On June 28, I posted about the recent revelations of credible and substantiated abuse accusations against Cardinal McCarrick by a former teenage altar boy. I also discussed Cardinal Joseph Tobin’s revelation that there have been three past accusations directed at McCarrick by adults in New Jersey, and two had been settled out of court. At the time, I also mentioned that “over the last week an increasing number of sordid stories about his sexual harassment of seminarians and other inappropriate actions have emerged.”
This week, Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times has details. A former seminarian (and later priest) has finally gone on the record against McCarrick, stating that he was the recipient of one of the two settlements. His 2005 settlement included a clause prohibiting him from speaking to the media about the case. This clause was recently lifted, according to the Times article. He reported that on a number of occasions in the 1980s, he and other seminarians went on vacation with then-Bishop McCarrick, where he was – on multiple occasions – coerced into sharing a bed with McCarrick, who would then engage in unwanted touching.
Another McCarrick victim, who allowed the details of his case to be reported on the condition that his identity remain private, reveals details about situations of abuse that are even more sordid and explicitly sexual. His case was settled in 2007.
Sadly, these details have been available to the public for at least 8 years, and yet nothing was done. The details revealed in the New York Times exposé tack closely to the (Warning: graphic content) note about McCarrick posted on former Benedictine Richard Sipe’s website, dated May 12, 2010 (the URL has a date of 2008-04-21).
Other than confirming the public rumors and obtaining on-the-record confirmation from two of the victims, the New York Times article contains at least two other significant revelations:
- Fr. Boniface Ramsey, who was on the faculty of Immaculate Conception Seminary in New Jersey attempted to warn the Vatican about McCarrick’s behavior. His warnings went unheeded, as McCarrick was subsequently assigned to Washington and was made a cardinal.
- While the documented seminarian abuse occurred in the 1980s, these cases were not settled until 2005 and 2007; both after he was made a Cardinal and after the 2002 Dallas Charter was issued. He was still the active archbishop of Washington in 2005.
The first of these revelations, that a priest’s attempts to warn the hierarchy about abuse fell on deaf ears, is sadly nothing new. It has only been in recent years that the Vatican has seemed to involve itself in rectifying these evils, and, as the Chilean abuse crisis and the resignation of abuse survivor Marie Collins from the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors show, they still have a long way to go.
The second revelation is much more troubling. In 2002, the US Bishops approved the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, a document establishing mandatory reporting and a zero-tolerance policy for those who have sexually abused children or young people. Apparently, for some bishops at least, the zero-tolerance policy only applies to victims under 18. So much for “never again.” Is it really necessary to revise the Charter to include vulnerable adults? Are the bishops that dense?
What the revelation of these settlements tells us is that young seminarians in their late teens and early 20s, newly away from home and answerable to the authority of their bishop, are not protected from sexual harassment or abuse from their superiors. Can this be described as anything other than silencing the victim and covering up the crime? The age of the victim is no excuse for what amounts to satanic duplicity by the clergymen and Church officials who hid this from the public.
While this entire story is extremely distressing, one fact that has been overlooked by many of these reports is that upon his retirement in 2006, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, a man who had already cost the Church thousands of dollars in settlement money for the abuse of a seminarian (and would soon cost the Church thousands more), took up residence in a seminary for the next decade of his life.
Lord, have mercy.
These events leave the faithful with a series of important questions, some of which will likely never be answered:
Will the USCCB respond to this and make reforms? Will they revisit the Charter? Why weren’t vulnerable adults included in the first place? Why did Fr. Ramsey’s reports of abuse go unheeded? Why, nearly 20 years after the Boston crisis, is the American Church still covering up for clerics rather than protecting innocent people? Will McCarrick remain a cardinal? Will Pope Francis address this?
What will the Church do to regain our trust? We’re waiting.
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Mike Lewis is the founding managing editor of Where Peter Is. He and Jeannie Gaffigan co-host Field Hospital, a U.S. Catholic podcast.