By now, Catholics the world over are sick of hearing about the not-so-secret life of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Stories that involve unwanted touching of minors and seminarians, strange costumes, familial nicknames, and the Cardinal demanding that young men share his bed. Stories that involve “gay sex parties at the bishop’s residence”, and other things we’d rather not contemplate.
The sordid details of these cases have been made known, and will, unfortunately, probably continue to come to light as this so-called “MeToo moment for the Church” continues to unravel. But McCarrick is only the tip of an iceberg, and what lies beneath must be brought to light.
Who Knew, And Why Didn’t They Act?
Even as the moral corruption of McCarrick becomes undeniable, the question of the networks that supported and covered his actions have taken on a pressing urgency. Those responsible for keeping silence are men who continue to serve in the Church. Men who knew what kind of a monster McCarrick was when he was being raised to the rank of cardinal – and either did nothing to stop it, or refused to come forward when those they reported it to turned a blind eye.
The impact of this silence was explained by one of McCarrick’s victims, a man named James, who says that McCarrick — then a priest and a friend of the boy’s family — started molesting him at least as early as age 11. In an interview with Rod Dreher of The American Conservative, James answered the question of what he would like to say “to the people – bishops, priests, and laymen – who know who Theodore McCarrick is and what he did to people, but who are to this day keeping the old man’s secrets”:
“I would say, ‘What is so important that you are afraid to lose? Why do you believe that you are more important than so many other lives? Why can’t you just let us all know what you know? Otherwise, all his cronies that he brought on to replace him will continue his abuse in the church. They believe that if they speak out, the Catholic Church will no longer be. They piss me off because they don’t have the guts to step up and say something.”
Later in that interview, Dreher points out that men like Cardinal Kevin Farrell — who was also in a position of stature in the Legionaries of Christ under the horrifyingly perverse founder of that order, Fr. Marcial Maciel — claim they did not know about McCarrick’s sexual corruption. Michael Brendan Dougherty of National Review says of this claim:
What a life! To have been twice put in the best place to know what, at that level, “everyone knows,” and yet to have known nothing. Why should such a clueless man be elevated to the office of cardinal and given a curial position? Why should a prelate whose sense of the Church is so deficient that he resoundingly declared of the abuse crisis in 2002 that it was “over” be in charge of the World Meeting of Families in Dublin this year? If anyone comes forward with credible evidence that Cardinal Farrell did in fact know about McCarrick’s relationships with seminarians, will he resign his offices?
Abuse victim James’s response to the denial of knowledge is even more visceral:
“They lie,” he growls. “They lie through their teeth and hoping that everything will go away, because the great Oz behind the curtain, Cardinal McCarrick, is going to fix things again.
Earlier in the interview, James explains why McCarrick got away with it for so long:
“He lives in his own little private world,” says James, his voice rising in anger. “He believes most of the shit that he says for himself. His ego is bigger than yours and mine and 300 people put together. He believes that he is untouchable, and that there’s nobody else in the world who can put him aside.”
But as more and more Catholics are realizing, the heat of righteous anger rising within them, that can’t be allowed to happen. Not for McCarrick, and not for those who covered for him.
Follow the Money
An intricate pattern of dominoes are lined up on edge across the ecclesiastical table, and McCarrick has crashed right into it. They are teetering precariously. Which will be the first to fall?
Perhaps the best place to look would be the most obvious. In the initial statement about credible accusations of abuse against McCarrick from a minor back in June, the Newark Archdiocese made a stunning concession:
“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.”
When were these settlements? Who knew about them? Was the Vatican consulted? Why was this kept secret from the faithful?
According to the New York Times, the Dioceses of Trenton, Metuchen, and Newark, New Jersey — two of which (Metuchen and Newark) McCarrick headed as bishop — paid an $80,000 settlement in 2005 to Mr. Richard Ciolek, a former Catholic priest and victim of McCarrick’s bizarre sexual proclivities. (According to the Times, Ciolek — who left the priesthood and got married in 1999 — was asked by McCarrick’s former secretary if he was planning to sue the Diocese of Metuchen, meaning that at some level, the awareness of McCarrick’s activities there long-predated the settlements.)
A year earlier, according to the Times, another unnamed former priest of the Metuchen diocese was forced to resign under the Church’s “zero tolerance policy” on sexual abuse. The reason? A decade earlier he had come forward, claiming that “Archbishop McCarrick had inappropriately touched him and other seminarians” during the 1980s – another incident that should have been in the diocesan files long before McCarrick was ever made a cardinal or given one of the most important diocesan sees in America. The unnamed priest alleged that McCarrick had asked him on one occasion (when he was still a seminarian) “to change into a striped sailor shirt and a pair of shorts he [McCarrick] had on hand” and join him in bed.” “He put his arms around me and wrapped his legs between mine,” the former priest said. “He also wrote that he once saw Archbishop McCarrick having sex with a young priest in a cabin at the Eldred fishing camp, and that the archbishop invited him to be ‘next.'”
When this priest wrote to his new bishop (the late Edward T. Hughes) in 1994 to divulge the abuse, he made a stunning confession; he said that he himself had gone on to inappropriately touch two 15-year-old boys, which he believed he did because of “the sexual and emotional abuse he endured” at the hands of McCarrick. He said this abuse had “left him so traumatized that it triggered” his own predatory behavior. In 2007, that former priest received a $100,000 settlement from Metuchen for his own abuse. (No indication was made in the article that the two boys had ever come forward or received any settlement)
Does anyone believe that five and six figure settlement checks from dioceses are not cleared by their bishops, if not signed directly by them? Does anyone believe the bishops of Metuchen, Trenton, and Newark were not aware of what McCarrick was accused of? Does anyone think they shouldn’t have said anything? So who were they?
Who was the bishop of Metuchen in 2004 and 2007 when the two settlements were issued? Bishop Paul Gregory Bootkoski, who also served as auxiliary bishop and vicar general of Newark under McCarrick. Bootkoski made headlines in 2015 when he defended the suspension of a teacher in one of his Catholic schools for a Facebook post decrying the gay agenda. The teacher was later reinstated after significant public backlash.
Who was the bishop of Trenton in 2004? Bishop John Mortimer Fourette Smith. In 2002, according to Wikipedia, “Smith removed a priest accused of molesting a young boy from an administrative position in the diocese.The diocese had reported the allegation to the Monmouth County prosecutor’s office when it was first made in 1990, but prosecutors had decided not to file criminal charges because of insufficient evidence. Smith relieved the priest of his duties following a review of personnel files to ensure the public’s confidence in the clergy.”
Who was the bishop of Newark, the Archdiocesan See for all three of the dioceses in the 2004 settlement and thus arguably the key player of the three? Archbishop John J. Myers. It is with Myers in particular that the questions grow deeper. In 2002, Myers was featured on a list published by the Dallas Morning News of American bishops who had “allowed priests accused of sexual abuse to keep working.” According to that report:
During his time as leader of the Diocese of Peoria, Ill. – which he left last year – at least one priest was accused of sexual abuse and reassigned. A Peoria diocesan spokeswoman said the Rev. John Anderson was first accused of abuse in 1993 and removed from a parish. The archbishop, who was recently appointed to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops abuse committee, said he had no knowledge of the matter. Father Anderson, who served until recently as director of the diocesan office for Propagation of the Faith, has not commented publicly. He was among seven priests suspended in May by the Peoria Diocese. After those suspensions, accusers of a previously suspended Peoria priest said that Archbishop Myers had not responded to their complaints in the early 1990s until, after months of frustration, they talked to a local newspaper. And then-Bishop Myers later moved to reinstate the Rev. Francis Engels, then backed off when alleged victims complained. “I didn’t realize they would be so upset,” the archbishop recently said.
In a NJ.com article from 2017 entitled, “The Dark Legacy of Archbishop John Myers”, writer Tom Moran tells the story of Newark priest Fr. Kevin Gugliotta — who infamously told his probation officers that he “uploaded child porn to get back at God” because he wasn’t winning poker tournaments. At the time of his arrest, Archbishop Myers claimed (official statement) that there were “no allegations that he may have engaged in similar activities in New Jersey”.
Except that there were.
In 2003, a father of two children came forward to report that Gugliotta had fondled him 15 years earlier, just before Gugliotta became a priest. The alleged victim testified to both police and the archdiocese, and Gugliotta was suspended.
So wasn’t that fondling a “similar activity”? No, says the archdiocese: Child pornography is different than child abuse.
I asked if that word-parsing might have tricked some people into believing this priest’s history was clean: “It’s always possible people will interpret things the way they want to interpret them,” says the archdiocese spokesman, Jim Goodness.
The story gets worse, and more infuriating.
It turns out that because this alleged abuse occurred before Gugliotta became a priest, Vatican canon law forbids the archdiocese from imposing punishment — even if the charges are true. So in 2004, Gugliotta was reinstated as a priest.
Here’s where Myers’ sin becomes unforgiveable to me: He assigned Gugliotta to jobs where he had easy contact with children. For eight years Gugliotta worked with a youth group in Scotch Plains at St. Bartholomew the Apostle Parish.
“I had no idea,” his supervisor, the Rev. John Paladino, told Mark Mueller of NJ Advance Media. “As a pastor, I would want to know something like that.”
Eight years. How many kids in Scotch Plains were abused? How about kids in other parishes where he served – in Short Hills, Wyckoff, West Orange and Mahwah?
Why didn’t Myers at least keep Gugliotta away from children?
“I can’t answer that question,” says Goodness, the spokesman. “He has the discretion to assign priests…He could have assigned him to something else.”
Mueller has written about several cases like this over the years, cases where Myers’ behavior makes you want to scream.
“I don’t want his resignation,” the mother of one victim told me during a protest in Newark four years ago. “I want Bishop Myers to go to jail.”
Based on the above-mentioned cases, if Myers knew about McCarrick, is there any reason to believe would he have done anything about his activities? Why aren’t more questions being asked of him? A Google search on Myers turns up not a single news result more recent than 2017.
A Papal Protector?
The moment the settlements were issued for abuse by McCarrick, the bishops involved had a moral obligation to take action on McCarrick, who in addition to his continued public ministry, would go on to participate in the 2005 conclave that elected Benedict XVI, and would be actively involved in the outcome of the conclave of 2013.
Which raises another important question: Although McCarrick was too old to participate in the 2013 papal election, he was involved in influencing it. In February 2013, McCarrick talked up the possibility of a Third World Pope in an interview with John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter. Throughout the interview, McCarrick referenced the Third World three different times; he mentioned Latin America seven times. “I think it would be so great for the focus to be on areas like Latin America.” He said. “If we could have a Latin American [pope], that would be great too.”
It was only when asked specifically if he was referring to Cardinal Bergoglio at one point in the interview that he demurred somewhat in what was — in hindsight — some pretty blatant signaling.
Later, in a talk given at Villanova University in Philadelphia in October, 2013, McCarrick revealed just how hard he was pushing that message, and why. He said that a “very interesting and influential Italian gentlemen” came to see him in Rome and asked him to campaign for Bergoglio:
We sat down. This is a very brilliant man, a very influential man in Rome. We talked about a number of things. He had a favor to ask me for [when I returned] back home in the United States.
But then [the influential Italian] said, ‘What about Bergoglio?’
And I was surprised at the question.
I said, ‘What about him?’
He said, ‘Does he have a chance?’
I said, ‘I don’t think so, because no one has mentioned his name. He hasn’t been in anyone’s mind. I don’t think it’s on anybody’s mind to vote for him.”
He said, ‘He could do it, you know.’
I said, ‘What could he do?’
He said, ‘[Bergoglio] could reform the Church. If we gave him five years, he could put us back on target.’
I said, ‘But, he’s 76.’
He said, ‘Yeah, five years. If we had five years, the Lord working through Bergoglio in five years could make the Church over again.’
I said, ‘That’s an interesting thing.’
He said, ‘I know you’re his friend.’
I said, ‘I hope I am.’
He said, ‘Talk him up.’
I said, ‘Well, we’ll see what happens. This is God’s work.’
That was the first that I heard that there were people who thought Bergoglio would be a possibility in this election.
According to Pete Baklinksi of LifeSiteNews, “McCarrick went on to say in his talk that when his time came to speak to all the cardinals prior to the vote, he urged them to elect someone from ‘Latin America’ who could identify with the poor.”
Just like he had in the NCR interview.
It has by now been well-documented that Pope Francis is loyal to those whom he considers friends – even when their moral turpitude is on full display. Can we expect that McCarrick fare any worse under Pope Francis than Cardinal Godfried Danneels, who among various other anti-Catholic behaviors during his tenure was caught on tape trying to dissuade a clerical abuse victim from going public? As Henry Sire writes in his seminal work, The Dictator Pope, Danneels had his home and offices raided by police, who seized computers and abuse allegation documentation. “For reasons that remain unclear,” wrote Sire, “the seized evidence was declared to have been inadmissible, the documents returned to the archdiocese and the investigation was abruptly closed. This despite the fact that individuals had come forward with almost five hundred separate complaints, including many that alleged Danneels had used his power and connections to shield clerical sex abusers.”
And yet Danneels was part of the so-called “Sankt Gallen Mafia” that helped elect Bergoglio to the papacy. His involvement as a popemaker led Danneels to enjoy the 2013 conclave as — in his words — “a personal resurrection experience.” And as we’ve reported before, if one looks at the loggia, where the newly minted Pope Francis stands before the crowd, who is standing in the shadows? One Cardinal Godfried Danneels, looking rather proud of his achievement:
Time after time, complaint after complaint, those closest to the pope, or who helped him obtain power, escape justice – at least until public pressure becomes too great, as it did with Bishop Juan Barros. Four of the pope’s C9 council of cardinal advisers — including its head, Bishop Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga — have been implicated in neglect in dealing with or direct cover-ups of clerical sexual abuse. In addition to Maradiaga, whose scandal involves his recently-resigned auxiliary bishop, Juan José Pineda Fasquelle, CMF — as well as a new open letter claiming egregious homosexual activity at Maradiaga’s major seminary — Cardinals Marx and Errazuriz have both been implicated in mishandling abuse cases, and Marx even admitted his negligence. The outlier of the four is Cardinal George Pell of Australia, who found himself facing 40-year-old abuse charges — charges he has vigorously denied — after he uncovered significant financial irregularities at the Vatican Bank.
Also of note is the fact that the pope’s hand-picked liaison to the now-stalled Vatican Bank Reform, Msgr. Battista Ricca, was claimed to have outraged church figures in Uruguay during a diplomatic posting in 1999, when he moved “his lover, Patrick Haari, a Swiss army captain, in with him”, only to later have Haari forced out by apostolic nuncio Janusz Bolonek in 2001. Ricca was caught later that year in an elevator, where he was “trapped with a youth known by local police” after being attacked at a “cruising ground” – a meeting place for area homosexuals. There is no indication that Ricca has been removed of his position as Prelate the Vatican Bank, despite indications that his past was hidden from the pope and reports of his offered resignation as long ago as 2013. Less well known is the fact that it was in reference to a specific question about Msgr. Ricca that Pope Francis infamously responded, “Who am I to Judge?”
What confidence can any Catholic have, then, that McCarrick, whose abuse thus far appears to fall outside civil statues of limitations, will face any justice for his crimes? What hope have we that he will be defrocked and laicized, as other, less significant clerics have been for far less? What chance is there that any action will be initiated by Rome? Will Bishops Bootkoski, Smith, and Myers be thoroughly questioned and exposed and disciplined if complicity is discovered? Or Tobin and Farrell for that matter? Will the pope’s 2016 motu proprio on episcopal enablers of clerical sex abuse, As a Loving Mother, actually be put to use? That instruction states that, “In the case of the abuse of minors and vulnerable adults it is enough that the lack of diligence be grave,” and that a bishop “can be legitimately removed from this office if he has through negligence committed or through omission facilitated acts that have caused grave harm to others, either to physical persons or to the community as a whole. The harm may be physical, moral, spiritual or through the use of patrimony.”
Of course, experience gives us the answer. We can expect no such thing from Rome, which routinely turns a blind eye to moral corruption in the ranks of our bishops. We can expect nothing from the fellow bishops who may have information, or may in fact be complicit in some way, or concerned about the revelation of their own sins. We can almost certainly expect more silence from priests afraid of retribution.
It seems imperative, then, that the push come from the laity. From normal pewsitters. From journalists. From those who know what has happened, and want it to stop.
With McCarrick’s documented involvement in promoting the election of one Cardinal Bergoglio, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that once the dominoes start falling, the last one in this network of corruption that is protecting clerical abusers will fall at the feet of Pope Francis.
Wherever it leads us, let them fall.
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 eight children.