“Innocent” Bed Sharing?

Washington Post photo of McC and Susan Gibbs
Washington Post photo of Susan Gibbs with McCarrick

The Vatican McCarrick Report recounts this episode:

In the spring of 2002, when the American press buzzed about the Catholic sexual-abuse crisis, Theodore McCarrick emerged as the primary spokesman of the hierarchy. He had been in office as Archbishop of Washington for just over a year, having been transferred from Newark, New Jersey, at the end of 2000.

From the Vatican report:

In early April 2002, Susan Gibbs, the Executive Director for Communications for the Archdiocese of Washington, was informed that reporters were asking questions about Cardinal McCarrick’s conduct with adult seminarians at the beach house on the New Jersey shore. Gibbs prepared questions for McCarrick based on the limited information she had been provided and met with McCarrick at the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center on 11 April 2002 to ask him about the rumors. Gibbs stated that she had “steeled” herself to “ask a series of very intense questions to try to understand whether something had happened.”

During their meeting, Gibbs first asked McCarrick whether it was true that he had shared a bed with seminarians; McCarrick acknowledged that it was true. (page 215)

McCarrick went on to tell Gibbs that he had never had sex with anyone–man, woman, or child. He lied about that. But he did not lie about sharing his bed with subordinates. McCarrick knew that he could not lie about that particular fact. Dozens of people knew it already, including the pope.

john paul ii theodore mccarrick newark 1995

According to the Vatican report, in October 1999, the then-Archbishop of New York wrote the following, to alert the Vatican about McCarrick:

He would frequently invite male visitors for dinner and to say overnight. Usually they shared a bed, although there were sufficient guestrooms… [At the beach house] one of the seminarians shared the bed with the Archbishop. This became known and was a source of joking among the clergy. (page 132-33)

When the Vatican inquired among neighboring bishops about this, the then-bishop of Long Island, NY wrote:

McCarrick would invite young men, some of whom were his relatives, to visit and occasionally spend an overnight at the Cathedral [in Newark, where McCarrick lived]. The guest shared his bedroom rather than using a guest room. This was known to priests living in the Cathedral Rectory… McCarrick also invited seminarians to overnight visits at a vacation house… the sleeping arrangements involved sharing bedrooms and two sleeping in the same bed. This became widely known. (page 149)

We have to understand the reference to “relatives” in this bishop’s letter in light of what the then-bishop of Trenton NJ wrote about McCarrick, in answer to the same Vatican inquiry:

The only thing that seemed odd to me was [McCarrick] calling people ‘family’ who were not really blood relatives. (page 157)

That summer, McCarrick learned that other bishops had written to the Vatican about him. According to the Vatican report, someone recently interviewed McCarrick about what he learned from his Vatican source that summer. McCarrick said there was “some kind of criticism of me for the seminarian thing. The sharing of beds.”

To protect his reputation with the pope, McCarrick wrote to the pope’s personal secretary on August 6, 2000. In that letter, McCarrick admitted what he would later admit to Susan Gibbs: “I have made some mistakes and have sometimes lacked in prudence.” (p. 170) The Vatican report interprets McCarrick’s statement here in this way: “McCarrick admitted that his sharing of a bed with seminarians at the beach house was ‘imprudent.’” (pg. 9)

In his letter in 2000, McCarrick then went on to offer to the pope the same denial that he offered to Gibbs: “I have never had sexual relations with any person.”

That second statement has proved to be a bold lie. But the important thing to note here, for our purposes, is this: McCarrick did not deny that he slept in the same bed with his subordinates.

The Vatican report summarizes what I have just outlined:

Inquiry [in the year 2000] confirmed that McCarrick had shared a bed with young men…

The report adds:

but did not indicate with certainty that McCarrick had engaged in any sexual misconduct. (page 7)

This is a contradiction in terms. To say that the inquiry confirmed that McCarrick shared a bed with subordinates and minors but that the inquiry did not indicate with certainty that there was sexual misconduct: that is worse than a non-sequitur; it is a canard, a deception. Let me explain.

lincoln-cameoAbraham Lincoln often slept with other grown men, in the same bed. In the mid-nineteenth century, in the United States, only rich people had mattresses; most Americans slept on straw. Buildings had no central heating. For two men to sleep in the same bed was perfectly normal–in the 1830’s, 40’s, and 50’s.

By the 1980’s and 90’s, however, things had changed. Completely. Grown American men did not sleep in the same bed with any regularity in the 1980’s and 90’s. To the contrary, it was generally taboo, just as it is now.

If some emergency circumstances arose, without enough mattresses for everyone, someone would sleep on the floor. One night in 1988, I was among a group of eight tough-jock high-school seniors who went to see the Mickey-Rourke thriller Angel Heart. When we left the theater, we were all so terrified by the movie that we resolved to sleep in the same room (promising never to tell anyone.) There were two beds in the room where we slept. It would never have occurred to any of us that anyone would share a bed. Unthinkable. We played rock-paper-scissors for the beds, and the other six of us slept on the floor.

Theodore McCarrick and Abraham Lincoln were never contemporaries. By the time Theodore McCarrick was born in 1930, the practice of American men sharing a bed for convenience’s sake had declined to the vanishing point.

My point: McCarrick violated social norms. Glaringly.

And McCarrick did it–not his bedfellows. McCarrick was the one with the authority; the young people could not refuse. McCarrick intentionally set up the situation: a young person he found attractive would have no real choice but to get into bed with him. He would cloak the whole thing in offhandedness; he would add weird to weird by saying to the seminarians at the beach house, “You guys can’t sleep together; that would be wrong. But you [his chosen target] can sleep in bed with me. I’m the Archbishop. I’m not going to do anything wrong!”

Blessed be the seminarian with mettle enough to say, “No, your Grace, I will sleep on the floor in the living room.” Under the circumstances, that would have required courage beyond what most human beings possess. It would have meant risking your entire future. His Grace held that future in his hands. You had to please him; that was your job as a seminarian. You had to please the bishop, so that he would ordain you, so that you could pursue the life you believed God had called you to live.

By the time me and my confreres came along as unwitting, idealistic seminarians under Theodore McCarrick, dozens of people–including numerous journalists, Cardinals, and the pope–already knew, as an established fact, that McCarrick regularly forced his subordinates to share his bed. In clear violation of social norms.

Let’s imagine, for the sake of argument, that Abraham Lincoln once shared a bed with a stranger, some random 65-year-old woman, in a ramshackle tavern in rural Illinois, in order to stave off frostbite during a blizzard. (Lincoln traveled frequently, on horseback, all over the state, for his law practice, and as a politician.) Those two could very well have shared that bed innocently. They would have had a good reason. But Lincoln never would have done it, because he was an honorable (and married) man, and: Anyone who knew about the bed-sharing would have had a hard time resting easy in an “innocent” interpretation of it.

In the United States, in the 1980s and 90s: an “innocent interpretation” of the Catholic prelate Theodore McCarrick forcing a subordinate or minor to share a bed with him? Not available. You simply could not take as a settled fact that McCarrick shared the bed in that way–a fact that McCarrick never denied–and also hold that McCarrick “could be perfectly innocent of wrongdoing.” That was not a reasonable option.

It was evident then, based on the undisputed fact, that McCarrick was a serial sexual predator, constantly looking for and grooming potential victims. The recent Vatican report would have us believe otherwise. But the report’s contention to that effect is just as untenable as the magical thinking about McCarrick being innocent twenty years ago.

The Vatican report quotes an anonymous priest (“Priest 4”) whose testimony unveils McCarrick’s genuine intentions in his “innocent, imprudent” bed-sharing strategy: [WARNING: Reading this will likely make you vomit.]

During the Summer of 1985, Bishop McCarrick’s priest secretary telephoned Priest 4 to tell him that McCarrick had invited him on an overnight trip to the beach house in Sea Girt, New Jersey, along with some other seminarians. The invitation made Priest 4 uneasy given McCarrick’s previous behavior, so he decided to speak to Monsignor Gambino, whom he trusted. Gambino told him that he “should go” and that “if I did not accept the invitation it would be frowned upon by the Bishop,” so Priest 4 decided to accept.

Priest 4 received directions to the Sea Girt house, which was a few blocks from the beach, and drove there in his own car. Priest 4 described the house as two stories with a spacious living room that was furnished with some recliners and chairs. The house had three bedrooms upstairs, with two double beds in one room and one bed in another. In the third room, where McCarrick stayed, there was one large bed, a “king or queen.”

The first trip to the beach house was uneventful. Nothing transpired that was alarming to Priest 4, who has little memory of the trip. Priest 4 stated that it seemed “normal” and that this allayed his initial anxiety.

Later in the summer, Priest 4 again received a call from Bishop McCarrick’s priest secretary who invited him, on McCarrick’s behalf, on a second trip to the beach house. About this trip, Priest 4 has a clear recollection.

…After dinner, Bishop McCarrick dictated the sleeping arrangements. McCarrick told the group that he had over-calculated the number of guests and beds – a fact about which the seminarians were well aware – and said to Priest 4, “There is not enough room; don’t worry about it, you can come with me.’” …McCarrick’s “miscalculation” appeared to be a ploy, so the sleeping arrangements announced by McCarrick made Priest 4 anxious, but he felt “pressured” because there was no other bed available and the Bishop “insisted that it would be fine since it was a large bed.”

Reluctantly, Priest 4 did not object: “The situation made me uncomfortable, but I thought I could tolerate it because I had seen the bed so I knew that it was large enough that I could have my own side.”

In Bishop McCarrick’s bedroom, “with the door closed,” Priest 4 began to change for bed. Priest 4 felt “upset” because “I was placed in the position of having to change into sleeping clothes in front of my bishop.” When McCarrick noticed that Priest 4 was wearing pajamas over his underwear, he was displeased, stating “‘What are you wearing those for? It’s warm.’” McCarrick himself changed quickly in the bathroom and emerged wearing only “tighty-whitey” underwear and a sleeveless undershirt.

Initially, Bishop McCarrick asked Priest 4 to sit with him on the bed and began talking about how he had “‘so many troubles’” and “‘a diocese to run,’” and complained about the fact that his back hurt. McCarrick asked Priest 4 to rub his back, which Priest 4 did “[b]ecause it was very difficult to say ‘No’ in that situation.” Soon McCarrick lay down on the bed and asked Priest 4 to continue rubbing his back. McCarrick then offered to give Priest 4 a backrub; although Priest 4 “did not want a backrub from him,” he “found it was very difficult to say no” and felt compelled to acquiesce. After the exchanged backrubs, the lights went out for sleep.

Though on guard, Priest 4 hoped that the touching had ceased and, wishing to avoid any further physical contact, he lay on his side near the edge of the bed turned away from McCarrick. Sometime later, but while Priest 4 was still awake, McCarrick began to rub Priest 4’s back again and, as he drew closer, reached around and rubbed Priest 4’s chest from behind. Then, rubbing his back again, McCarrick worked his way down to Priest 4’s buttocks. Priest 4 felt “frozen and trapped.” As McCarrick “wrapped his body around me,” Priest 4 described himself as being “ensnared” and could feel that McCarrick was sexually aroused. This “shocked” Priest 4 out of his frozen state, and he realized that he “had to escape.” Priest 4 recalled what happened next:

I told him point blank, “I don’t like this.” I didn’t like it. “I don’t like this.” And he said, “Oh, I’m not doing anything;” “Uncle Teddy is under pressure;” “I don’t mean anything;” “Oh, it’s just a rub down, it’s ok.”

I said, “You know what? I just can’t sleep here.” And when I objected like that and let him know it would not be OK to continue like that, he got pissed. He got mad. At first, he was trying to convince me to stay and trying to convey that he was doing nothing wrong. He was trying to be reassuring: “It’s OK, it’s between us.” But then he got angry. He got so angry when I left, and when I went downstairs [to sleep on a recliner], he was so pissed off at me. So much so that he did not even address me the next morning. He did not even say hello. . . . [H]e gave me a very bad look but did not communicate with me. And I just left [the beach house]. I thought, “I am finished in the diocese.”

The report continues:

Shortly after his return to Metuchen, Priest 4 went to see Monsignor Gambino to tell him what McCarrick had done, expecting to receive support.

Priest 4 recalled Gambino’s reaction: “I explained what had happened to me and, according to the way he handled it, he treated me like I was somehow at fault for making an accusation.” Gambino admonished Priest 4 that he was making “serious accusations” against the Bishop and that he needed to go to counseling or else he “‘may not be ordained.’” (page 69-73)

The psychologist proceeded to sexually abuse Priest 4 also. May God give us grace. Priest 4 is a brave, brave man.

My point in reproducing this entire painful story is this: The only reasonable conclusion, based on the established fact of McCarrick forcing subordinates to sleep in the same bed with him, was that McCarrick was after precisely what Priest 4 described.

What occurred twenty years ago among the people who knew that McCarrick slept in the same bed as other grown men: it was not rational deliberation. It was distorted groupthink. McCarrick was a sexual predator; there was no other reasonable conclusion to come to.

But they refused to come to it. For three decades they pretended that they “did not have hard evidence.” These people should all be ashamed of themselves.


3 thoughts on ““Innocent” Bed Sharing?

  1. U.S. Corporate Example: A Senior Manager takes a subordinate on a sales trip. The Senior Manager, he or she, only books one room with a single bed. The subordinate sleeps in that one bed with his/her boss and never touch each other. The subordinate comes to Human Resources upon his/her return to the office to share his experience on the trip. The HR Department quickly fires the Senior Manager for sexual harassment. Simple.

  2. This Report is so warped and bizarre it’s hard to know where to begin, but I can’t help but come back to the line that (p.8):

    “Priest 1, the only individual at the time to claim sexual misconduct by McCarrick, was treated as an unreliable informant, in part because he himself had previously abused two teenage boys.”

    How could the Holy See have the shameless gall to defend and promote the idea that abuse victims who themselves have committed abuse are thereby less credible?! They simply tell the whole world that if you’re a victim of sexual abuse, but have committed your own sins, that you should rightly expect the Church not to believe you!

    This wasn’t even a case of an accused man “singing” against a higher-up in hope of acquiring a plea deal; Priest 1 confessed to his sin by his own volition!

    The bishops of the United States need to denounce this victim-slurring report with one voice, and request an apology from the pope on behalf of victims worldwide.

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