Visiting St. Thomas II: Montecassino

The ancient* abbey where St. Thomas studied as a boy looms above the sweet little city of Cassino.

* That is, re-built…

…ater being destroyed completely by US bombs in February, 1944.

St. Thomas prayed at the tombs of Saints Benedict and Scholastica, which are now in a chapel below the high altar of the basilica.

The young student from nearby Aquino may have read this very biography of St. Benedict…

And this textbook of science…

He probably walked through this doorway (now preserved in the abbey museum).

And trod these floor tiles.

…In his treatise on justice in the Summa, St. Thomas considers some questions about criminal trials, including how many witnesses are required to establish a fact.

In the third objection in II-II q70 art2, St. Thomas quotes a medieval canon which decrees that, to establish a fact against a Cardinal, sixty-four witnesses are required.

This is of particular interest, considering:

St. Thomas approves of the (practically insuperable) requirement, with this argument:

The rule protects the Roman Church [that is, the College of Cardinals], on account of its dignity: and this for three reasons. First because in that Church those men ought to be promoted whose sanctity makes their evidence of more weight than that of many witnesses. Secondly, because those who have to judge other men, often have many opponents on account of their justice, wherefore those who give evidence against them should not be believed indiscriminately, unless they be very numerous. Thirdly, because the condemnation of any one of them would detract in public opinion from the dignity and authority of that Church, a result which would be more fraught with danger than if one were to tolerate a sinner in that same Church, unless he were very notorious and manifest, so that a grave scandal would arise if he were tolerated.

A lot to consider here; I promise to come back and discuss this thoroughly when I get back home.

In the meantime, though, we can say for sure that the judge in Massachusetts will not have such a high threshold, when it comes to allowing testimony. (Plus, McC is no longer a Cardinal anyway, as of summer 2018.)

In this case, I believe it will actually benefit the Holy See in the long run, that the word of one accuser–with plenty of circumstantial evidence to support what he has to say–will be allowed against this particular accused criminal.

There are a lot of facts that need to come out, and getting them out will, in the end, help the Church.

If you can hang tight until March, you will be able to read about many of those facts in Ordained by a Predator. Good Lord willing, the book will see print then.

The Cult of Secrecy

On November 21, 2019, Bishop Barry Knestout appeared unexpectedly at St. Francis of Assisi parish in Rocky Mount, Virginia. He insisted on meeting privately with me. (The bishop had the Vicar General with him.) The bishop then ordered me to turn off my cellphone.

St Francis of Assisi Rocky Mount
St. Francis of Assisi, Rocky Mount, Virginia

The bishop then read a document aloud to me, a “decree” he had written about my blog. As he read, I struggled to take it all in. The circumstances had jarred my nerves. I did not panic about missing some of what he read, however, because I assumed I would be able to read the document later at my leisure.

After reading the document aloud, the bishop rose to leave the premises. He informed me, to my great surprise, that I would not receive a printed copy. He said something about how I might be able to read it, but I didn’t catch what he said. All I remember is that under no circumstances whatsoever would I be allowed to make a copy.

It has been over a year and a-half since that visit. I have never laid eyes on the document the bishop read.

On May 5, 2020, Bishop Knestout suspended my priestly faculties. He forbade me celebrating the sacraments publicly.

In his letter to me that day, the bishop threatened me with an “interdict” if I published his correspondence to me. I’m not sure what that threat even means, to be honest. Nonetheless, he threatened it. If you publish my letters, you will be punished severely.


A penitent sinner going to confession has a right to expect secrecy from the priest.

Most sins are private. Only rarely in my priestly life has anyone confessed a sin to me that was also a crime. Under those circumstances, when the situation called for it, I told the penitent before absolution that he or she must do something to restore public justice–including submitting to the criminal justice system, in one case I remember.

Because a crime not only damages the soul of the sinner, it also disturbs public justice. A crime is not a private thing. That’s why “The People” or “The Country” or “The State of…” or “The United States” prosecutes crimes in court. Sins may be private, but crimes affect everyone.

Also not a private matter: the question of who will serve as the pastor of a parish, or whether a not a priest can celebrate the sacraments publicly.

Why would Bishop Knestout imagine that his removing me from office or suspending my faculties is a private matter? I was the pastor of two busy, medium-sized parishes. I celebrated the sacraments with people dozens of times a week. His removing me from office and suspending my faculties affected the lives of hundreds of people.

I bring all this up because Mr. Kieran Tapsell has written a helpful, concise analysis of the Vatican’s recent revision of the Code of Canon Law. Tapsell participated in the the Australian Royal Commission report on Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which made recommendations about revising canon law.

canon law codex canoniciAs Americans we tend to take for granted that legal proceedings–especially criminal prosecutions–are public. It’s hard for Americans even to grasp how inherently secretive the Church’s canonical process actually is.

In our country, and countries like ours, trials take place in open court. Many take place in front of cameras. Reporters tell the public what happened. The general public has the right to read the final decisions, with attendant documents.

We take all this for granted because we think of court business as something that pertains to us, the body politic. We think that it pertains to us because it does.

The Australian Royal Commission recommended to the Vatican that canonical cases involving child sexual abuse be published, for the general public to read, with the identity of the victim(s) omitted.

mccarrickI made a similar plea early in 2019, regarding the McCarrick canonical case. I argued: the criminal ecclesiastical prosecution of a Cardinal Archbishop is not a private matter. The crimes involved affected the lives of thousands of Catholics.

When the pope defrocked McCarrick, the Vatican published less than one full paragraph of information about the case. To this day, we do not know on what evidence McCarrick was convicted and dismissed from the clerical state.

And the Vatican has rejected the Australian Royal Commission recommendation about child-sex abuse cases in general. The revised Code of Canon Law does not make any provision for giving the public any information about ecclesiastical criminal cases.

Tapsell laments:

The Vatican spokesman said, “Today the atmosphere is different, [when it comes to actually punishing criminal priests.]”

But it remains to be seen whether the Church’s courts actually agree with the spokesman’s claim. As the Church has not adopted the Royal Commission’s recommendation as to the publication of canonical court decisions, we will probably never know–until the next time the Church is required to hand over its records by another civil inquiry, or the United Nations.

The maintenance of secrecy over the Church’s disciplinary actions will not restore its reputation.

My friend Mark Vath has written an open letter to law enforcement officers in Louisiana. The occasion for Mark’s letter is this:

In December of last year, lawyers questioned a serial pedophile priest in a court deposition. The judge then ordered the deposition sealed, in deference to the bankruptcy proceedings of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

Since law-enforcement agents have the right to look at the sealed deposition of Father Lawrence Hecker, Mark urges them to do so. Assess whether a felony cover-up has occurred. Make the information public.

Mark asks:

How can the public make an objective, logical, and rational decision as to the level of corruption involved, if the documents and testimonies remain sealed and locked away from public view?

Mark will speak, along with Richard Windmann, here in Virginia next month. They will speak in Martinsville on Sunday, July 25th and in Richmond on Monday, July 26th.

More details to follow, and don’t forget Chris O’Leary’s talks in Martinsville and Roanoke this coming Sunday and Monday 🙂

You’re Welcome, Your Holiness

pope francis mccarrick
September 23, 2015

In 2015, Pope Francis declared a “Year of Mercy.”

The following year, the pope published a book, The Name of God is Mercy.

On Ash Wednesday, 2016, the pope dispatched “Missionaries of Mercy.”

Shortly thereafter, the Vatican Secretary of State received a letter from then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

McCarrick referred to his dealings with the Holy See over the course of the previous decade. The Vatican had attempted to get McCarrick to disappear quietly from the public stage. McCarrick had not co-operated with the cover-up scheme.

But in his March 8, 2016, letter to Cardinal Parolin, McCarrick offered to “retire to a holy place and pray for the salvation of my soul, instead of wandering around the world.”

Cardinal Parolin mentioned McCarrick’s letter to Pope Francis.

The pope already knew that McCarrick stood accused of abusing his authority to force seminarians into his bed. Archbishop Viganò, as well as Cardinal Becciu, had alerted the pope to McCarrick’s predations. The Vatican file contained testimony about McCarrick forcing a seminarian to put on a sailor suit and get into bed with him.

Pope Francis told Cardinal Parolin not to accept McCarrick’s March, 2016, offer to disappear.

“Maybe McCarrick could still do something useful,” the pope said.

[All of this is documented on pages 429-430 of the Vatican McCarrick Report.]

In September of 2018, I published an open letter to Pope Francis. (Before McCarrick was laicized through a secret procedure.)

I wrote:

Holy Father, you have spoken over and over again about the primacy of mercy. You misinterpreted what the moment demanded. For over a generation, no one has had any doubt that the Church knows how to act with mercy. The obvious problem we have is: the Church has forgotten how to act with severity. How can you not see that your former-Cardinal-Priest Theodore McCarrick has–in his brazen recklessness–exposed this colossal weakness?

What did the moment demand, when the first of McCarrick’s brother bishops learned of his predations? Mercy? Hardly. What did the moment demand, when you learned of it? Mercy? No. The moment demanded the just application of strict rules.

Do you not see how desperately the Church needs a severe father right now? A fearless and exacting enforcer of rules. A man whom sinners behold, and tremble.

Pope Francis Annuarium pontificum

Last week, the Holy Father published a decree revising the Code of Canon law.

In his letter announcing the change, the Holy Father wrote.

In the past, great damage was done by a failure to appreciate the close relationship existing in the Church between the exercise of charity and recourse — where circumstances and justice so require — to disciplinary sanctions.

This manner of thinking — as we have learned from experience — risks leading to tolerating immoral conduct, for which mere exhortations or suggestions are insufficient remedies. This situation often brings with it the danger that over time such conduct may become entrenched, making correction more difficult and in many cases creating scandal and confusion among the faithful.

For this reason, it becomes necessary for bishops and superiors to inflict penalties. Negligence on the part of a bishop in resorting to the penal system is a sign that he has failed to carry out his duties honestly and faithfully.

You’re welcome, Your Holiness. For the idea.

Allow me to point out, however, that you accuse yourself with your own words.

You were McCarrick’s bishop, his priestly father in God. From 2013 onward, only one man on earth had authority over Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.


You were negligent. You failed to carry out your duties honestly and faithfully, just like Popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II failed to do, before you.

canon law codex canonici

Another person who deserves a big apology from the mitered mafia: Father Lauro Sedlmayer.

McCarrick abused his authority over Father Sedlmayer during the 1990’s, to obtain sexual gratification from the young, naive, foreign-born priest.

Sedlmayer tried to denounce McCarrick for his crimes. In response, the Diocese of Metuchen NJ and the Archdiocese of Newark proceeded to sue him in court.

On May 17, 2013, two months after Francis became our pope, the then-Bishop of Metuchen Paul Bootkoski wrote to Father Sedlmayer. The bishop insisted that Father had “violated Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s rights.”

According to Bootkoski, Sedlmayer had “calumniated” McCarrick, because Sedlmayer publicly referred to McCarrick as a “predator.”

Bootkoski went on to stipulate in his letter: Sedlmayer could not continue in ministry as a priest unless he underwent intense supervision, therapy, and “spiritual direction.”


The Vatican knew perfectly well that calling McCarrick a “predator” did not involve calumny, or a violation of McCarrick’s rights. When Father Sedlmayer blanketed a parish parking lot with fliers calling McCarrick a predator, he spoke the truth, with justice.

The Vatican had more than enough evidence in hand to vindicate Father Sedlmayer in his accusations against McCarrick.

What did they do?

In the Vatican.

While a bishop mercilessly persecuted a priest who spoke the truth about Theodore McCarrick, the truth that they knew full well?

Nothing. Nothing at all.

In 2016, Bishop Bootkoski reached the normal retirement age, and the pope accepted his resignation, without any reference whatsoever to McCarrick, or to Father Sedlmayer’s decades of suffering at the hands of prelates who abused their authority.

Kinda makes you wonder:

Would they be doing anything at all at the Vatican, about McCarrick, now? Except that circumstances outside their control forced them to do something?

Last week’s revision to the Code of Canon Law changes canon 1395.3, which defines a crime, namely: A clergyman forcing someone to perform or submit to sexual acts by force or threat. The revised law adds the phrase “or by abuse of his authority.”

The pope first introduced that phrase into the rules in May of 2019.

I pointed out then:

I guess we could call this “The McCarrick Law.” Apparently, he clearly abused his authority to get sex. After all, the pope convicted him of breaking this law (even before it was on the books) in a summary administrative procedure, without a full trial.

But: If it was as clear as all that, why wasn’t McCarrick convicted by Pope Benedict, back in 2006? We generally regard Pope Benedict as a sober, upright man. Why didn’t he recognize a case of criminal abuse, if the matter was so crystal-clear?

McCarrick ordained me a transitional deacon 18 years ago today [May 13, 2019]. On that day, I thought of him as an amazingly talented, crushingly self-centered, charming tyrant. He gave the Archdiocese of Washington a huge amount of energy that it had not previously had. He appeared utterly uninterested in anything having to do with theology. He was a flawed man. He was no walking demon.

On May 13, 2001, many churchmen, who we then regarded as at least somewhat reasonable–including Pope John Paul II–knew something about McCarrick’s sexual life. They had not concluded that his actions amounted to crimes.

My point is: I think anyone who has ever served in the military knows: The line between criminal abuse of authority in a sexual relationship, on the one hand, and a consensual affair, on the other: by no means crystal-clear.

In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth do grave evils. Who convinced whom to do them? Did Macbeth abuse his authority over his wife? Or did she seduce him into committing murder–to satisfy her ambition? The answer is: Yes.

Criminal laws on paper accomplish nothing without competent investigators, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges–and principles of application of the laws, based on acquired experience. Pope Francis has given us: the paper. We don’t have the rest.

Denazification of the Church

Yesterday the Vatican presented to the world a three-year plan for holding Holy Meetings (Synods). The topic of the Holy Meetings? Holy Meetings.

A well-meaning Parish-Council chairman once asked me if we could hold a few council meetings–not about building plans or language barriers between parishioners, but about “the role of the Parish Council.” I replied, “Okay. But I would prefer that you beat me with rods. The ‘role’ of the Parish Council is to discuss actual problems with me.”

Geoffrey Chaucer

If Geoffrey Chaucer remained on earth with us, he could produce a fitting memorial to the three-year Vatican Synod on Synodality. It might include: “Roman Monsignor with an Outdated Laptop Tale,” and “Chancery Steubenville Grad Loses His Mind Tale,” and “Nun in a Pantsuit Tale.”

Seriously, though, I would like to propose an actual topic for universal discussion in our Church, during this “synodal journey.” I thank Mr. Chris O’Leary for giving me the idea, which he broached in one of his podcasts.

Chris has broken new ground in understanding the Catholic sex-abuse cover-up. He has uncovered evidence of a pattern that no one, to my knowledge, had identified before.

By studying priest-assignment records, Chris figured out that his parish was a “holding-tank” for criminal sex-abuser priests. The Archbishop of St. Louis regularly assigned such priests as parochial vicars there, one after another, for a quarter-century.

Sacrificed Chris O'LearyWhy?

Certainly not to protect children. Chris himself was abused by one of those parochial vicars–with the knowledge of then rectory-resident Father Timothy Dolan, now Cardinal-Archbishop of New York.

Chris speculates that the diocese used the parish as a holding-tank in order to protect the criminals from prosecution. The parish lies in a suburb that likely had policemen and judges who would not have prosecuted clergymen, or even arrested them, during the period that Chris has studied, the second half of the last century.

Chris raises the question: Was this a national, or even international, practice? Finding jurisdictions where sex-abuse arrests and prosecutions of priests wouldn’t happen, then assigning the criminals there?

We do not know. Hence, my proposal…

Hitler broken statue
(photo by Reg Speller)

Adolf Hitler presided over a criminal national government. The Nazis ruled Germany for over a decade, and they systematically violated the most-sacred laws that govern human society, the fundamental rules that protect the innocent and the weak from arbitrary violence. The Nazis did this without having to face justice, because they were in charge of all the nation’s institutions.

After the Allies finally defeated Hitler, the occupying powers faced the task of “denazifying” Germany. The Allies attempted to put on trial the Nazis who had abused their power of office during Hitler’s regime. And denazification also involved weeding-out from any position of authority anyone associated with the Nazi criminal enterprise.

The success of denazification is a matter of historical debate, but that’s not my point here.

The term that the United Nations now uses for this type of effort is: transitional justice. Recognize and account for the abuses of a criminal regime. Establish a means to keep the offenders out of power. Re-build a government based on human rights and genuine legal principles. Root out the corrosive ideology that justified the crimes of the old regime.

Don’t we need just such a process of “transitional justice” in our Church?

The Pennsylvania Grand-Jury Report of August, 2018, gave us a model of the kind of investigation we need, in every diocese, in every country in the world. We are, in fact, dealing with a kind of Holocaust. The Catholic sex-abuse crisis has cost thousands of lives, and God only knows how many souls.

And, as the Vatican’s McCarrick Report demonstrates–by its total absence of any accountability for any living prelate–the false governing ideology endures. Cover up. Cover it all up, in the name of preserving the irrational prerogatives claimed by the hierarchy: government by absolute, unchecked power.

In the Pennsylvania counties covered by the 2018 report, the grand jury uncovered a tip of a Greenland-sized iceberg.

In our diocese, the crimes and cover-ups remain hidden. One of our priests became the first bishop of Memphis, Tennessee. He was a criminal sex abuser. To this day, his victims live in the shadows. No one has been held accountable for helping the malefactor avoid justice under law. Bishop Knestout commissioned a secret “reconciliation” program which has successfully swept the whole business under the rug.

Instead of holding Holy Meetings about Holy Meetings, why not use this three-year process to discuss this problem and try to deal with it? To face the fact that our Church needs a “transitional justice” program? To conquer the culture of secrecy, weed-out cover-uppers, and re-establish the rule of law in our community?

The McCarrick of Wyoming

This is the second of the two posts I promised, proving that the current ecclesiastical hierarchy continues to operate according to this long-debunked, wrong-headed principle:

Sexual abuse is a shameful private matter that should be kept from the public eye. If people know that clergymen have committed this crime, they will lose the faith. Therefore, it should be hushed up, at any cost.

[click HERE for the first post proving the point]

BIshop Joseph Hart (Getty image)
Bishop Hart at center (Getty image)

Bishop Joseph Hart sexually abused a number of innocent young people, teenagers and pre-teens. The survivors of Hart’s crimes have tried, over the course of half a century now, to get the hierarchy of the Catholic Church to acknowledge the truth. It has led them only to disappointment and more pain.

Hart began his priestly ministry in the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, in northwestern Missouri. (Not to be confused with the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, a separate ecclesiastical province.) During his first assignment as a priest, Hart established a relationship with a large Catholic family, the Hunters. Father Hart became like a second father to the Hunter children.

Hart proceeded to molest three Hunter boys. He started with the eldest, Darrel, at age 12. Darrel manage to escape before anything serious happened.

Darrel’s younger brother Kevin was not so fortunate. In 1971, Hart took Kevin on a road trip through the southwest USA. Hart got Kevin drunk, forced the 14-year-old to sleep with him, and sexually abused him.

Kevin would never be the same after the trip. He became a drug addict and died at age 32, in 1989.

Michael Hunter was born between Darrel and Kevin. Hart groped Michael, beginning in 1963. Michael went on to lead the Kansas City chapter of the Survivors Network. He spent himself, trying to keep other survivors alive and healthy. Mike died of a heart attack in 2015, at age 66.

Here’s Darrel, Mike, and Kevin’s sister, Susie McClernon, in a 2019 Kansas City Star interview:

Another Hunter sister, Kathy Donegan, put it like this, in a 2019 interview:

Hart took my brother and best friend away from me. This body count is his legacy.

In 1969, Hart became the pastor of a new parish, St. John Francis Regis. He abused multiple boys there. One survivor, known as “John,” had lost his father at age six. John remembered Hart abusing him:

It occurred on the couch in the TV room of the rectory. Nobody else was there. He tickled me and rubbed against me, then he started moving his hand down. Then he unbuttoned my jeans and tried to unzip them. He was laughing the whole time.

I said, “Father, stop.” He said, “It’s OK.” After about ten minutes of fighting him off and nervous laughing, I took off. I ran through the living room and went home.

I was very confused. I didn’t tell anybody. About a week later, during class, I was walking down a hallway at school. We met, and he grabbed me. He held on to me. He said, “You’re a troublemaker. Nobody’s going to believe you. If you tell, you won’t see your dad again, because you’ll go to hell.”

Another survivor, who goes by the name John Doe E.K., volunteered at the St. John Francis Regis rectory, answering the phone. He remembers Hart groping and fondling him while they played basketball, “passing it off as mere sport.”

Mr. Gilbert Padilla also remembers Hart abusing him at St. John Francis Regis. Hart and his priest-friend Thomas O’Brien would take Padilla out of class, show him pornography, offer him drugs and alcohol, and molest him.

Thirteen-year-old Padilla tried to report the abuse to the principal in 1976. She told the boy, “That’s impossible. Priests are men of God.”

“John,” John Doe E.K., and Padilla were not the only boys at St. John Francis Regis that Hart abused. Like McCarrick and his partners in crime, Hart and Co. had a vacation house to use. This one was on Lake Viking, northeast of Kansas City.

Mr. Pat Lamb recalls O’Brien, Hart, and another priest, Thomas Reardon, taking him and other boys, including Kevin Hunter, to the lake house. The priests offered the boys whiskey-and-cokes, then fondled them.

Lamb remembers:

We were too afraid to tell anyone else, because it was just embarrassing for us. I mean, these men were well-known priests. Who was going to believe us? But we did try to warn other boys not to go to Lake Viking.

Hart became a bishop in Wyoming in 1976. He flew “John” from Kansas City to Wyoming, gave him alcohol, and abused him in a hotel room. John thought: “How do you say no to a bishop?”

Meanwhile, “Martin” was volunteering around the parish where Bishop Hart lived, in Cheyenne. Martin, too, had lost his father. The family relied on the Church for assistance. Martin’s mother worked at the school.

One day, Hart insisted on hearing Martin’s confession. Martin recalls:

Somehow when I was with the bishop, I always had to get naked. I had to show him what I did when I had my impure thoughts. I had to sleep in bed with Hart and change into a bathing suit in front of him.

Looking back, Martin reflects:

Why didn’t I say no? Because I didn’t want my mother to lose her job and everything that the church was giving us.

Hart had threatened Martin with these consequences, if the boy did not comply.

Martin was not the only Wyoming boy that Hart abused. There were at least five others.

Gilbert Padilla w David Biersmith
Gilbert Padilla (with David Biersmith) Reuters image

As I mentioned, Gilbert Padilla first reported Hart’s crimes in 1976. Another of Hart’s Missouri victims (who remains anonymous) reported Hart to the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph in 1989.

In 1992, the Hunter family tried to tell diocesan officials how Hart had destroyed their family. They were shocked when the Vicar General arrived at the meeting with a lawyer, whose first question was, “How much do you want?”

The diocese offered the surviving Hunters free counseling. The Kansas City Star discovered that the counselors were instructed to report back to the diocese about what the Hunter sisters said in therapy.

In 1993 the diocese told the Hunters that Hart had submitted voluntarily to an “evaluation” in Arizona, which had determined that he “posed no threat to himself or others.” When the Hunters reported this information publicly, the Vicar General accused them of lying. The VG insisted that he would not pass judgment on the credibility of anything the Hunters had told him.

According to later disclosures, the diocese of KC-StJ notified the Vatican in 1993 about what the Hunters had told the Vicar General. In Wyoming, Hart apparently managed to cover the whole business up completely.

Also in 1993, “John” reported the abuse he had suffered from Hart to the diocese in Missouri. The Vicar General bought John a truck, using $12,100 of the diocese’s cash. The VG demanded that John sign a document forswearing any further financial claims against the diocese.

In September 2001, Hart retired from his position as diocesan bishop at age 70, five years early. By the following January, when the Boston Globe began publishing its Spotlight series (which had been delayed in publication several months, owing to the 9/11 attacks), Hart was conveniently on a sabbatical outside of Wyoming.

In 2002, John Doe E.K. reported his abuse to church officials in Missouri, and “Martin” reported his to the police in Wyoming. Martin says he came forward primarily to support the Hunters, who had become pariahs in the Catholic community for telling the truth about a “beloved Kansas-City priest” who became a bishop.

marc cardinal ouellet
Marc Card. Ouellet, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation of Bishops

Hart’s successor as bishop of Wyoming, David Ricken (who now serves as bishop of Green Bay, Wisconsin) claimed in April of 2002 that he never heard anything about Hart’s crimes until that month.

Ricken promptly issued a pastoral letter, assuring the faithful that he believed in Hart completely. Ricken insisted that everything had been investigated previously by the diocese in Missouri, and Hart had been exonerated. Bishop Ricken went on:

Sometimes those who have been hurt project their memories onto someone they have known who may not actually have been the perpetrator.

Meanwhile, back in Missouri, the Vicar General of KC-StJ diocese claimed that “John” had never actually made a credible report of abuse by Hart. And in Wyoming, a state prosecutor conducted an “investigation” into Martin’s charges–by trying to blame Martin.

In August of 2008, the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph paid $10 million to 47 survivors of abuse committed by twelve priests, including Hart. The then-bishop, Robert Finn, made a blanket public apology for the priests’ “behavior.” (Finn later had to resign from office, after having been convicted in civil court of child-abuse cover-up.)

In 2011, Padilla filed a lawsuit against the diocese, for covering-up for Hart.

Meanwhile, in Wyoming, in 2009 Bishop Paul Etienne (currently bishop of Seattle) succeeded Ricken in the bishop’s chair that Hart had occupied for the last quarter of the 20th century.

Hart continued to live the adulated life of a bishop emeritus, in spite of having been named in a $10 million sex-abuse settlement in Missouri. Martin’s family met with Etienne and insisted that something be done.

Etienne apparently did not share Ricken’s certainty that Hart was innocent. Etienne privately asked the Vatican to open an investigation. The Vatican did nothing. Etienne nonetheless quietly “restricted” Hart’s ministry, prohibiting the retired bishop from celebrating the sacraments publicly.

In 2017, Bishop Steven Biegler succeeded Etienne in Wyoming. Before he left, Etienne told Biegler about Hart. Biegler continued to “restrict” Hart’s ministry.

Biegler then hired an investigator to put together a full report. Hart declined to be interviewed. The investigator’s report went to the police and to the Vatican. The report remains secret, and there is no public record of who the investigator was.

Biegler announced his actions in 2018. He  did numerous press interviews, including this one with Wyoming public radio:

Biegler stated unequivocally that he believes Hart’s accusers. The bishop urged the police to re-open the investigation. (Wyoming has no statute of limitations on prosecuting criminal sex abuse of minors.)

Biegler released a public letter which revealed that Etienne had “previously” restricted Hart’s ministry, and that the Congregation of Bishops in Rome had now extended that restriction to include all the dioceses of the Church. Biegler also decided to remove Hart’s name from a building at the St. Joseph’s Children’s Home, northeast of Cheyenne.

Biegler declared:

I hope that our investigation will lead to a final determination by the Vatican that the sexual abuse allegations against Bishop Hart are credible and require disciplinary action.

Apparently, a few months later, in October 2018, the Vatican secretly ordered Hart to stay out of sight, just as they had done with McCarrick a decade earlier.

The Holy Office, seen through the colonnade of St. Peter’s Square. Bishop Hart’s Vatican trial occurred there.

Last summer, the Wyoming prosecutor decided not to move forward with any charges against Hart. Then, last month, the Vatican returned its verdict. Not guilty.

Not guilty.

According to Bishop Biegler, however, the Vatican did issue a “canonical rebuke” of Bishop Hart. According to Biegler, the Vatican declared:

Hart showed flagrant lack of prudence for being alone with minors, which could have been potential occasions endangering the obligation to observe continence [ie, refrain from sex], and that would give rise to scandal among the faithful. Hart disregarded [our] urgent requests that he refrain from public engagements that would cause scandal among the faithful due to the numerous accusations against him.

Bishop Biegler has now revealed that, in October 2018, the Vatican secretly prohibited Hart from having any contact with “youth, seminarians, and vulnerable adults.”

Now, let’s acknowledge: Convicting someone of a crime requires a convincing amount of evidence. It is up to the judge or jury to determine whether or not the prosecution has proved its case.

scales_of_justiceThe Vatican judge in Hart’s case–whoever he may be; his identity is secret–he had all the evidence I have presented here, and more. That judge decided it was not enough. That judge will have to answer to God for his decision.

Perhaps we have a serious discrepancy in our Church over what constitutes abuse? As we remember, in the McCarrick case, the Vatican refused to condemn him for forcing subordinates to sleep in the same bed with him. Even though, outside the Church, pretty much everyone would see such a thing as an egregious offense worthy of swift and decisive discipline.

Maybe the same problem operates here in the Hart verdict? [WARNING Rated R] Maybe Hart has managed to escape conviction because no one presented evidence of actual anal penetration? Even though the abuses that he did commit have let a trail of broken lives a mile wide?

We do not know the answer to such questions because:

Secrecy still rules in holy mother Church. Leaving the rest of us with no idea whatsoever about how “justice” gets done. Indeed, we are left with the impression that there is no justice at all.

Hart will soon have to answer to the Lord, and the survivors of his crimes lost faith in the Church bureaucracy a long time ago.

The endless secrecy is the deeper problem. The hierarchy–with the possible exception of Bishop Steven Biegler, who has got to be pretty daggone disillusioned at this point–clearly still prefers secrecy over public accountability. Two decades of promises of “transparency” have proven to be nothing but empty words, public-relations damage control.

Shame on them when we believed them the first time. Shame on us for believing them every time since then.

The Church will declare Bishop Joseph Hart neither innocent nor guilty. The important thing is that he vanish from sight. That is the modus operandi. Still.

It is a cruel way to do things, scandalous in and of itself. That a bishop is a criminal? Not a scandal; every corner of the world has its criminals, after all. But when the hierarchy fights to the bitter end to bury the crimes of clergymen in secret files forever–that does scandalize people. It causes loss of faith.

It communicates this attitude: The suffering of the survivors does not concern us. Let them endure it, in silent, isolated agony. Let them remain estranged from the sacraments of Christ. None of that is the Vatican’s concern.

The Prefects of the Roman dicasteries involved in the Hart case, Cardinals Ladaria and Ouellet, have themselves certainly orchestrated a good number of cruel cover-ups like this one. In their benighted world, such “discretion” accrues to their credit as churchmen.

What they obtusely fail to recognize is: Their efforts to protect the precious reputation of the ecclesiastical hierarchy have succeeded only in ruining it.

The Exact Whitewash Used in the Vatican McC Report (with Compendium)


The Vatican’s McCarrick report is a fundamentally dishonest document. Accepting it at face value, as an exercise in “transparency,” would require the reader to suppress his or her common sense. The anonymous author(s) of the report have applied a particular whitewash to the actual facts. Let me explain.

First, here are links to the posts I have written so far about the report:

Regnum Christi Memory Turned Painful

More-Readable Report?     My Interviews on TV

Capone De Niro
Robert De Niro as Al Capone in The Untouchables

Al Capone McCarrick

McCarrick Report Literary Genre

My Offer to Help with the Report

“Innocent” Bed Sharing?     Cover Up?

McCarrick Men and One Thing the Report Doesn’t Say

Throughout his adult life, Theodore McCarrick preyed sexually on innocent people. He damaged his victims’ faith, their relationship with the Church, their sense of themselves as human beings, their capacity for trust and openness in relationships, their earning potential, their interior freedom, and much more. He did damage like this over and over again.

We do not have a full reckoning of the damage. The Vatican report does not even pretend to offer such a reckoning.

In fact, the report even has a hole when it comes to something as “documentable” as legally binding financial settlements. As I alluded to in an earlier post, the report unwittingly shows that we remain altogether in the dark about multiple McCarrick settlements. (See the quote of Archbishop Myers of Newark on page 227, as well as footnote 815 on page 242.)

This lacuna, however, is far from the central whitewash that the Vatican report tries to slather in front of our eyes.

First, let’s call to mind the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas in Summa Theologica, pars II-II, question 60, article 5, reply 1. This question in the Summa explains how to make fair judgments; the article discusses giving the benefit of the doubt. The reply reads:

He who interprets doubtful matters for the best may happen to be deceived more often than not. Yet it is better to err frequently through thinking well of a wicked man than to err less frequently through having an evil opinion of a good man, because in the latter case an injury is inflicted [on the misjudged innocent man], but not in the former.

The Vatican report offers a thesis that would resonate with this teaching of St. Thomas. “The popes did not have clear evidence of guilt, at least not until they somehow obtained it in 2018. They rightfully gave McCarrick the benefit of the doubt until then.”

The report quotes Pope-emeritus Benedict about the doubtfulness of the matter, as things stood in November 2005, when the Vatican demanded of McCarrick that he resign as Archbishop of Washington. The pope-emeritus recalled: “There were suspicions regarding McCarrick’s prior conduct but a dearth of concrete evidence.” (See footnote 798, on page 233.)

This understanding of the situation, as Pope Benedict expressed it, produced the “foolhardy conspiracy” to which I referred in a previous post. The idea governing Vatican policy towards McCarrick under Pope Benedict was this: McCarrick says he’s innocent, and we believe him. But the danger of scandal hovers like a terrifying cloud, because ‘numerous voices’ have ‘raised red flags.’ We must make McCarrick vanish from the public eye.

st-thomas-aqPapal representative Gabriel Montalvo went to an early grave after having to pursue this policy. Then Montalvo’s successor, Pietro Sambi, complained about having McCarrick “always at my door,” looking for permission to continue his globe-trotting (page 308).

Sambi, too, died an early death, with the McCarrick situation still pending.

Both of these earlier nuncios, however–premature as their demises may have been–got off easy compared to their successor in office, Carlo Maria Viganò.

In both 2006 and 2008, Viganò–while still working in the Vatican–tried to convince his superiors that the “hiding McCarrick” strategy would not work. Viganò suggested that the pope should put McCarrick on trial, canonically (as ultimately, the pope did have to do.) Viganò proposed that they make an example of McCarrick, to indicate to the whole Church that McCarrick’s abuses were intolerable.

Now, with its McCarrick report, the Holy See has thanked Archbishop Viganò for having been right–by making him out to be the dishonest villain of the story.

Be all that as it may, the ‘hide-McCarrick’ policy pursued under Pope Benedict did not actually resonate with the teaching of St. Thomas on giving the benefit of the doubt in uncertain matters. At the time, McCarrick called the Vatican’s bluff on that score.

All the Vatican’s communiques to McCarrick (until 2018) conceded that he was, in fact, innocent. (Even after two Metuchen victims gave sworn testimony about McCarrick’s sexual harassment.) Nuncio Sambi told McC that “no one believes the truth of the accusations,” and Cardinal Re, Prefect for Bishops, wrote to McC in June 2008; Re referred to the “unfounded reports” about McC.

So McCarrick made a reasonable answer. In a September 2008 letter to Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Bertone, McCarrick wrote, “I have asked for a complete investigation and have offered to submit to a lie-detector test.”

Ironically enough, therefore: McCarrick and Viganò agreed. Justice requires a thorough investigation which will result in a definitive conclusion of guilt or innocence. The policy based solely on an indeterminate fear of people finding out–that does an injustice to everyone involved. The judge must reach a clear decision.

Anno Fidei inauguration Benedict XVIAccording to canon law, only one authority in the Church can judge a Cardinal. The pope.

I speculated extensively about the McCarrick affair, prior to the release of the Vatican report. Turns out that I gave Pope Benedict a great deal more credit for perspicacity in this matter than he deserved.

I thought that Benedict understood the commitment to zero tolerance for sexual abuse that the American bishops had made in 2002. After all, they made that commitment in direct consultation with Vatican officials, including then-Card. Ratzinger.

I figured, therefore, that Pope Benedict recognized that he betrayed that principle with his “hide McCarrick” strategy, but that the pope felt he had no choice. McCarrick had just served as the public face of the Catholic Church in America during the biggest sex-abuse scandal ever. That made McCarrick ‘too big to fail,’ so to speak.

I speculated that Benedict thought to himself: “Yes, it is wrong for us to cover this up. We ought to judge and condemn McCarrick openly. But we can’t, because that would destroy the Church in the U.S.”

Now, I don’t mean to say that I thought such a line of thought made sense. To the contrary, in my speculations I concluded that Pope Benedict deserves the lion’s share of the blame for the McCarrick catastrophe. But I still managed to give the pope emeritus too much credit.

Pope Benedict apparently experienced no interior strife over orchestrating a cover-up. The Vatican report shows that he never really grasped the implications of the supposed zero-tolerance policy in the first place.

Benedict did as pope the same thing he had done as Archbishop Ratzinger of Munich, in the early 1980’s. The same thing that countless bishops have done, all over the world–thereby reducing our Church to the state of zero credibility: He pushed the whole business away from himself. He refused to deal with it. He left if for others. While the McCarrick case lingered, unresolved, for a decade, Pope Benedict focused on writing his books.

Pope Benedict had, after all, received a large bribe from McCarrick: $200,000 cash, in the spring of 2005. The Vatican McCarrick report insists, on page 4, that:

The examination [of all records involving McCarrick] did not reveal evidence that McCarrick’s customary gift-giving and donations impacted significant decisions made by the Holy See regarding McCarrick during any period.

This may be the most truly laughable sentence in the report.

Little Women drawing
Drawing from the original edition of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, 1868

We still, however, have not brought into focus the precise whitewash used in this report.

To return to St. Thomas’ principle: In cases of doubt, it is better to be deceived by a wicked man than to think ill of an innocent man. The supposed ‘doubt’ in the McCarrick case was: Some say he has acted inappropriately, that he has harassed, that he has abused. He states categorically that he has not.

But this much was never in dispute, never in doubt: McCarrick slept in the same bed with seminarians, young men, even teenage boys. With none of these bedfellows did McCarrick have any blood kinship.

McCarrick acknowledged the truth of this set of facts repeatedly; the written record of this acknowledgement begins with his August 6, 2000, letter to Pope John Paul II’s personal secretary (see page 169 of the Vatican report). McCarrick knew he could not deny his bed-sharing and remain even remotely credible, because too large a circle of people knew about it.

As I tried to explain in an earlier post, no honest person in the 1980’s, 90’s, or 2000’s could construe these facts as ‘innocent.’  An Archbishop sleeping in the same bed with a young priest of his diocese, or a seminarian, or a young man, or a teenage boy: that was, in and of itself, clearly wrong. An abuse had occurred. Even if no other facts were known, the bed-sharing was enough to justify the conclusion that McCarrick deserved clear and decisive punishment.

In other words, the popes, their ambassadors to the U.S., and their department heads in Rome never actually found themselves in the situation considered by St. Thomas in ST II-II q60 a4 reply1. They had enough evidence to clear up any doubt. They had this evidence all along.

Now, none of the popes, nor their close co-workers, have been dumb or naïve men. They all knew that you cannot really extend the benefit of the doubt to someone who has himself acknowledged sleeping in the same bed with his subordinates and with minors.

The Vatican report expects the reader to reject this clear fact from his or her mind. The report only makes sense if you take refuge in a dream world where popes and experienced priests can calmly think that McCarrick shared his bed with his targeted victims just like the sisters shared a bed in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.

The popes and Vatican officials did not, in fact, think that. They knew better. That’s the ugly reality hidden beneath the whitewash. Scrape away that whitewash, and we see:

With its McCarrick report, the Vatican clearly declares to the world that bishops may freely abuse their subordinates, so long as there’s no big stink about it. Just don’t get caught. Keep it quiet. As long as you manage to keep it quiet, the Successor of St. Peter and his men will gladly look the other way.

McCarrick Men and One Thing the Report Doesn’t Say

Archbishop Vigano
Archbishop Viganò

Those who have denounced scandals, who ask for justice and truth, are considered guilty.

Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò published his  “Between the Lines” of the McCarrick report last week. He included this sentence about persecuted whistleblowers, with a hotlink embedded. The link takes you to the interview Michael Voris did with me. I appreciate the compliment, Excellency.

crozier wuerl
June 22, 2006: McCarrick replaced as Archbishop of Washington.

The Vatican McCarrick report contains some information about the year 2006. That’s when then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick got rushed into retirement.

The report does not, however, mention the sacristy tussle between the Apostolic Nuncio and McCarrick, over who should carry the crozier into the installation Mass for the new Archbishop. And the report does not explore the confusion of the priests and people of Washington.

We knew something weird had happened. We just did not know why.

Healthy Cardinal Archbishops customarily serve well beyond their 75th birthdays. In the spring of 2006, the sitting Cardinal Archbishop of Washington remained stunningly energetic. Only a few months earlier, McCarrick had publicly declared that the pope wanted him to continue to serve as Archbishop for at least two more years.

In other words, McCarrick’s removal from office in May ’06 embarrassed him enormously. Also, as the subsequent years unfolded, a certain person almost never turned up at diocesan liturgies: the Archbishop emeritus.

The question was: Why?

We know the answer now: Because McCarrick belonged in jail. But no one in the Vatican had the guts to deal with that fact. They tried instead to keep the miscreant out of public view. (More on this foolhardy conspiracy in a subsequent post.)

Wuerl Knestout Pope Francis
Donald Wuerl and Barry Knestout, with Pope Francis

On Tuesday Pope Francis appointed a long-time co-worker of our bishop to be the new bishop of Buffalo, New York.

Bishop Michael Fisher and Bishop Barry Knestout have these things in common:

Both were appointed to career-track jobs in the Washington archdiocesan office by Theodore McCarrick. Both held those positions when the unsettling 2006 Archbishop shuffle occurred. Both moved up into positions of even greater responsibility during the subsequent couple of years–when the Vatican was orchestrating its campaign to keep the McCarrick situation hidden from the public.

What did these two men know about McCarrick at that time? Did they know things that the rest of us did not? Did they know the real explanation for the sudden changing of the guard and the attempted sequestration of the Archbishop emeritus?

Wuerl Michael Fisher
Donald Wuerl and Bishop Mike Fisher, now the Bishop of Buffalo

If the Vicar for Administration (Knestout) and the Vicar for Clergy (Fisher) did not know the reason for the strange situation, why didn’t they ask their new boss, Donald Wuerl? He had known for two years that McCarrick had sexually harassed at least one seminarian.

From 2006 on, the McCarrick situation in Washington clearly demanded an explanation. Did Knestout and Fisher not want one?

Cover Up?

Bishop Robert Barron gave an interview to share his reaction to the Vatican’s McCarrick report. The bishop quibbled with the interviewer’s question about a “culture of cover-up.” Barron said:

When you press the issue of cover-up, you’re looking at real wickedness. You’re looking at people who were desirous of suppressing the truth. That’s a harder thing to judge. You’re looking at motivation. I think what’s clear objectively is how the system failed… What struck me is a clunky, sclerotic, dysfunctional system.

Bishop Barron’s lack of moral clarity here comes as no surprise. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Vatican report itself reaches no clarity about McCarrick’s guilt.

In fact, if you took the Vatican report as your primary source of information, you would wind up thinking, “McCarrick is a saintly man who served the Church selflessly over a long and brilliant career. Pope Francis had to defrock him after some anonymous people said terrible things about him in 2018. But who really knows the truth? McCarrick himself said, over and over again, that the men accusing him were just after money.”

Pope Paul VI

On the other hand, if you have any moral clarity about the situation at all, you recognize the evident fact that McCarrick’s accusers are not all lying. You recognize that the offense for which the Vatican gave McCarrick a pass for decades–forcing subordinates and minors to share his bed–itself merits defrocking. A clear-headed, non-compromised reader of the report sees the evidence of a “culture of cover-up” begin to pile up on page 1 of the Vatican report.

The phrase “cover-up” does not do justice to the depths of wickedness that the report unwittingly reveals. One of my book editors pointed-out to me that the term “cronies,” which I use at crucial points in my narrative, falls short of the mark. A “crony” is some kind of government or union official without scruples. But a union or government crony has considerably less of a duty to exemplify Christianity than a Catholic prelate does. A Catholic prelate can’t be just a “crony.” A Catholic prelate who doesn’t care about justice is something more wicked than a crony.

What the Vatican report reveals is a network of cowards who have transformed responsibility-shirking into a genuine art form. This network of men has convinced itself that taking no responsibility whatsoever for the welfare of the vulnerable is precisely what makes for a successful churchman.

Robert Ciolek New York Times
Robert Ciolek in a New York Times photo

According to the report, Pope Paul VI made McCarrick a bishop on the testimony of dozens of fellow clergyman–at a point in history when McCarrick belonged in jail, 1977. As auxiliary bishop of east Manhattan, McCarrick established a domicile for himself in a building that had been a children’s hospital. It was in this place that McCarrick traumatized the victim that the Vatican report calls “Priest 1.”

The Vatican report treats “Priest 1” and other McCarrick-survivor-priests with thinly veiled contempt. The report calls them by number, rather than by name–even when they have spoken openly about their experiences. Priest 2 is Robert Ciolek. Priest 3 is Father Lauro Sedlmayer. Priest 1’s name is publicly available, but apparently he prefers to retain his privacy at this point, so I will respect that here.

These are the men who tried in vain–for years, decades, quarter-centuries–to get some Vatican official to own the McCarrick problem. Apparently, in 2006 and 2008, Archbishop Viganò tried to do just that, but his proposals met with rejection by his superiors. (More on that in a subsequent post.)

The Vatican report fails to sympathize with the survivor-priests’ point-of-view. In footnote 833 on page 253, the report even tries to set two of them against each other. Priest 1’s and Ciolek’s testimony agrees on the basic facts. The discrepancies between them are understandable, given the traumatic nature of McCarrick’s predation. But instead of recognizing that the Church owes these survivors not only sympathy, but praise for their courage and honesty, the report continues the cruel cover-up tactic of trying to cast doubt on their word, and does so by disingenuously pitting them against each other.

Archbishop Vigano
Archbishop Viganò

Father Sedlmayer, “Priest 3,” fares even worse. The report treats him solely as a pawn in the Vatican bureaucrats’ petty little cat-fight with Archbishop Viganò.

Sedlmayer spoke with the Washington Post in 2019. He gave the Post the testimony he had submitted to the Vatican for the McCarrick report. We find here another piece of hard evidence demonstrating the unreliability of the Vatican report as a source of facts. Sedlmayer’s testimony to the Vatican included this statement:

I know some find it hard to believe that an adult could be forced so easily [into mutual masturbation, which McC repeatedly forced upon Sedmayer.] The answer is fairly straightforward: a bishop holds your professional life, your reputation, your assignments, and your dignity in his hands… It was extremely difficult to resist the sense of fear and control that McCarrick exercised over me.

Sedlmayer gave his written testimony for the Vatican report to the Post; the Post printed these words of his. The Vatican report, however, does not include this statement. Perhaps because it so eloquently expresses the experience of McCarrick’s many victims.

In fact, the Vatican report blithely leaves the reader with the impression that Father Sedlmayer is a dangerous liar. The report only invokes him in order to make Archbishop Viganò look negligent. (Viganò appears, in fact, to have neglected Sedlmayer; as I mentioned, I intend to write more on that later.) The report happily ignores the torture to which ecclesiastical officials subjected Father Sedlmayer for decades. McCarrick’s successors in the diocese of Metuchen all told Father Sedlmayer to shut up.

No one in the Vatican would do anything about it. They still won’t.

Regnum-Christi Memory Turned Painful


I have had a little crucifix for over twenty years. Every morning when I first wake up, I kiss it and say, “Christ our King, Your Kingdom come.” Same thing when I lay down to sleep at night. “Christ our King, Your Kingdom come.” This little daily ritual with the crucifix is one of the customs of the Regnum Christi movement. Regnum Christi means “Kingdom of Christ.” [Spanish]

Everyone knows that we read the same Sunday readings on a cycle of… how many years? Correct: three. Six cycles ago, on Christ the King Sunday, 2002, we celebrated a large Mass for members of the Regnum Christi movement at the Basilica of the National Shrine in Washington, D.C. The Archbishop celebrated the Mass. The seminarian, who was a deacon, chanted the gospel reading. Same gospel reading as this Sunday, the separation of the sheep from the goats in Matthew 25.

Father Marcial Maciel founded the Regnum Christi movement. He turned out to have been a serial sexual predator, protected for decades by higher-ups in the Church. He victimized countless people and ruined many, many lives. The Archbishop who celebrated that Regnum Christi Mass at the Shrine, Christ the King Sunday, 2002: Theodore McCarrick. The deacon who chanted the gospel: me.

macielIn the gospel passage, the Lord Jesus invites the sheep into the Kingdom of heaven. They have been kind to the weak and suffering. They have acted humbly and gently towards everyone. They’re surprised that the king beckons them, because they never thought of themselves as anything great. They lived obscure lives of daily kindness.

Maybe you know that the Vatican published a “McCarrick Report” last week. For thirty years, the higher-ups in the Church left us seminarians, young priests, and young people at risk. They knew that McCarrick posed a serious danger to us, but they did nothing.

On that Christ the King Sunday, 2002–when McCarrick and I stood next to each other at the altar in that huge church filled with eager Christians–the higher-ups already knew about him. McCarrick had already destroyed a lot of lives. The pope knew it; Cardinals and bishops knew it.

They did not think of the suffering wounded. They thought only about their own reputation. They had comfortable lives with servants at their beck and call. They wanted it to stay that way. It never so much as crossed their minds to seek out the lost souls whose lives McCarrick had destroyed. Most of the prelates who knew the dirty secret hated McCarrick—not because of what he had done to defenseless, innocent people, but because of the danger he posed to the stability of their own coddled lives. They just wanted everyone to shut up about the whole thing.

What if the King has this to say to the goats, before he sends them to hell: “A sexual predator manipulated, demeaned, and abused me, and you did not care. A powerful Church careerist crushed my faithful, innocent soul, and you worried about your own reputation. I tried to tell you that this man is a dangerous criminal, and you said it was all my fault. The predator threw me out on the street for refusing to give into his advances, and I appealed to you. You never even wrote me back.”

My print-out of the McCarrick Report appears to be missing the last page. The page where they all say: “We are terribly sorry. We clearly do not know what we are doing. We have wronged the innocent and defenseless victims for decades, turning a deaf ear to their cries, treating them as the problem. We still have no earthly idea how to handle what they say. We have failed you, dear earnest Christians. You deserve much braver, more honest leaders.”

I cannot tell you how much it hurts to think about that Christ the King Sunday eighteen years ago. Now that I know how the hierarchy betrayed us. They betrayed all of us who were there because we kiss our crucifixes every morning and every night, and long to get to heaven, and just want to treat everyone kindly. We’re no saints or heroes, but we would have known what to do with McCarrick, if we had the information and the power.

The hierarchy offers excuses, rather than take responsibility. The McCarrick Report is 449 pages of “It’s someone else’s fault.” No churchman has ever been willing to own the McCarrick problem. Not for the past 35 years, and not now.

What if the king says, “I came looking for encouragement in living an upright, responsible life, and you passed the buck. I needed someone to give me an example of courage, and you called a lawyer to protect yourself from liability. I came to church hoping to find someone who believes enough in Christ crucified to admit his sins, and you insisted that you have no memory of any conversation having to do with that issue.”

I’m going to keep kissing my crucifix and celebrating my Mass. We live in dark, dark days for His Church, our Church. Let’s hold onto our faith and just keep trying to live in the truth.

“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.