An allegation of sexual abuse half a century ago has led to the removal from public ministry of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington, DC. The disciplinary action was taken against him by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, on behalf of Pope Francis.
McCarrick famously recounted, in a 2013 talk at Villanova University, how he was asked by “an influential man in Rome” to “talk up” Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio going into the conclave that ultimately elected him. At the time, McCarrick was too old to vote for a new pontiff, but he had influence. McCarrick predicted that “if he [Francis] has two years, he will have changed the papacy.”
The accusation of abuse of a minor comes from a time when McCarrick was a priest in the diocese of the New York Archdiocese. The details of the offense have not been made public, but they were investigated by law enforcement and an independent forensic agency, with the results turned over to the New York Archdiocesan Review Board.
They found the allegations “credible and substantiated.”
Cardinal Dolan claims to be “saddened and shocked.” In a statement incredibly similar to that of the Archdiocese of New York, the Archdiocese of Washington — McCarrick’s last assigned post — echoed this same phrase: “saddened and shocked.” McCarrick himself claims to have “absolutely no recollection of this reported abuse” and claims innocence.
McCarrick has nevertheless said he will accept the Vatican’s decision. Considering that the statute of limitations on his alleged crime has lapsed, being removed from public ministry at the age of 87 seems a fairly insubstantial penalty.
American journalist and author Rod Dreher — who famously left the Catholic Church after covering the sex abuse crisis in the early 2000s — revealed that he has been waiting for this story to break since 2002. “I never wrote the story about McCarrick, because I could not get anybody to go on the record.” Dreher recounts:
Back then, I received a tip from a priest who had gone on his own dime to Rome, along with a group of prominent US Catholic laymen, to meet with an official for the Roman Curial congregation that names bishops. It had been rumored at the time that Theodore McCarrick, the Archbishop of Newark, was going to be moved to Washington, DC, and to be made a cardinal. This group traveled to Rome to warn the Vatican that McCarrick was a sexual harrasser of seminarians. The story this priest shared with me was that McCarrick had a habit of compelling seminarians to share his bed for cuddling. These allegations did not involve sexual molestation, but were clearly about unwanted sexual harassment. To refuse the archbishop’s bedtime entreaties would be to risk your future as a priest, I was told.
Rome was informed by these laymen — whose number included professionally distinguished Catholics in a position to understand the kind of harm this would cause –that McCarrick was sexually exploiting these seminarians, but it did no good. McCarrick received his appointment to the Washington archdiocese in 2000.
In early 2002, though, the priest who tipped me off wouldn’t go on the record. It would have meant the end of his priesthood, quite possibly. He gave me the name of a couple of medical figures who had been on the same journey. I called one, who confirmed it, but wouldn’t go on the record. I called the other, who gasped when I said it out loud, and who said, “If that were true, then I wouldn’t confirm it for the same reason Noah’s sons covered their father in his drunkenness.”
Dreher says that he received “more than a few calls from Catholic priests from the New Jersey area who had direct personal knowledge of McCarrick’s sexual derring-do with seminarians,” but that none would provide documentation or go on the record. So he was forced to sit on the story.
“Whenever I would see Cardinal McCarrick on television that spring,” Dreher writes, “wringing his hands about how terrible the abuse scandal was, and how the hierarchy really had no idea how extensive the crisis was, yadda yadda, I knew that I was looking at a world-class liar and hypocrite. Moreover, I knew for a fact that the Vatican had been warned about ‘Uncle Ted’ before moving him to Washington, and that those warnings had meant nothing, because hey, Uncle Ted was well connected, and he was a champion fundraiser for the Church.”
The nickname “Uncle Ted” seemed to be used frequently by those who knew McCarrick. Richard Sipe, a former Adjunct Professor at the Pontifical Seminary of St. Mary’s in Baltimore, wrote an open letter to Pope Benedict XVI in 2008. In it, he states that during his time at the St. Mary’s, “a number of seminarians came to me with concerns about the behavior of Theodore E. McCarrick, then bishop of Metuchen, New Jersey.”
“It has been widely known for several decades,” Sipe continued, “that Bishop/Archbishop now Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick took seminarians and young priests to a shore home in New Jersey, sites in New York, and other places and slept with some of them. He established a coterie of young seminarians and priests that he encouraged to call him ‘Uncle Ted.’ I have his correspondence where he referred to these men as being ‘cousins’ with each other.”
In his letter, Sipe referenced a 2005 article by Catholic journalist and 1P5 contributor Matt C. Abbott, who interviewed a “whistleblower priest” by the name of Fr. James Haley about one particular case he knew of where a seminarian was invited to sleep in the same bed with McCarrick.
One former seminarian of Mount St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg, Maryland, who spoke with OnePeterFive on condition of anonymity, said that there were a lot of men from the DC Archdiocese at “The Mount” during his time there. He confirmed that it was very common during during McCarick’s tenure in DC for his seminarians to refer to him as, “Uncle Teddy.” “Now, whether they were involved in, you know, whatever with him, I don’t know…” the former seminarian told me. “I didn’t really ask or delve into it.”
“If nothing else, that was just a common nickname for the guy. And this is at a place that’s, you know, probably… the most — or one of the most — conservative seminaries in the country.”
The Archdiocese of Newark, where McCarrick also served as Archbishop for nearly fifteen years, also released a statement today. In it, Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin says that until now, they had “never received an accusation that Cardinal McCarrick abused a minor.” However, Tobin continued, “In the past, there have been allegations that he engaged in sexual behavior with adults. This Archdiocese and the Diocese of Metuchen received three allegations of sexual misconduct with adults decades ago; two of these allegations resulted in settlements.”
On this point, Dreher expressed incredulity:
When did the archdiocese and the diocese receive these allegations? The wording is ambiguous. If settlements were made, when were they made, and why did church officials not disclose to the public that their former leader screwed around?
Why were so many bishops willing to run cover for Ted McCarrick all these years? Why?
The former seminarian offered a possible answer: “All I can tell you,” he said to me, is that McCarrick “had a lot of pull.”
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.