“Vatican’s handling of sexual misconduct complaints about ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick reveals a lot about the Catholic Church” & related articles

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Washington Post

02 October 2018

By Michelle Boorstein

In this Nov. 14, 2011 photo, then Cardinal Theodore McCarrick prays during the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ annual fall assembly in Baltimore. McCarrick. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

In November 2000, a Manhattan priest got fed up with the secrets he knew about a star archbishop named Theodore McCarrick and decided to tell the Vatican.

For years, the Rev. Boniface Ramsey had heard from seminarians that McCarrick was pressuring them to sleep in his bed. The students told him they weren’t being touched, but still, he felt, it was totally inappropriate and irresponsible behavior — especially for the newly named archbishop of Washington.

Ramsey called the Vatican’s then-U.S. ambassador, Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, who implored the priest to write the allegation so it could be sent up the chain in Rome. “Send the letter!” Montalvo demanded, Ramsey recalls.

He never heard back from Montalvo, and Ramsey has since destroyed his copy of the 2000 letter, he said.

“I thought of it as secret and somehow even sacred — something not to be divulged,” Ramsey told The Washington Post. It wasn’t the concept of a cleric occasionally “slipping up” with their celibacy vow that shocked Ramsey, who believes that’s common. It was the repeated and nonconsensual nature of the McCarrick allegations.

Since Pope Francis suspended McCarrick this summer for allegedly groping an altar boy and multiple clerics have been accused of covering for McCarrick, a spotlight has been trained on the only place with the authority to oversee a cardinal: the Vatican.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and Democratic nominee Ben Jealous sparred over the state’s economy and education during their first and only debate on Sept. 25.

There are still many more questions than answers about Rome’s role. Who was told about the problem, and what was said? Were those discussions ever conveyed to popes Francis and Benedict? And, finally, if the pontiffs knew what was occurring, what did they do about it, if anything?

Ramsey’s 2000 letter to Montalvo, who has since died, is the first known report to the Vatican about McCarrick, who just a couple months later rose to Catholicism’s highest echelons as a cardinal.

But reports about his behavior continued, and the allegations grew more serious. In addition to Ramsey, at least three other people sent letters to Vatican ambassadors — called nuncios. They include well-known priest-turned-psychologist Richard Sipe and two New Jersey bishops, Paul Bootkoski and John Myers.

The most extensive report about what may have happened to communications about McCarrick once they got inside the Vatican came from Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, a former ambassador to the United States, who dropped a bombshell tell-all in late August. Viganò wrote that a number of top Vatican officials — including popes Benedict and Francis — had been told about McCarrick’s alleged misbehavior.

Since Viganò published his largely unverified account on several conservative sites, most people named in it have declined to comment. At least one, Monsignor Jean-François Lantheaume, who worked at the U.S. Embassy in D.C., responded to the letter, saying without elaboration that it is true.

On Sunday, a highly placed cardinal, in the Vatican’s first direct response to accusations that Pope Francis knew about and covered up the alleged sexual misconduct, described those claims as a “political plot that lacks any real basis.”

The letter, written by Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the head of the Vatican’s bishops office, said it was “unbelievable and without any foundation” to accuse Francis of “having covered-up knowingly the case of an alleged sexual predator.” Ouellet — who, like Lantheaume, was named in the letter as knowing about McCarrick’s actions — portrayed Viganò as bitter and disillusioned with his career within the Holy See and said he was in “open and scandalous rebellion.” Ouellet also accused him of exploiting the broader clergy sex-abuse scandal in the United States as a way to land “an unmerited and unheard of blow” on the pope.

Through dozens of interviews, documents and published blog posts from the time, The Post has pieced together an account detailing the origin and nature of complaints to the Vatican about McCarrick. The story behind the complaints, at least three of which occurred in 2000 or later, also illustrates the great value placed on deference to hierarchy within the Catholic Church, the silence and secrecy around the topic of priest sexual activity and the extreme opaqueness of the Vatican bureaucracy — factors that contributed to the allegations against McCarrick remaining hidden for so long.

“The curia takes dysfunction to a whole new level,” said Tom Doyle, who worked at the Vatican’s U.S. Embassy in the 1980s as a priest and canon lawyer and now works as an advocate for clergy abuse survivors.

“Decisions could be made by one [Vatican official] who says: ‘Screw this, I’ll reroute it through the basement.’ ”

Doyle said he believes ambassadors in the 1990s and early 2000s sometimes ignored communications about sex abuse because the topic was newly volatile, and the less of a paper trail the better. The Vatican’s embassy in D.C. is the first stop for complaints within the American Church.

Montalvo, in particular, “simply ignored any communications he received about sexual abuse of children,” Doyle said.

Documents sent to nuncios are most likely — although not always — forwarded to the secretary of state’s office, at the Vatican in Rome, but it is up to that office to determine whether that information is forwarded to the pontiff, according to experts on the workings of the Vatican. The church does not routinely share information about internal communications with lay Catholics or journalists.

The complaints about McCarrick sent by Ramsey, Bootkoski, Myers and Sipe entered this murky system, and their travels within the Vatican remain mostly a mystery.

‘Send me the letter’

Ramsey took a major risk for a priest in November 2000, the day after Pope John Paul II named McCarrick to be D.C.’s archbishop. The role, one of American Catholicism’s most prominent positions, virtually guarantees a cardinal’s red hat and the unquestioned power that goes with it.

Ramsey told The Post he called Montalvo to share what he knew. Ramsey had been a seminary professor in New Jersey when McCarrick was archbishop. He was sharing what his seminarians had told him.

He said he described the situation on the phone and asked if Montalvo would receive a letter on the topic; the ambassador said yes. The next day Ramsey said he got cold feet, and called Montalvo to say he was having second thoughts. What if they let on to McCarrick that he had shared the allegations?

“Send me the letter, send me the letter,” Montalvo emphatically urged him, Ramsey says. “What do you think, we are fools?”

Ramsey said he sent the letter to Montalvo registered mail but never received any acknowledgment. Although Ramsey destroyed his copy of the letter, he says his language was similar to that in a follow-up he sent, in 2015, to Boston’s archbishop, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, head of Francis’s commission on clerical sex abuse. In that letter, which Ramsey shared with The Post, he expressed concern about “a form of sexual abuse-harassment-intimidation or maybe simply high-jinx.”

A few weeks ago, Ramsey said he discovered in his records a 2006 letter from Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, now head of the Vatican’s liaison to the branches of Catholicism in North Africa and the Middle East. That letter, first reported by the Catholic News Service, seems to confirm that higher-ups in Rome had received Ramsey’s note about the shared bed.

In that letter, Sandri inquires about a job candidate who attended Ramsey’s seminary. Sandri appears to have been asking if the candidate was involved in the allegations about McCarrick.

“I ask with particular reference to the serious matters involving some of the students of the Immaculate Conception Seminary, which in November 2000 you were good enough to bring confidentially to the attention” of Montalvo, Sandri wrote.

In Viganò’s letter, he says Montalvo and his replacement in D.C., Pietro Sambi — who died in 2011 — “did not fail to inform the Holy See immediately” about Ramsey’s letter, yet he offers no details or evidence.

Some Catholics have questioned the credibility of Viganò, an anti-Francis conservative whose own record on handling clergy abuse cases has come under scrutiny.

In Rome, Sandri and a nun accompanying him told The Post last month that he would not speak about any knowledge he has of complaints about McCarrick.

“Never, never,” the nun walking with Sandri told The Post.

“Oh, well, God only knows about the future,” Sandri said with a laugh. But “no one will talk. It’s a matter of prudence, of wisdom.”

Much more damning allegations were to come.

The lawsuits

In the 1990s, according to documents obtained by The Post, a priest in his early 30s from the Diocese of Metuchen (N.J) reported to his superiors and mental health professionals that he had in the past been sexually harassed and victimized, in the seminary and by “his bishop.” While the documents don’t name McCarrick, a source who is very familiar with the man’s case confirms that it was McCarrick.

Those stories came out through counseling after the priest self-reported to his superiors that he had been sexually involved with two male minors. Counselors through the 1990s determined the priest had been victimized himself several times in his life, was not a pedophile and could be returned to ministry.

But after the abuse scandals exploded in the early 2000s, the source said, the priest’s case resurfaced because the priest’s new bishop — in a more aware environment, post-scandal — reviewed all his priests’ files, saw the priest’s situations with the minors and sought to have him removed from ministry.

This badly upset the priest, who sued.

In the mid-2000s, the priest reached a negotiated settlement with the dioceses in Trenton, Metuchen and Newark, and details of it leaked. Viganò alleged in his letter that the priest himself sent around the details “to about 20 people, including civil and ecclesiastical judicial authorities, police and lawyers.” Some parts of it — without the priest’s name — were also on the well-read blog of Sipe and on other Catholic blogs from the mid-2000s that still circulate today.

The scenes alleged in the settlement excerpt are disturbing. The then-seminarian described a fishing trip with McCarrick and two priests that ended in a motel room with two double beds. He described watching in distress as McCarrick and another priest caressed one another “from head to toe,” laughing in the next bed. At one moment, the seminarian said he made eye contact with McCarrick, and, he alleges “[McCarrick] smiled at me, saying ‘you’re next.’ . . . I felt sick to my stomach and went under the covers.”

In another excerpt from the settlement published on Sipe’s blog, the seminarian said McCarrick summoned him to drive him from Newark to New York City and detoured them to an apartment in the city for the night. McCarrick, the settlement excerpt on the blog alleges, climbed into the seminarian’s bed and wrapped himself tightly around the younger man, who describes feeling “paralyzed” and sick to his stomach to the point that he hid in the bathroom and vomited and cried.

The man has not responded to interview requests from The Post. Diocesan officials in Newark and Metuchen, who in 2006 paid him $100,000, declined to comment for this article, as did Barry Coburn, McCarrick’s attorney.

After the man became a priest, he was ultimately removed from ministry because of the allegations involving the two minors.

Dioceses in New Jersey reached the settlement with that man, and a second former priest, Robert Ciolek, who says McCarrick subjected him to unwanted shoulder rubs. Those settlements were made public just this summer, when McCarrick was first accused of harming a teenage altar boy.

But the dioceses now say they reported it all to the Vatican.

Bootkoski, who led the Metuchen diocese at the time of the two settlements, issued a statement Aug. 28 saying he had called Montalvo and then wrote to him about those two complaints against McCarrick, in December 2005.

Bootkoski and the Metuchen and Newark dioceses declined to share the specific wording he sent Montalvo with The Post, but did share the cover letter.

“Enclosed please find the information about which we spoke yesterday,” he writes Montalvo. “If I can be of further assistance to you in this matter, please do not hesitate to call on me. With sentiments of personal esteem, and my prayerful good wishes for a blessed Advent and Christmas.”

A spokesman for the Newark archdiocese, James Goodness, recently told The Post that Myers, who left the position of archbishop in 2016, also told the Vatican ambassador about the two settlements but declined to say when or provide the communication.

Sexual behavior among priests

The language of the letters, which reveal little urgency, points to a paradox at the heart of the church: Why was everyone so calm about sexual behavior of any kind among clerics sworn to celibacy?

The McCarrick case reveals, among other things, the unspoken contradictions between the image of priests as completely celibate and the reality of men struggling at times with their sexuality. Some experts and clerics compared priests’ celibacy vows to those of married couples who become unfaithful. In other words, physical or sexual contact between priests happens. But it’s unclear how frequently it occurs and how often it is nonconsensual.

In McCarrick’s case, there are allegations of ongoing, abusive behavior. But in past decades, harassment or sexual behavior between adults did not prompt nearly as much alarm compared with priest abuse of minors.

Even so, the sexuality of priests has been largely a third rail in the church, with little open acknowledgment of the issue.

Some cite the work of Sipe, who passed away this summer but spent his life studying celibacy in the Catholic Church. In his 1990 book, “A Secret World,” based on a 1960-1985 study of priests, Sipe argued that at any one time only about half of priests were celibate.

Monsignor Stephen Rossetti, a psychologist who studies and writes on priest wellness, says the church in the past 15 or so years has gradually become much more strict about celibacy and willing to discuss the topic.

“Thirty years ago the message was muddled,” he said, arguing that McCarrick is evidence that the lines were blurry. “We’ve seen the disaster that came from that.”

Doyle said the McCarrick scandal is part of a years-long process of the “the myth of priests having no sex lives being shattered.” He said that many priests he knows try to be celibate but often fail. “And they are good priests.”

Even as he warned the Vatican about McCarrick’s alleged misconduct, Sipe seemed at times deferential to the system he devoted his life to challenging.

His website contains a May 2008 letter he says he sent to Pope Benedict.

“Your Holiness, I, Richard Sipe, approach you reluctantly to speak about the problem of sexual abuse of priests and bishops in the United States,” he wrote on the widely shared post.

One case, he alleged, was about McCarrick.

Sipe wrote that when he taught at St. Mary’s Seminary & University in Baltimore, in the late 1970s and early 1980s “a number of priests” came to him with reports that McCarrick took them to various homes in the New York/New Jersey area “and slept with some of them.”

Sipe cited reports from another blogger of three unnamed clergy (one a former priest) who had “no sexual contact” but did share a bed and later received cards and letters from McCarrick.

Sipe also appeared to cite, without names or details, the motel room scene that ended with the seminarian-turned-priest’s settlement.

Sipe’s posts often didn’t include citation, but he told The Post this summer before he died that he spoke to multiple people who had been involved sexually with McCarrick, including the seminarian who later received a settlement. Sipe declined to identify people by name or connect The Post with them.

“Your holiness, you must seek out and listen to their stories, as I have from many priests about their seduction by highly placed clerics, and the dire consequences in their lives,” Sipe wrote to Benedict.

A 2010 post by Sipe says the seminarian’s case was sent to the Vatican’s doctrine-enforcing arm, which oversees clergy abuse cases, “but it has not yet responded,” Sipe wrote.

Sipe’s wife, Marianne Sipe, and Doyle, who also worked closely with Sipe, say there is no evidence Benedict ever received his complaints. There is, however, a brief letter dated May 5, 2008, from then-nuncio Sambi, acknowledging Sipe’s explosive allegations about McCarrick.

“I acknowledge your kind letter, with enclosure,” Sambi writes, in a letter on Sipe’s site. “Rest assured that your correspondence addressed to the Holy [See] has been transmitted through the diplomatic pouch. With cordial regards and prayerful best wishes, I am, Sincerely yours in Christ.”

Stefano Pitrelli and Chico Harlan contributed from Rome.


Former Cardinal McCarrick living at Kansas friary

National Catholic Reporter

This story was updated September 28, 2018 at 2:30 p.m. CDT with comments from David Clohessy and at 3:10 p.m. CDT with comments from Bishop Vincke.

Former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who stepped down from active ministry this summer after credible allegations of sexual abuse of seminarians and children, has moved to a home for priests in Kansas to live out a “life of prayer and penance,” as directed by the Vatican when he resigned from the College of Cardinals in July.

Then-Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick at the Vatican June 19, 2013 (CNS/Vatican Media)

McCarrick, 88, now resides at St. Fidelis Friary in Victoria, Kansas, home to five Franciscan Capuchin priests and a brother. The house is located in the Diocese of Salina, Kansas, next to the Basilica of St. Fidelis, called the “Cathedral of the Plains” for its architectural significance. It attracts more than 16,000 tourists a year, according to the parish website.

The announcement on the Washington Archdiocese’s website asks for “respect for the privacy of this arrangement” out of “consideration for the peace of the community at St. Fidelis Friary.”

Permission for the arrangement was given by the order’s provincial superior, Capuchin Fr. Christopher Popravak and Salina Bishop Gerald Vincke.

Vincke, who was appointed to lead Salina on June 13, defended his decision, which he admitted would be “offensive and hurtful to many people,” by saying he believed in not only justice, but mercy.

“Please know that I agreed to this arrangement with the understanding that Archbishop McCarrick is excluded from any public appearances and ministry. Our diocese is not incurring any cost in this arrangement,” Vincke wrote in a statement on the diocesan website titled “Why I Said ‘Yes.'”

“In saying ‘yes,’ I had to reconcile my own feelings of disappointment, anger and even resentment toward Archbishop McCarrick,” Vincke wrote. “I had to turn to Christ for guidance.… We know that Christ has compassion and mercy for all who repent of their sins. The cross is a place of love and mercy. It is not a place of retribution. If our actions do not have mercy, then how can it be of the Church?”

Vincke also apologized to victims, saying his “heart aches for you and your families.”

“I am unable to comprehend the extent of your suffering,” the bishop wrote. “Sadly, many times the victims did not receive an adequate response from the Church regarding the abuse they endured and the life-long pain and suffering that accompanies such evil. As a Church, we are extremely sorry and ask for forgiveness.”

But at least one victims’ advocate believes the move is a mistake.

“For the safety of kids, he should be at a secure, independently-run treatment center,” said David Clohessy, former director of Survivors Network of those  Abused by Priests (SNAP) and currently its St. Louis volunteer director.

“Catholic officials have a miserable track record of trying to oversee proven, admitted and credibly accused abusive colleagues,” Clohessy said in a statement.

Allowing alleged predators to live near their homes “is a recipe for disaster,” he said, since families who still trust the abuser may expose their children to him.

“But friary staff aren’t trained to deal with alleged molesters,” he said.

Before his downfall, McCarrick was an influential advisor of popes and presidents, and frequently traveled the world for humanitarian causes. He was originally ordained for the New York Archdiocese and led two dioceses in New Jersey before being appointed archbishop of Washington by Pope John Paul II in 2000. He participated in the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI in 2005.

In June, McCarrick stepped down from active ministry after allegations of sexual abuse against a child were found credible and substantiated. Subsequent revelations included details about his sexual misconduct with at least two seminarians that resulted in financial settlements.

In July, he renounced his position in the College of Cardinals, the first U.S. cardinal to do so in the wake of sexual abuse allegations.

[Heidi Schlumpf is NCR national correspondent. Her email address is hschlumpf@ncronline.org. Follow her on Twitter @HeidiSchlumpf.]


Joseph Zwilling

Statement of Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York

The Archdiocese of New York, along with every other diocese in the country, has long encouraged those who as minors suffered sexual abuse by a priest to come forward with such reports.

As he himself announced earlier this morning, a report has come to the archdiocese alleging abuse from over forty-five years ago by the now retired Archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who, at the time of the reported offense was a priest here in the Archdiocese of New York. This was the first such report of a violation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People ever made against him of which the archdiocese was aware.

Carefully following the process detailed by the Charter of the American bishops, this allegation was turned over to law enforcement officials, and was then thoroughly investigated by an independent forensic agency. Cardinal McCarrick was advised of the charge, and, while maintaining his innocence, fully cooperated in the investigation. The Holy See was alerted as well, and encouraged us to continue the process.

Again according to our public protocol, the results of the investigation were then given to the Archdiocesan Review Board, a seasoned group of professionals including jurists, law enforcement experts, parents, psychologists, a priest, and a religious sister.

The review board found the allegations credible and substantiated.

The Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, at the direction of Pope Francis, has instructed Cardinal McCarrick that he is no longer to exercise publicly his priestly ministry.

Cardinal McCarrick, while maintaining his innocence, has accepted the decision.

This archdiocese, while saddened and shocked, asks prayers for all involved, and renews its apology to all victims abused by priests. We also thank the victim for courage in coming forward and participating in our Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program, as we hope this can bring a sense of resolution and fairness.


New York Times

28 July 2018

By Elisabetta Povoledo and Sharon Otterman

An investigation found credible evidence that Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick had sexually abused a teenager 47 years ago while serving as a priest in New York.CreditCreditMax Rossi/Reuters


ROME — Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, from the College of Cardinals, ordering him to a “life of prayer and penance” after allegations that the cardinal sexually abused minors and adult seminarians over the course of decades, the Vatican announced on Saturday.

Acting swiftly to contain a widening sex abuse scandal at the highest levels of the Roman Catholic Church, the pope officially suspended the cardinal from the exercise of any public ministry after receiving his resignation letter Friday evening. Pope Francis also demanded in a statement that the prelate remain in seclusion “until the accusations made against him are examined in a regular canonical trial.”

Cardinal McCarrick appears to be the first cardinal in history to step down from the College of Cardinals because of sexual abuse allegations. While he remains a priest pending the outcome of a Vatican trial, he has been stripped of his highest honor and will no longer be called upon to advise the pope and travel on his behalf.

A prominent Roman Catholic voice in international and public policy, Cardinal McCarrick was first removed from public ministry on June 20, after a church panel substantiated allegations that he had sexually abused a teenage altar boy 47 years ago while serving as a priest in New York.

Cardinal McCarrick, now 88, said in a statement at the time that he was innocent.

Subsequent interviews by The New York Times revealed that some in the church hierarchy had known for decades about accusations that he had preyed on men who wanted to become priests, sexually harassing and touching them. Then a 60-year-old man, identified only as James, alleged that Cardinal McCarrick, a close family friend, had begun to abuse him in 1969, when he was 11 years old, and that the abuse had lasted nearly two decades.

The Times investigation detailed settlements amounting to tens of thousands of dollars in 2005 and 2007, paid to men who had complained of abuse by Cardinal McCarrick when he was a bishop in New Jersey in the 1980s, and a rising star in the Roman Catholic Church.

On Saturday, the former altar boy whose abuse allegations started the unraveling of the cardinal’s lifetime of honors said in an interview that hearing news of the resignation felt like a “gut punch.”

The 62-year-old man, who identified himself only as Mike to protect his privacy, said he believed that Cardinal McCarrick was resigning only because he was being forced to, not because he was accepting responsibility.

“I am kind of appalled that it has taken this long for him to get caught,” he said, in the first time he has spoken publicly. “But I am glad I am the first one that could open the door to other people.”

Resignations from the College of Cardinals are extremely rare for any reason. The last resignation was of the French prelate Louis Billot in 1927, because of political tensions with the Holy See.

Keith Patrick O’Brien, a former archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, waived his rights as a cardinal in 2013, after accusations emerged of inappropriate sexual behavior with junior clergy. But he remained in the College of Cardinals until his death in March of this year.

Cardinal McCarrick’s resignation comes as Pope Francis faces increased pressure to show he is serious about cracking down on bishops and cardinals found to have abused people or covered up abuse.

After a Vatican envoy confirmed this year that the Roman Catholic Church in Chile had for decades allowed sexual abuse to go unchecked, the pope apologized, met with victims and accepted the resignation of some bishops — after the country’s clerical hierarchy offered to quit in May. On Monday, prosecutors in Chile said they were investigating 36 cases of sexual abuse against Catholic priests, bishops and lay persons.

In April, Cardinal George Pell of Australia, who as the Vatican’s finance chief is one of the Holy See’s highest officials, was ordered to stand trial in an Australian court on several charges of sexual abuse. The next month, Philip Wilson, the archbishop of Adelaide, was convicted of covering up a claim of sexual abuse in the 1970s.

Victims and their advocates have long held that bishops have not been held accountable for hiding sexual abuse. With his conviction, Archbishop Wilson became the highest-ranking Catholic official in the world to be convicted of concealing abuse crimes.

Last month, Msgr. Carlo Alberto Capella, a former Vatican diplomat in Washington, was found guilty and sentenced to five years in prison by a Vatican tribunal for possessing and distributing child pornography. His sentence was the first in modern history that the Vatican’s own tribunal had handed down in a clerical abuse case. He will now face a canonical trial, which could lead to his removal from the priesthood.

As the allegations against Cardinal McCarrick continued to mount in the last month, at least one prominent American cardinal has called for sweeping changes in how the Roman Catholic Church handles sex abuse allegations against bishops and allegations involving adult seminarians, who were not covered in the church’s sex abuse reforms of 2002.

“These cases and others require more than apologies,” Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston, said in a statement on Wednesday. “They raise up the fact that when charges are brought regarding a bishop or a cardinal, a major gap still exists in the church’s policies on sexual conduct and sexual abuse.”

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has not responded to calls for broader reform since the allegations against Cardinal McCarrick were made public last month. The president of the conference, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, released a brief statement Saturday saying that the pope’s acceptance of the resignation “reflects the priority the Holy Father places on the need for protection and care for all our people and the way failures in this area affect the life of the Church in the United States.”

Terence McKiernan, president of BishopAccountability.org, which documents the sexual abuse scandal in the church and advocates for victims, called for Pope Francis to make the trial proceedings against Cardinal McCarrick public, and to open an investigation into how Cardinal McCarrick was permitted to advance his church career despite repeated warnings against him.

“The officials responsible must be identified and disciplined, and the investigative file must be made public,” Mr. McKiernan said in a statement.

Much remains unanswered about Cardinal McCarrick’s alleged abuses, including who in the church hierarchy knew what and when, and whether, as a supervisor, the cardinal handled abuse allegations appropriately in the dioceses he led.

“The resignation of one man is not the end, it’s really the beginning,” said Patrick Noaker, the lawyer representing the two men who said the cardinal had abused them as minors. “We now have to go out and find out if others were hurt.”

Elisabetta Povoledo reported from Rome, and Sharon Otterman from New York. Laurie Goodstein contributed reporting from New York, and Yonette Joseph from London.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Abuse Scandal Forces Cardinal To Give Up Post.

McCarrick, the bishops, and unanswered questions

Catholic News Agency

23 July 2018

.- A new allegation of child sexual abuse was leveled against Cardinal Theodore McCarrick last Thursday, one month after the June announcement that he had been suspended from priestly ministry following an investigation into a different charge of sexual abuse on the part of the cardinal.

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Credit: © Mazur_catholicchurch.org.uk

AddThis Sharing Buttons Share to Facebook2.7KShare to TwitterShare to Google+Share to WhatsAppShare to Pinterest5Share to PrintFriendlyShare to More315 Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Credit: © Mazur_catholicchurch.org.uk

Along with emerging accounts from priests and former seminarians of sexual coercion and abuse by McCarrick, those allegations paint a picture of McCarrick’s sexual malfeasance that may be among the most grave, tragic, and, for many Catholics, infuriating, as any in recent Catholic history.

From all corners of the Church, questions are being raised about those who might have known about McCarrick’s misconduct, about how the Church will now handle the allegations against McCarrick, and about what it means for the Church that a prominent, powerful, and reportedly predatory cleric was permitted to continue in ministry for decades without censure or intervention.

Because McCarrick was a leading voice in the Church’s 2002 response to the sexual abuse crisis in the United States, and an architect of the USCCB’s Dallas Charter of the same year, the credibility of that response has also, for some, come into question.

For parents and others who placed trust in the Church to secure a safe environment for children, those questions are especially important.

At the USCCB’s 2002 Spring Assembly in Dallas, the bishops drafted their “Charter for the Protection of Young People” and the “Essential Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Policies Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests or Deacons,” under intense media scrutiny.

There was a prescient moment at that meeting.

As the bishops discussed amendments to the document, Archbishop Elden Curtiss, then-Archbishop of Omaha, asked why a revision to the text replaced the term “clerics” with the phrase “priests and deacons.”

“Bishops are also clerics,” Curtiss pointed out.

William Lori, then Bishop of Bridgeport, Connecticut, said that the drafting committee “decided we would limit it to priests and deacons, as the disciplining of bishops is beyond the purview of this document. ‘Cleric’ would cover all three, so we decided not to use the word ‘cleric.’”

The policies the USCCB drafted would eventually be approved by the Vatican, to serve as particular law governing the Church in the United States. There is no obvious reason to think that the Holy See would have forbidden the bishops’ conference to make child protection laws governing all clerics, including bishops, though the conference decided not to do so. And it should be mentioned that universal canon law does address sexual abuse committed by any cleric- deacon, priest, or bishop.

But the bishops in Dallas seemed mostly content to discuss sexual abuse as a problem pertaining to priests, and not a problem that might plague their own ranks.


It is possible that the bishops expected the Holy See would strike down proposed laws regarding bishops, preferring to reserve matters related to the discipline of bishops to itself.

It could be that the bishops trusted the Vatican to be responsible for overseeing and disciplining bishops, and felt new norms were not necessary.

It is also plausible that in 2002 few bishops might have conceived that their brother bishops would commit acts of very grave and craven sexual misconduct. Of course, if Cardinal McCarrick was in the room- and if he is guilty of abusing priests, seminarians, and children- he knew that such a thing was possible.

So too did Archbishop Harry Flynn, then of Minneapolis-St. Paul, who chaired the committee drafting the report, and led much of the discussion at the Dallas meeting.

Archbishop Flynn was appointed to Minneapolis-St. Paul in 1994. Three years earlier, a new auxiliary bishop was appointed by Pope John Paul II to that diocese: Lawrence Welsh, who from 1978-1990 was Bishop of Spokane. In 1986, Welsh was accused of attempting to strangle a male prostitute in Chicago. Welsh admitted to putting “his hands all over the victim’s body,” in a hotel room, according to a police report of the incident, but he was not charged with a crime.

In 1989, Welsh was arrested for drunk driving in a part of Spokane popular with male prostitutes, and he resigned from office a few months later. He was appointed to a new role in Minneapolis the next year.

Welsh died in 1999. At the time of his death, Flynn called him “an extraordinary man and a faith-filled servant of the Church.” Three years later, Flynn presided over the committee that decided, for whatever reason, not to include bishops in the American Church’s laws about sexual abuse.

Now, as the McCarrick scandal continues to take shape, the decision to omit bishops themselves from the Charter, and to focus exclusively on priests, seems to some Catholics to be gravely naive, or to be a symbol for the failure of bishops to hold one another accountable.

Church-watchers have often recognized that many American bishops tend to strenuously avoid criticizing one another, or publicly calling attention to one another’s faults, preferring the appearance of affable collegiality, even amid significant substantive disagreement.

The McCarrick allegations suggest to some that those tendencies have led to a situation in which, in practice, there is one set of rules regarding the behavior of priests and deacons in the Church, and another set of rules for bishops.

Since the Dallas Charter and Essential Norms were promulgated in 2002, a priest or deacon accused serially of sexual misconduct with seminarians, over whom he holds a position of authority, is unlikely to be permitted to continue in pastoral ministry, and especially not in leadership positions. Yet, in 2005 and 2007, the Diocese of Metuchen and Archdiocese of Newark paid settlements to priests who say they were abused by McCarrick during their time in seminary and as young priests, and, after those settlements, McCarrick was permitted to continue to function publicly as a cardinal.

Cardinal McCarrick participated in the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI in the same year a settlement over his misconduct was reached. While his resignation as Archbishop of Washington was accepted in 2006 because of his age, he continued in ceremonial positions, acting as a quasi-official or official representative of the Church at some public functions, and celebrating large public liturgies.

But, for many Catholics, questions have not been answered sufficiently about whether bishops aware of McCarrick’s apparent tendencies intervened to have him removed from ministry, and whether they should have alerted the public to his reported proclivities.

Not yet answered, for example, is whether Archbishop John Myers and Bishop Paul Bootkoski, who presided over the Newark and Metuchen dioceses when settlements were reached, raised any questions at the Vatican or with the apostolic nuncio in Washington about McCarrick’s alleged behavior, or whether they considered if public disclosure of his behavior would serve the common good.

When a priest is credibly accused of sexual abuse or coercion, Catholics are ordinarily notified, and given the opportunity to come forward if they are aware of other instances of sexual malfeasance. That did not take place in Newark and Metuchen.

Before becoming Bishop of Metuchen, Bootkoski served as McCarrick’s vicar general- a chief advisory role- in the Archdiocese of Newark.

Of course, questions have also been raised about other bishops who might have known about McCarrick’s apparent proclivities. Cardinal Joseph Tobin succeeded Myers in Newark in 2017, and Bishop James Checchio succeeded Bootkoski in Metuchen the year before. Cardinal Donald Wuerl succeeded McCarrick directly in Washington in 2006. Did those men have awareness of McCarrick’s alleged penchant for young seminarians?

Sources in Washington say that after news broke in June about McCarrick, Wuerl held separate meetings with seminarians and priests, listening to them and encouraging them to come forward if they had concerns or questions about the cardinal. Wuerl is known to be proactive on child-protection, and pushed insistently for the publication of the Charter in 2002.

Still, it seems virtually impossible to imagine that Wuerl was not informed about the settlements concerning his predecessor. Did he report them to the nuncio? To Pope Benedict, and then to Pope Francis? Was he obliged to accept a Vatican decision on the matter, or did he fail to raise the questions, out of misplaced sympathy for McCarrick or a sense that the cardinal’s behavior was limited only to consenting adults?

Tobin, who was reported to have been McCarrick’s choice for leadership in Newark, was known to be vigilant about child-protection during his time leading the Redemptorist religious order, and in the Vatican’s office for religious life, but was beset by his own minor scandal in February, after tweeting “Nighty Night, baby. I love you,” in a posting that raised eyebrows, despite the Archdiocese of Newark’s insistence that it was was meant as a private message for his sister.

Still, none of the bishops surrounding McCarrick have been called to comment publicly on what they knew, when they knew it, and what they did about it.

The same questions go for the auxiliary bishops who served under McCarrick in Newark and Washington, the most prominent of whom is Cardinal Kevin Farrell, now prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life at the Vatican. Farrell lived with McCarrick in a Washington apartment, and many have characterized McCarrick as a mentor to the cardinal.

Many Catholics have asked when those bishops will be called to account for their roles, if any, in McCarrick’s situation. But one other American bishop might also face similar questions: Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston.

Father Boniface Ramsey, a priest of New York, says he contacted O’Malley, a close adviser to Pope Francis, in 2015, in order to report allegations of McCarrick’s misconduct with seminarians but did not receive a response, according to the New York Times.

In the same year, O’Malley was also given a letter from Juan Carlos Cruz, a Chilean victim of sexual abuse, who says he was assured that the cardinal delivered the letter to Pope Francis. That letter detailed allegations against Bishop Juan Barros, who is alleged to have witnessed and participated in sexual abuse perpetrated by Father Fernando Karadima. The pope accused Barros’ critics of calumny and detraction, directly, until the letter was leaked to the media in January 2018, and the pope dispatched an investigator to Chile. That sparked an unprecedented summoning of Chile’s bishops to the Vatican, and a mass resignation from them this May. The pope accepted the resignation of Barros, and several other bishops, in June.

Neither O’Malley nor the Vatican has confirmed whether the pope received the 2015 letter from Cruz, and now O’Malley is reported to have received allegations about McCarrick at the same time. What remains to be clarified is whether O’Malley communicated both sets of allegations to Pope Francis, and they were not acted upon by Francis and the Vatican, or whether the allegations were, for some reason, not communicated to the pope.

While many members of the media seemed to give O’Malley and Pope Francis the benefit of the doubt with regard to the Cruz letter- and, indeed, questions about it went largely unasked once Francis began to act on Chile’s abuse problem- it is unlikely that reporters will fail to ask about two apparent communiques on abuse from O’Malley to the pope in the same year.  O’Malley enjoys a sterling reputation on child protection in the Archdiocese of Boston, but if answers are not forthcoming, that reputation may be tarnished by the frequency of quite similar reports.

McCarrick is the most prominent American bishop who continued to enjoy a public life even after being accused of abuse-related misconduct or neglect, and the accusations against him are the most grave.

But he is not the only one.

Bishops Robert Finn, formerly of Kansas City, and John Nienstedt and Lee Piche, both formerly of Minneapolis-St. Paul, resigned from their positions when it became clear that none had handled allegations of sexual misconduct by priests in accord with Church or civil law.

Piche has largely disappeared from the public eye following his 2015 resignation.

Finn, who was in 2012 convicted of a misdemeanor for failing to report a priest’s possession of child pornography, has mostly retired to serve as a chaplain of religious sisters in Nebraska after his 2015 resignation, though he occasionally appears at public events.
(full disclosure: In 2016, when Finn moved to Nebraska, I served as communications director for the Diocese of Lincoln. I do not presently have a relationship with Finn.)

Finn and Piche were accused, and Finn was convicted, of gravely mismanaging reports of abuse and misconduct, but were not themselves directly accused of sexual misconduct. Their situations are also evocative of Bishop Phillip Wilson of Adelaide, Australia, who has been convicted of failing to report a sexual abuse claim, but not been officially removed from his position. Those situations, though serious, are distinct from McCarrick’s.

Nienstedt, however, was also accused of making unwanted sexual advances toward priests and seminarians, though he was not accused of the serial misdeeds leveled against McCarrick.  In 2013, Nienstedt was also accused of touching a boy on the buttocks, though civil authorities declared in early 2014 that no evidence supports that charge.

Nienstedt, who maintains his innocence of any charges of sexual misconduct, served initially at a Michigan parish after resigning in 2015, but left after drawing negative media attention. He has since appeared at California’s Napa Institute and other public events.

While it is unlikely that any of those bishops will again be appointed to leadership positions in the Church, some have asked whether they will face formal Vatican charges. As McCarrick’s long tenure in the Church raises questions about whether bishops have a propensity to protect one another, and whether the Vatican fails to appreciate the significance of sexual misconduct, those questions have taken on particular urgency.

Questions have also been raised about the tenure of Bishop Michael Hoeppner of Crookston, Minnesota. In May 2017, Hoeppner was sued by a diaconal candidate, Ronald Vasek, who says that in 2015 the bishop coerced him into withdrawing a report he had made in 2010 concerning a priest Vasek says abused him in 1971. The lawsuit was settled, Hoeppner maintains his innocence, and the diocese says that a settlement is not an admission of wrongdoing. Nevertheless, the case may now be judged to warrant further scrutiny.

It would be unfair to suggest that bishops fail to report these matters because they find sexual misconduct unobjectionable. While that might be true in some cases, there are a few factors that could also contribute to bishops failing to report the misdeeds of their colleagues.

The first is that bishops are trained to be forgiving and empathetic, and may have a hard time getting past that. Bishops mostly begin their careers as pastors, and that means they spend a great deal of time in confessionals. They learn to be empathetic to penitents, and to emphasize a conversion of life, a change of heart, a change of behavior, rather than to focus on the administrative or external aspects of justice.

A bishop who hears that a cardinal has had a series of adult sexual partners is likely to feel empathy for a sick and sinning brother, rather than to consider the external implications of those relationships. While bishops are largely now trained to understand the importance of reporting allegations of sexual misbehavior involving children, they may not immediately consider the same issue with regard to relationships involving adults.

Bishops may not immediately remember that a bishop, by virtue of his office, is always in an unbalanced power dynamic when he engages with other Catholics. And, because of the conditioning that comes from the confessional, they might be moved to prayer for the situation, and they might genuinely revile the behavior, without immediately realizing their own responsibility, and ability, to see that the matter is addressed in the external fora of justice.

This is the reason why the bishops have elected to involve lay review boards in addressing matters of sexual misbehavior, and if there were failures to report the misdeeds of McCarrick, they demonstrate the need for those boards to be given sufficient information to advise the bishop objectively.

Bishops might also be concerned that objections raised to the Vatican about sexual impropriety on the part of their brothers would go unanswered. That was apparently the case in Chile, where some bishops raised objections to the appointment of Bishop Juan Barros for years, before a media firestorm prompted Vatican action.

There are other bishops who may be reticent to report suspicions or allegations about a brother bishop because of an American ecclesial culture that has been sometimes characterized as having an allergy to conflict. In such a culture, one may feel simply it is “not his place” to raise concerns about a brother.

And there may still be bishops who believe that preventing a scandal is a worthwhile endeavor, without considering the costs of that decision to those who are harmed when a bishop acts immorally. The costs of that decision are borne, most gravely, by those who are directly harmed by acts of abuse on the part of any cleric. Their wounds cry out to God for justice.

But when a bishop behaves with sexual immorality, the effects ripple across his entire diocese. Priests and seminarians who object to that sexual immorality leave quickly, or find themselves marginalized. Those who rise to leadership positions are those who are left: those who are willing to accept the bishop’s sexual immorality, those who are complicit in it, or those who are too naive to notice it. Those in the first two categories, being willing to accept some rejections of Catholic teaching, are usually also likely to accept other rejections of Catholic teaching. That can be reflected in their pastoral leadership and catechesis, and consequently, an entire diocese can be formed with a theological perspective framed by relativism, tolerance of immorality, or compromise. The effects of a bishop’s sexual immorality can lead to spiritual and catechetical decline across an entire diocese.

It remains to be seen whether the Vatican will address the allegations leveled against Cardinal McCarrick, let alone consider whether others were complicit in his alleged abuse and misconduct. Sources close to the case have told CNA that the formal charges against McCarrick have not yet been made clear, even to those involved.

Some sources have told CNA to expect that McCarrick will die before facing a formal Vatican inquiry. In question is whether, if McCarrick does die before a trial, the related questions will die with him.

It also remains to be seen whether McCarrick will be stripped of his title as a cardinal, even without facing a formal trial. There is a precedent for that sanction, and, to many, his case seems to call for it.

But some hope that this moment, combined with sex abuse crises in Chile, Honduras, and India, will be a sea change for the Church. Many Catholics, regardless of theological perspective, are making clear that they expect transparency from ecclesial leaders.

One notable facet of the present call for accountability is that, for the moment, it seems mostly free from ideological division.

When Finn was being investigated for negligence, many conservatives assumed that he was being unfairly maligned by progressives, even before they learned the facts of the case. When Barros of Chile was under suspicion, even Francis blamed the “leftists.” McCarrick was regarded by most as an avowed progressive, but few have seen criticism of him as ideological. The shock, at least now, seems to break the partisan divide.

To be sure, some recent commentators have been quick to reject any correlation between homosexuality in the priesthood and allegations that a bishop engaged in predatory homosexual behavior with subordinates. But the Vatican in 2005 declared directly that those with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” should not be admitted to seminary formation, which seems an authoritative recognition that homosexuality amongst priests can have negative effects. Those arguing otherwise are unlikely to gain much traction, at least at the moment.

It seems unlikely that the momentum of a push for more accountability and transparency will quell before at least some bishops begin to offer their responses. The issue of sexual immorality on the part of bishops is sure to dominate the USCCB’s fall meeting in November, if some dramatic step has not been taken before then. What remains to be seen is whether their responses will satisfy, and whether the Vatican, or the pope directly, will decide to get involved.

In Dallas, in 2002, it was Cardinal McCarrick who expressed the importance of transparency, fidelity, and accountability.

“We will be accountable to make sure we’re on the same page. And this will be monitored, not only by each other, but by this national advisory office and board, and if it turns out that we are not faithful to what we have all agreed, it will be similar to if we’re not faithful in teaching the faith. This will be a delict that we will be sanctioned for,” he said.

“I hope that’s the right answer, but I think that’s the answer that our people expect. That we will take this seriously, and that we will be accountable to do what we promised to do.”

2 Responses to “Vatican’s handling of sexual misconduct complaints about ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick reveals a lot about the Catholic Church” & related articles

  1. Sylvia says:

    This is an attempt to start to get up-to-date on the Cardinal Theodore McCarrick sex scandal.

    A reminder here that, as I blogged 10 years ago, Cardinal McCarrick was a keynote speaker at the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops plenary in 2008. At that time McCarrick was embroiled in a scandal in which a priest identified McCarrick as a one of three priests ( “active homosexuals”) who aided and abetted pederast priests.

    And, a reminder too that clerical sexual abuse was on the agenda at that plenary

  2. Mike Mc says:

    “In Dallas, in 2002, it was Cardinal McCarrick who expressed the importance of transparency, fidelity, and accountability.”

    Accountability??? lol

    Fascinating reading, however, on the above articles.

    I really feel priests are sex-starved people. And why not? They have to be celebate. We all should be chaste in our lives, but not necessarily celebate. It seems unnatural.

    And some express that sexual desire through homosexuality. Society has accepted homosexuality but not the church.

    Those priests who are pedophiles, that’s a crime for sure. They knew what they were doing in secret. They also knew that they were hurting their victims, but they didn’t care.

    In the case of McCarrick, he was aware of what he was doing in secret. It was wrong. He allowed his sexuality to rule him. He deserves to be defrocked. What do you do with such an 88 yr old? Well, he can still be housed in a place of penance but he should not still be a priest. I’m sure some free thinkers will disagree with me, but until the Church does away with the “old boys club” in Rome, the church will stay confused. I have, in the past, expressed my views on women priests in the RC church, and yet have been shot down. But this should have happened centuries ago.

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