NBC “Meet The Press” 2004 screengrab
Well, well, well. On the front page of today’s New York Times, Uncle Ted takes a direct hit. This was a long time coming. Headline: “He Preyed On Men Who Wanted To Be Priests. Then He Became A Cardinal.” Excerpts:
But while the church responded quickly to the allegation that Cardinal McCarrick had abused a child, some church officials knew for decades that the cardinal had been accused of sexually harassing and inappropriately touching adults, according to interviews and documents obtained by The New York Times.
Between 1994 and 2008, multiple reports about the cardinal’s transgressions with adult seminary students were made to American bishops, the pope’s representative in Washington and, finally, Pope Benedict XVI. Two New Jersey dioceses secretly paid settlements, in 2005 and 2007, to two men, one of whom was Mr. Ciolek, for allegations against the archbishop. All the while, Cardinal McCarrick played a prominent role publicizing the church’s new zero-tolerance policy against abusing children.
The first documented complaint about Cardinal McCarrick came at the latest by 1994, when the second priest wrote a letter to the new Bishop of Metuchen, Edward T. Hughes, saying that Archbishop McCarrick had inappropriately touched him and other seminarians in the 1980s, according to the documents.
The priest had a disturbing confession, the documents show. He told Bishop Hughes that he was coming forward because he believed the sexual and emotional abuse he endured from Archbishop McCarrick, as well as several other priests, had left him so traumatized that it triggered him to touch two 15-year-old boys inappropriately. The Metuchen diocese sent the priest to therapy, and then transferred him to another diocese. But Archbishop McCarrick’s stature remained intact; he was even given the honor of hosting John Paul II on a visit to Newark in 1995 and leading a large public Mass there for the pope.
Around 1999, Mr. Ciolek was called in by Archbishop McCarrick’s former secretary in Metuchen, Msgr. Michael J. Alliegro, who knew about the trips with seminarians, including the bed-sharing. He asked Mr. Ciolek, who had left the priesthood in 1988 to marry a woman, if he planned to sue the diocese, and then mentioned Archbishop McCarrick’s name. “And I literally laughed, and I said, no,” Mr. Ciolek said, adding that the monsignor responded with a sigh of relief.
This is how they roll. I once spoke to a former priest with a smaller diocese (the priest left to marry another man, also a priest) who told me that as a gay man, and as a Catholic, he could not bear the hypocrisy any longer. He said that shortly before he left, his bishop called a special meeting of the presbyterate (that is, the priests of the diocese) to tell them that a computer repairman had alerted him that he had found child porn on the hard drive of one of the diocese’s priests. That bishop’s subsequent instruction to his priests? “If you’ve got any of that on your computer, throw the thing in the river. Get rid of it,” said this ex-priest.
That priest left the priesthood. His bishop rose to become a major episcopal player in the US church, and one of the point men for cleaning up the abuse mess. The point is that this is the same kind of response that Ciolek reports from the monsignor: relief that they hadn’t been caught, and an effort to see that they don’t get caught. The gay ex-priest told me he was left cold by the realization that what his bishop (and the culture of his diocese) really cared about was protecting itself.
More from today’s Times story:
In 2000, Pope John Paul II promoted Archbishop McCarrick to lead the Archdiocese of Washington D.C., one of the most prestigious posts in the Catholic Church in America. He was elevated to cardinal three months later.
At least one priest warned the Vatican against the appointment. The Rev. Boniface Ramsey said that when he was on the faculty at the Immaculate Conception Seminary at Seton Hall University in New Jersey from 1986 to 1996, he was told by seminarians about Archbishop McCarrick’s sexual abuse at the beach house. When Archbishop McCarrick was appointed to Washington, Father Ramsey spoke by phone with the pope’s representative in the nation’s capital, Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, the papal nuncio, and at his encouragement sent a letter to the Vatican about Archbishop McCarrick’s history.
Father Ramsey, now a priest in New York City, said he never got a response.
More from Father Ramsey:
Father Ramsey said he continued to warn church leaders about Cardinal McCarrick. In 2008, he said, he raised the issue with Cardinal Edward Egan, the New York archbishop, but Cardinal Egan cut him off quickly. Father Ramsey said he was disturbed in 2015 to see Cardinal McCarrick serving at the funeral Mass for Cardinal Egan, so he wrote to Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston, who had been appointed by Pope Francis to lead a commission on sexual abuse of children.
“I have blown the whistle for 30 years without getting anywhere,” Father Ramsey said recently.
May God bless Father Ramsey for his courage. He was one of the sources who contacted me about this in 2000, but who didn’t want to go on the record back then.
As I’ve written here before, back then, I learned that a group of Americans — one priest (not Ramsey) and eight prominent laymen — were so concerned about the possibility that McCarrick would be moved to Washington that they traveled at their own expense to Rome to warn the Congregation for Clergy about McCarrick’s abuse. Two of those on the trip confirmed that they had been on it, but neither would speak about it on the record. A third gasped when I told him why I was calling, and said, “If that were true, I wouldn’t tell you for the same reason Noah’s sons covered their father in his drunkenness.”
A day or two later, a lawyer representing McCarrick intervened to attempt to have me removed from a story he said would report something “embarrassing, but not criminal.” The lawyer failed, but ultimately there was no story to report, because no one who had knowledge of McCarrick’s deeds would talk about it on the record.
What I knew at the time I made those phone calls was that McCarrick forced unwilling seminarians to share his bed at the beach house. I didn’t know that he raped priests. This, I guess, is why the lawyer could characterize my story as “embarrassing, but not criminal.”
What I don’t know is whether or not the people who went on that mission to Rome knew that McCarrick was guilty of more than unwanted touching. The two settlements with McCarrick accusers came later. I hope that all of them today are thinking hard about who and what their continued silence on the McCarrick matter is protecting.
Here’s the point: The Church knew. The Vatican knew. What is crucial for you to understand is that the Vatican advanced McCarrick to the cardinalate even though it had been warned about the kind of man he was. It let McCarrick take the lead in speaking out on sexual abuse, even though it knew he was himself an abuser. The Vatican knew what it had on its hands, but sat back while Uncle Ted said things like this, from a Boston Globe story in April, 2002:
Over the last several days and weeks, prominent church opinionmakers, including two cardinals, have suggested that the clergy sexual abuse crisis is a relatively minor phenomenon that is being turned into a major scandal by the media and others with an ax to grind.
Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, for example, told The Washington Post this week that some newspapers are having a ”heyday” with the issue.
”Elements in our society who are very opposed to the church’s stand on life, the church’s stand on family, the church’s stand on education … see in this an opportunity to destroy the credibility of the church,” he said. ”And they’re really working on it – and somewhat successfully.”
They knew that Theodore McCarrick molested priests and seminarians, but they allowed him to rise to the inner ring of the Church hierarchy anyway. Why do you think that is? Here’s a clue from today’s Times story:
For Mr. Ciolek, there were about a dozen trips out of town with Bishop McCarrick, including to a fishing camp in Eldred, N.Y., with other seminarians, and once to Puerto Rico, where he waited in a hotel lobby while his host spoke with the local bishop. Bishop McCarrick also took him to Yankees games. At one game, Mr. Ciolek said he was seated in George Steinbrenner’s box between the team owner and Henry Kissinger, in what he described as one of the highlights of his young life. But after the games ended, Bishop McCarrick sometimes took him to a small apartment on an upper floor of a hospital that he used for overnight stays in the city, and directed Mr. Ciolek to share his bed.
Mr. Ciolek said that even though he just wanted to be a parish priest, Bishop McCarrick would frequently bring up how he ought to go to Rome and climb the church hierarchy.
Don’t you see? Uncle Ted was grooming this priest (who later left the priesthood to marry a woman) to become a sexual partner and a bishop. What would the ambitious Father Ciolek have had to do in Rome to climb the church hierarchy?
Almost every day since the news broke a few weeks back that the Vatican had removed the lecherous gay cardinal who calls himself “Uncle Ted” from ministry, after accepting as credible an accusation that he molested a minor in the 1970s, I’ve received at least one e-mail from a priest or layman — usually a priest — talking about what this network of sexually compromised bishops, or at least bishops who turn a blind eye to the filth and rot among priests, have done to the Church. I am not reporting on this story any more, but I offer to be a conduit between them and reporters who are. A Midwestern parish priest who wrote me three days ago said, “These people have made life impossible for the rest of us who have chosen not to go along.”
I hope and pray that all those who know what Uncle Ted and his tribe throughout the episcopate have done and continue to do will find the courage that motivated Father Boniface Ramsey, and come forward. Father Ramsey and other brave truth-tellers should not be left to face the wrath of the hierarchy alone. The more who tell the truth, the easier it will be for others to tell the truth.
Who benefits from keeping the secrets of the Uncle Teds throughout the Church? Not the people of God, that’s for sure.
Finally, take a look at this report from a few weeks back on NBC News, relating that McCarrick had been removed from ministry. The report includes a clip from a 2004 “Meet The Press” interview with McCarrick. Go to the 1:05 point to catch this excerpt of his conversation with Tim Russert:
Russert: Do you believe there’s a special place in hell for men who represent Christ on earth, and abuse their flock?
McCarrick: There is certainly a special terrible judgment on someone who would abuse the trust that a priest must have, that a priest does have.
I remember watching that in 2004, as a Catholic, knowing the truth about that dirty old man, and knowing that the Vatican, and others in the US hierarchy, knew the truth about him. And yet, they let him go on national TV to mislead Catholics and others. Why?