diocesan employees with this affectation. He often referred to his New York and New Jersey “nephews.” The conceit fit perfectly with his avuncular persona. To the overly abstracted minds of most priests, it seemed wonderfully homey. How nice! He can show us how to build something like family ties, even as celibates. Brilliant!
Yes, brilliant; brilliantly brazen. McCarrick lied to himself about what his self-indulgence meant. He tricked himself into thinking that he had built something lovely. In his own mind, he always acted as a great benefactor. He forced everyone around him–the whole Catholic community–to accept and share in his lie. One of his victims, known only as “Nathan,” later put it like this, “McCarrick was charming. He was self-effacing. He was completely disarming. And he ran that game on everyone. He ran it on his colleagues, donors, and on young boys. Everyone around this guy is just a different shade of victim.”
Some of those victims had complained. McCarrick’s successor in Metuchen heard from at least one, a seminarian McCarrick had abused. The young man eventually put his charges in writing, and they led to a secret cash settlement (the second of the two we know about). Professors at Seton Hall also heard complaints. A Trenton bishop apparently reported what he had heard to Nuncio Cacciavillan; someone from the nunciature then showed up in Newark to insist that the beach-house trips stop. They did not.
McCarrick made half-hearted promises about reforming his ways. Decades later, he admitted to a Vatican official that he had slept in the same bed as some of his seminarians, but he excused himself on the pretense that he thought of it as a “family” arrangement. To this day, McCarrick seems not to have admitted to himself the staggering extent of the damage he has wrought. He does not recognize the monster that stares back at him in the mirror, the abuser of power who violated the holy dignity of more men and boys than he can even remember. He still believes his own lies, his own mythology about how much good he has done for his “nephews.”
Why did no one with any power ever openly confront him? Did they assume that McCarrick’s liaisons with his chosen seminarians were consensual? Did they presume that McCarrick’s sex life involved only consenting adults? Did his cowed enablers convince themselves that the Archbishop scrupulously checked IDs, to make sure he never hurt anyone under 18? Or maybe those enablers had the same skeleton in their own closets? Maybe they each told themselves, ‘Well, I don’t really have enough evidence, and it’s someone else’s job to investigate.’
One thing seems quite clear. Anyone who expressed any concern focused only on the public image of the Church. They did not think through the spiritual and psychological damage the abuser had done, and continued to do, to innocent souls.
In 1997, a young man named Mark Crawford, who believed he had a vocation to the priesthood, met with McCarrick. Crawford wanted to serve the Church in the sacred ministry, but he had a problem, an interior obstacle. A serving priest of the Archdiocese, Father Ken Martin, had abused both Crawford and his brother. The young man needed something done about it before he could embrace a calling to the priesthood. McCarrick promised action, but did nothing. No surprise there. Father Martin had served as McCarrick’s priest secretary for four years, after abusing the Crawfords. And the Archbishop himself was guilty of the same repeated offense.
Time went by, and Crawford got no satisfaction from McCarrick. In fact, a photo appeared in the Catholic newspaper: McCarrick and Martin together, at a Christmas party for children. Infuriated by this, Crawford wrote to Cardinals across the United States. He begged them to get involved, and help him bring Martin to justice, so that he could move forward with his vocation to the priesthood. None of the American Cardinals intervened in any way. One wrote back to the young man, assuring him that McCarrick certainly had everyone’s best interests in mind.
McCarrick was living at the center of a shadow world, in which he could cultivate Church stardom under the conservative Polish pope, while quietly fondling as many penises as he could use his power to get his hands on.
After Pope John Paul finished celebrating Mass at the Orioles’ baseball stadium in Baltimore, that chilly October morning in 1995, he flew to Newark. McCarrick stood at the airport to greet him and escort him to Newark’s grand cathedral.
A number of East Coast prelates had urged the pope not to visit McCarrick’s Archdiocese. The coming of the pope might provoke press chatter about seminarians getting summoned to the beach house. According to Nuncio Cacciavillan, John Cardinal O’Connor of New York had undertaken some kind of ‘investigation’ of the rumors of McCarrick’s sexual misconduct. The investigation apparently came up with no proof.
O’Connor did not give up, however. In the summer of 1997, O’Connor protégé Vincent Breen became McCarrick’s second successor in the diocese of Metuchen. In 1999, Breen had Monsignor Michael Alliegro conduct a secret investigation. Alliegro had served as priest secretary for McCarrick years earlier; he was now a high-ranking Metuchen-diocese official. Bishop Breen wanted to know about possible lawsuits by McCarrick’s victims. He had Alliegro interview at least one of the victims. Breen apparently passed along all the information he gathered to O’Connor. Fearing a scandal that would “divide the American clergy, harm the reputation of the hierarchy, and bring mud on the Church,” the Cardinal-Archbishop of New York secretly wrote to the pope, warning him not to make Theodore McCarrick the Archbishop of Washington and a Cardinal.
Now, the Archdiocese of Washington hardly qualifies as a Metropolitan episcopal see. The Catholic Church has geographic units–dioceses, presided over by bishops–which are grouped into ‘provinces.’ The pre-eminent diocese in any given province is called an archdiocese, and the bishop thereof is the archbishop. The other bishops in the province are styled the archbishop’s ‘suffragans.’ For example, the state of New Jersey makes up a province of the Catholic Church, with five dioceses and five bishops. Among these, Newark is the archdiocese, and Newark’s bishop reigns as “His Grace,” the archbishop.
Washington, D.C., however, has no long history as a Catholic metropolis. Well into the twentieth century, the city of Washington made up a small part of the venerable Archdiocese of Baltimore. Then World War II made Washington a much larger and more important city, with a larger Catholic population. The Church erected Washington as an Archdiocese at that point, not because it presides over a geographic province, but solely to ensure that the bishop of such an important national capital would have a rank commensurate with the dignity of the place.
Becoming Archbishop of Washington does not make you the pastor of a particularly large number of souls. The position has become pre-eminent in the world of Church politics, though, owing to the great prestige that supposedly adheres to it. By this reckoning, getting transferred from Archbishop of Newark to Archbishop of Washington counts as a promotion, even though there are far fewer Catholic souls to shepherd in Washington. This reckoning of the prestige of the position has come to prevail so thoroughly that the Archbishop of Washington almost always gets created a Cardinal of the Roman Church.
James Cardinal Hickey was born the same year as Pope John Paul II, 1920. Hickey became Archbishop of Washington in 1980. He had to submit his resignation in 1995, when he reached the mandatory retirement age for a bishop. Informal custom holds, however, that the pope leaves Cardinal-Archbishops in office for two to five extra years. Hickey’s health remained pretty vigorous until the year 2000, but we all remember that it took a precipitous nosedive that year.
According to a book called Il Giorno del Giudizio, written by Italian journalists–and full of insider information from long-time Vatican bureaucrats–the authorities in Rome had a mind to replace Hickey with McCarrick in 1999, but then the pope received Cardinal O’Connor’s letter warning against such a move. Within the ensuing year, O’Connor died. Meanwhle, someone in the loop apparently confronted McCarrick, in secret, with the accusations O’Connor had leveled. McCarrick wrote to John Paul, answering O’Connor’s charges and assuring the pope that the rumors were false. The pope believed him, and McCarrick “got” Washington. Then, instead of having to wait the usual few years to become a Cardinal, the pope invited McCarrick to Rome to receive that honor in a matter of weeks.
The long-term serial sexual abuser had brazened his way into the College of Cardinals. As the Spotlight team in the Boston Globe’s newsroom worked up their reporting about sex-abuse cover-ups in the Church, McCarrick found himself positioned to serve as the public face of the American hierarchy. As the Globe reporters put together their narrative about thousands of priests nationwide abusing their positions in the community while their superiors covered it all up, the prelate living the biggest cover-up of them all would soon take center stage.
No purely human deviousness could have set the table so well for the destruction of the Catholic Church in America. Only Satan himself could have masterminded the chain of events that unfolded. September 11th delayed the publication of the Spotlight team’s work. Thus, 2002 became the year when the Catholic Church in the U.S., in order to save itself from total public humiliation, had to declare officially that sex-abuse cover-ups would end. No more hiding it from police. Zero tolerance! Proper policies would ensure accountability.
The new rules required the establishment of quasi-independent sex-abuse review boards in every American diocese, to hear accusations against priests. The bishops did not, however, deal with the case of criminal sexual abuse done by a bishop; they exempted themselves from their own rules.
At one point during the debate about ‘zero tolerance,’ Cardinal McCarrick made a speech. He wondered if perhaps the following arrangement would be the most fair: Zero tolerance from now on, but for those clergymen who have received a second chance, we should not revoke it. It does not seem fair to make ‘zero tolerance’ retroactively binding. McCarrick sounded generous-hearted and consummately moderate to his listeners when he gave that speech. Now we know he had one particular person in mind: himself.
McCarrick met with the editorial board of the Washington Post that spring, and he appeared on “Meet the Press.” He explained to the world how the Catholic Church had turned the corner on the problem of criminal sexual abuse by priests. He charmed the Washington insiders. He captivated his brother bishops–at least those among them who did not know about all the hideous hidden baggage.
McCarrick already had an extensive national and international reputation among prominent churchmen; now he solidified it and extended it. He would eventually go on to receive dozens of awards and honorary degrees, and he would serve on committees and boards all over the world. He preached at the beatification of saints. He made himself a hero of the Catholic religion, basking in all the limelight he could get. Meanwhile his victims, and those who knew the truth about him, looked on in utter disbelief. The man’s brazenness knew no bounds. He had seemed too big and powerful to touch during the previous decade, when he reigned as pope of New Jersey. Now he made himself a genuine contender to become the pope of Rome.
McCarrick checkmated human decency by becoming a prelate who was too big to fail. Catholicism in America had faced a near death-blow with the 2002 scandal, but this elfin New York Irishman had managed, with his intelligent-sounding patter, to win back a critical mass of goodwill. If the world learned that McCarrick himself had left dozens of broken lives in his sex-abusing wake, while he made his ambitious way to this defining moment of his life–well, the consequences were simply too catastrophic even to contemplate.
Meanwhile, however, two chickens made their way home to roost. Now there were sex-abuse review boards in every diocese. One of McCarrick’s seminarian victims had left the priesthood and became a lawyer. He had been abused not only by McCarrick, but by two other Church officials as well.
On August 11, 2004, Robert Ciolek wrote to his diocese about all the abuses he had suffered. This set in motion a process that ultimately involved the then-bishop of Pittsburgh, Donald Wuerl. One of the other abusers was a Pittsburgh priest. At one point in the review process, Ciolek requested that his testimony about McCarrick be sent to the nuncio, who at the time was Gabriel Montalvo. Bishop Wuerl personally fulfilled Ciolek’s request in November 2004. The following year, the dioceses involved made a secret $80,000 settlement with Ciolek.
Meanwhile, Pope John Paul II died. Joseph Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI. The sitting bishop of Metuchen, Paul Bootkoski, reported to the Vatican about the settlement. He also included in that report a second, more serious accusation from another McCarrick ordinand. This accusation ultimately led to the second settlement, for $100,000, in 2007.
Bootkoski had earlier served as a pastor in Newark, before becoming McCarrick’s auxiliary there. While a parish priest, Bootkoski began a friendship with a teenager who went on to the seminary. The seminary authorities found the young man unsuitable, but they were overruled by McCarrick and Bootkoski. After Father Condorpusa got ordained, he made sexual advances towards at least one young parishioner. Condorpusa found himself no longer welcome in the Archdiocese of Newark. Fortunately for him, Bootkoski became the ordinary of Metuchen just in the nick of time. Bootkoski made his young friend a priest of Metuchen.
Condorpusa changed his name to Condorson and continued to work as a parish priest, until Bootkoski retired. When Condorson’s victim complained to Bootkoski’s successor, the new bishop promptly suspended Condorson and promised a thorough investigation. Condorson remains on indefinite suspension; no further information has ever been made public.
In 2018 Bootkoski claimed that he submitted his 2005 report about McCarrick promptly to the Vatican as any decent, above-board churchman would do. But McCarrick and Bootkoski had likely been locked in a mutual-protection (or blackmail) pact for years before that. Some unsung hero of this story must have managed to force the Metuchen bishop’s hand in 2005, which set in motion a chain of events that otherwise never would have happened, and McCarrick’s secrets would probably remain hidden to this day.
When the report from Metuchen reached the papal desk in late 2005, Benedict XVI faced a staggering problem. Before his election, while serving as head of the Vatican office that dealt with cases of criminal sexual abuse, the new pope had met with McCarrick and the other American Cardinals to strategize about how to deal with the 2002 scandal. He had endorsed ‘zero tolerance’ and ‘no cover-ups.’ But could he follow through with that now?
Through 2005, McCarrick openly told us Washingtonians that he expected to remain in office for at least two more years, even though he turned 75 two months after Benedict’s election. I remember the Cardinal’s 75th birthday party, held in a huge, brand-new dining hall at Georgetown University. McCarrick beamed at the crowd, more vigorous than ever.
But he would not get even another full year. The document from Metuchen persuaded Pope Benedict to replace the Archbishop of Washington as quickly as possible.
Why did Benedict choose Donald Wuerl to succeed McCarrick? Was it because Wuerl already knew the secret? Wuerl had seen Ciolek’s accusations against McCarrick. Choosing Wuerl as McCarrick’s successor kept the circle closed. The Vatican journalists who wrote Il Giorno del Giudizio made an error in their account of the 2006 transition in Washington; their source in the Vatican must have a fuzzy memory. They wrote that the Pope removed McCarrick because of the settlements, plural. But the second settlement was still over a year away from being signed. Benedict ushered McCarrick out of office precipitously because the pope had seen the first settlement, and he had seen the accusations that ultimately led to the second–before those later accusations reached a wider audience.
I am speculating here, and certainly Pope Benedict will not answer questions to clarify what happened. The facts indicate, though, that Pope Benedict acted, between December 2005 and May 2006, to keep the circle of information about McCarrick as tight as possible. He did not want to have to inform any other potential successor about the reason for the jarring haste involved in the transition. Wuerl already knew the reason.
None of this, of course, did anything to placate the second victim. The same month that Donald Wuerl took the episcopal throne in Washington, this second accuser communicated his story to a wider audience, including Richard Sipe, who had already known about McCarrick for over a decade. The victim put his accusations in writing for the new papal ambassador, Pietro Sambi, and expressed his intention to publish them on the internet. (Sipe eventually followed through on that threat of the victim’s.) When they got news of this threat, the Vatican panicked. They feared losing their battle to keep McCarrick’s colossal hypocrisy secret and formulated a plan to try to make the malefactor disappear altogether, by ordering him to a monastery.
I guess they did not know Theodore McCarrick very well. He spent his twentieth birthday with the Carthusians. He admired the cloistered monk’s vocation. He never deluded himself for a moment, however, that he himself had such a vocation. Sometime in late 2006 or early 2007, Pope Benedict secretly urged McCarrick to retire to a life of prayer and penance, hidden from the eyes of the world. The pope might as well have urged Andrea Bocelli to give up singing.
Did anyone involved in the little circle that knew the facts ever stand up to insist that trying to hide McCarrick from view was not the right way to handle it? For one thing, it would never work. Secondly, it did a terrible disservice to McCarrick’s victims. Surely there were more victims out there, far more than anyone knew about yet. Finally, such a cover-up violated the very principles that the hierarchy had so conspicuously embraced just a few short years earlier. Did anyone involved have the courage to try to break through the myopic groupthink that apparently gripped the pope and his confidants? (One Vatican official apparently did propose a more open approach; more on that shortly.)
Whatever dissent there was fell on deaf ears. The secret situation dragged on for the next twelve years. McCarrick never made anything more than token gestures of cooperation; he considered himself wrongly persecuted. He clung to his myth. He was no villain; he was a benefactor. If he had made an imprudent slip here or there, he would rely on God to forgive him. In the meantime, he had great endeavors to pursue as a member of the enchanted upper echelon of Church celebrities.
One thing never happened, through the eight years of Benedict’s papacy and into the first five years of Francis’. No Church official ever investigated further, to determine the full truth of the accusations that had led to the two settlements. To do so would have meant expanding the circle of knowledge, and no one in the Vatican apparatus wanted that. They had no problem sacrificing any pretence of justice in order to prevent any further dissemination of the information they already had. They did not regard that information as sufficient evidence to convict McCarrick of anything. They did not want to have such evidence. They just wanted the problem to go away.
Of course, it did not. A small circle in the Vatican knew. One of them, bound by pontifical secrecy, found himself thoroughly rankled by the fact that McCarrick appeared to have gotten away with it all. Namely, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò. Viganò had wanted McCarrick exposed and defrocked from the day in December 2005 when the first document arrived in Rome from Metuchen.
According to Il Giorno del Giudizio, McCarrick stopped abusing seminarians once he came to Washington. Perhaps he did, but the fact remains that McCarrick actively cultivated long-term access to multiple groups of seminarians all the way to the end. He brought a group called the Neocatechumenal Way into the Archdiocese of Washington and started a seminary for them. He likewise gave diocesan property to another group, the Institute of the Incarnate Word, for a seminary.
Both the Neocatechumenal Way and the Institute of the Incarnate Word (known by its Spanish acronym IVE; the group originated in Argentina) attracted a lot of young men to their ranks. McCarrick became better acquainted with his Cardinal-classmate, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, through their mutual dealings with the IVE (though the two prelates apparently did not agree about the group). That archbishop was Jorge Bergoglio, the future Pope Francis.
In 2009, the Vatican came to an agreement with the founder of the IVE, Father Carlos Buela, that he would step down as head of the order and go to live in a monastery, where the abbot could supervise Buela’s dealings with members of the IVE. This occurred because of Father Buela’s sexual harassment of the priests and seminarians who had worked under him. (McCarrick had advocated for Buela, urging the Vatican to lay down a lighter sentence.) Father Buela did not abide by the 2009 agreement, so seven years later the Vatican declared him guilty of “improper behavior with adults” and sentenced him to a life of prayer and penance, with no public ministry of any kind. Buela and McCarrick have this in common: Long lapses of time between private “punishment” by the Vatican and any public accountability.
Viganò crossed paths with McCarrick a number of times during his tenure as Apostolic Nuncio to the U.S. from 2011 to 2016. The nuncio managed to heap praise on the man he so despised, on one public occasion. McCarrick had left the Neocatechumenal Way seminary where he had been living, and had moved briefly to a parish–apparently because Sambi, the previous nuncio, actually tried to enforce the “keep-McCarrick-away-from-seminarians” rule laid down in Rome. But then Sambi died, and McCarrick moved to a house next to the IVE seminary, without any apparent objections lodged by Viganò. Since the IVE has yet even to acknowledge publicly the sexually abusive actions of their own founder, McCarrick could have found fertile opportunity there to continue his own predations.
Viganò also crossed paths with Bergoglio–that is, when Bergoglio became Pope Francis and inherited Viganò as his ambassador. Viganò thought that McCarrick’s continued public service as a Cardinal was an abomination, but he did not do anything about it–at least not anything public. He did, however, take the opportunity to unload about McCarrick when the new pope asked his nuncio to America about him, in June of 2013. Did the secrets about McCarrick come as news to Francis that day? The pope at one point said that they did, though he has not really engaged the question. (A Vatican Cardinal has acknowledged publicly that the Francis-Viganò meeting did occur.) Whether or not Viganò surprised Francis with what he had to say about McCarrick that day, the pope took no discernible action afterward. He likely never would have, but outside pressure forced his hand.
In J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, the whole drama unfolds because of a chance occurrence, which itself resulted from a decision that in no way anticipated the ultimate outcome. Bilbo Baggins entered Gollum’s cave to seek shelter from goblins. He wound up leaving the cave with a ring he found there, by accident. The whole epic story of the ensuing novels involves Bilbo’s nephew Frodo having to destroy that ring in order to save the world from succumbing completely to evil.
A similar set of events unfolded in New York City in 2016. Pope Francis had declared a “Year of Mercy.” Someone in New York convinced the Archbishop, Timothy Cardinal Dolan, to celebrate the Year of Mercy in the Archdiocese by having a “reconciliation program” for victims of sexual abuse by clergymen. Perhaps the program actually had more to do with the imminent possibility that New York State would do away with the statute of limitations for sex-abuse lawsuits. For whichever reason, the Archdiocese of New York set up a system in which victims of criminal sexual abuse could go to a lawyer, tell their story, and receive a financial settlement, all outside of a courtroom. The one thing they had to do was to forswear any future legal action.
The Archdiocese advertised this program. The gentleman whose penis McCarrick had tried to fondle in the sacristy of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1971 happened to see one of the advertisements, and he decided to pursue the opportunity to tell his story. In 2017, he told the archdiocese’s lawyer about what Father Theodore McCarrick had done to him. The rules for the reconciliation program required that any accusation against an active priest must be judged for credibility by an appropriate review board. The New York review board, to whom the pope sent McCarrick’s case, found the accusation credible. On June 20, 2018, they announced the Cardinal’s suspension from public ministry, owing to this credible allegation.
Other accusers then came forward, most of whom have retained their privacy and anonymity. As mentioned above, James Grein spoke to reporters about what happened to him, originally giving only the name “James.” When James’ story hit the press, McCarrick resigned from the College of Cardinals, and Pope Francis ordered him to a life of prayer and penance.
James and some of McCarrick’s other victims apparently gave secret testimony to Church officials deputized to investigate McCarrick’s crimes. Based on that testimony, in an abbreviated administrative procedure, Pope Francis defrocked McCarrick at the beginning of February 2019, without a canonical trial. The Church made no further information available to anyone until November 10, 2020.
I spent two years digging to provide all the information I have just recounted. My blog readers learned about it, step by step, day by day, along my path of discovery.
[I will correct and add to this account, incorporating any new information made available in the Vatican report of November 10, 2020.]
One thought on “More-Readable McCarrick Report?”
Interesting recounting of events.