NEW YORK (NY)
The New York Times
July 15, 2020
By Elizabeth Bruenig
As former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick became a powerful figure in the church, several boys from one family say he targeted them.
Rain fell in New York City four days before Christmas of 2018. Francis M. had planned to be in the city that day for business, but he had dutifully put aside time when asked to answer questions at the Archdiocese of New York offices about his experiences with “Uncle Ted” — former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.
A tall, broad-shouldered man nearing 60 at the time, with blue eyes and steely gray hair, Francis had been in enough depositions in his career as an attorney to know how these question-and-answer sessions went. He assumed he would relate the story of his interactions with Mr. McCarrick, which began when he was 11, and then he would return to his usual routine.
Mr. McCarrick’s downfall had been as dizzying as his rise. Once the archbishop of Washington D.C., and a cardinal who boasted of his close ties to Pope Francis, Mr. McCarrick had established himself as a gifted fund-raiser, helping to found the Papal Foundation, a charity with a $200 million endowment. But in 2018, his reputation collapsed in a rush of accusations that he had sexually abused adult seminarians and a teenage boy. More accusations followed, and in 2019 Mr. McCarrick was defrocked — the first time an American cardinal had been removed from the priesthood.
Francis — who asked me to refer to him and his family members only by their middle names and last initials, to protect their privacy — was not surprised, but neither did he feel that the news had much to do with him. He wasn’t a victim, he thought. He had never felt like one. He had explanations for all the times Mr. McCarrick had insisted that Francis share a bed with him as a boy and for the ways the man had touched him when he did. Mr. McCarrick was lonely, Francis had told himself; plenty of clergymen were. And Francis had turned out well: A father of four with a happy marriage and lucrative work, he had little reason to meditate on the former cardinal.
But as Mr. McCarrick’s case gained national attention, Francis began discussing it with his brothers and male cousins. He told me that in October 2018, one of his brothers reached out to the Archdiocese of New York, and by December, five members of Francis’ family, all men, had agreed to testify in the inquiry the Vatican had ordered it to undertake. An attorney representing Mr. McCarrick repeatedly declined to comment on the allegations made in this article. As of 2019, Mr. McCarrick still maintained his innocence.
“I had anticipated that reciting long-ago facts wouldn’t be upsetting,” Francis told me when we first met in January of last year, at his vacation home in the frozen Catskills.
“But the more I went over in my mind the experiences I had and what they really constituted — with the perspective of an older man — I really understood for the first time as an adult the premeditation and cunning that Ted brought to his predatory activities, right under the eyes of my parents and aunts and uncles.”
Francis said that he was one of five members of his family who testified against Mr. McCarrick in the church’s inquiry.
The experience left him shaken. There were all of the usual questions victims ask themselves: How had his parents missed what Mr. McCarrick was doing, and why had he allowed younger family members to wander into the cardinal’s grasp? How had it changed him, and could he recover? And then there were more fundamental questions: Could a religion whose earthly stewards sinned so cruelly really be true? Supposing it wasn’t, how could he leave the only church he had ever known? Supposing it was, how could he stay?
Established in 1927 in the Throgs Neck neighborhood of the Bronx, the church of St. Frances de Chantal came into its full glory in 1970, when its severe brick exterior was finally erected beneath a tall, spartan cross. In October of that year, Cardinal Terence Cooke visited the parish to celebrate a Mass of Dedication. Francis recalled that Cardinal Cooke brought with him a delegation of clergymen from the Archdiocese of New York, including an up-and-coming monsignor by the name of Theodore McCarrick.
A parish priest introduced the affable Mr. McCarrick to the nine members of the M. family, Francis, who was then 11, told me. Mr. McCarrick was 40, a slightly built man with an almost elfin look. He was just back from a four-year stint as the president of the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico and had recently been made assistant secretary for education in the archdiocese. In 1971, Cardinal Cooke would make him his personal priest secretary.
Mr. McCarrick soon became a regular visitor at the M. household, where his status in the church made him something of a celebrity. Francis recalled that “Ted” always wore his clerical garb, unlike the more casual clergymen around town. “When Ted came to dinner, he was like the candy man,” Francis told me. He would bring souvenirs: “Rosary beads from Fátima, a medal blessed by the pope, a necklace from the Philippines.”
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