NJ state probe is ‘impediment’ to McCarrick records release

The Pillar [Washington DC]

January 14, 2022

As New Jersey’s governor weighs the nomination of a new state attorney general, an ongoing investigation in the attorney general’s office has delayed the release of information about the activities of disgraced former cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

But with appointment of a new attorney general, it is possible the investigation could come to a close, allowing New Jersey bishops to release diocesan records on McCarrick.

“Under the leadership of Acting Attorney General Andrew J. Bruck, the New Jersey Clergy Abuse Task Force remains active and committed to seeking justice for victims of sexual abuse by members of the clergy in New Jersey,” a spokesman in the state’s attorney general’s office told The Pillar Friday.

A New Jersey clergy abuse task force was formed in 2018, in the wake of the sexual abuse scandal of former cardinal McCarrick, who was that year accused of sexually abusing minors, and of sexually harassing and coercing seminarians and young priests while he was Archbishop of Newark, a role he held from 1986 and 2000. 

There have been few public updates on the task force’s activity since it began. And with the attorney general’s office set for new leadership, there is no sense of whether it might soon conclude its investigation or issue a report. 

But while the investigation continues, the records of internal investigations remain unreleased in the Newark archdiocese and the Diocese of Metuchen, which McCarrick led in the early 1980s. And Newark’s Cardinal Joseph Tobin said in 2019 that neither Newark nor Metuchen was at liberty to release its records while the criminal investigation remains active.

McCarrick is accused of serially harassing and abusing priests and young seminarians while he led those dioceses, and a 2020 Vatican-issued report confirmed that the former cardinal had long been suspected of illicit sexual and coercive activity.

But the former cardinal is also suspected of using diocesan slush funds to give large cash gifts to other Church leaders. It is believed those gifts might have paved the way to his promotions within the Church, or compelled bishops, some of whom might still be in ministry, to ignore or cover-up McCarrick’s misdeeds.

The Vatican report did not address McCarrick’s finances, but it is believed that in both the Newark and Metuchen dioceses, internal investigations turned up financial records that detail McCarrick’s gift-giving, and paint a picture of his social networks of influence.

According to Tobin, the attorney general’s investigation is the impediment preventing reports on McCarrick’s financial activities.

Asked in June 2019 when the Newark and Metuchen dioceses would release results of internal investigations — which would include records of McCarrick’s slush funds and gift-giving — Tobin told reporters that “there are some impediments for us doing everything that we would like to do in two dioceses: in the Archdiocese of Newark and in the Diocese of Metuchen, because we’re also under a criminal investigation by the attorney general of New Jersey.”

“Any actions we take have to be vetted by his people as well,” the cardinal said, suggesting that a records release could be forthcoming after the conclusion of the state probe.

The cardinal did not disclose whether any specific legal requirement prohibited from releasing records during the course of the investigation.

The Pillar asked the Archdiocese of Newark Friday whether Tobin still considers himself unable to release records until the criminal investigation is complete; the archdiocese said questions should be directed to the attorney general’s office.

The Archdiocese of Washington, which McCarrick led from 2001 until 2006, has also declined to make public any records of McCarrick’s financial largesse, or of the “Archbishop’s Fund,” a reportedly seven-figure slush fund which McCarrick used for both personal and charitable expenses while he was Washington’s archbishop.

Some have speculated that if the former cardinal covered his living expenses through the fund, he could face serious tax penalties.

While Washington’s Cardinal Wilton Gregory promised that he would “always tell the truth” about the Church’s response to the McCarrick scandal, he has given no explicit reason why his archdiocese has released neither records nor the result of its own internal investigation into Washington’s former archbishop.

In New Jersey, the attorney general’s investigation is expected to come under the authority of new leadership in upcoming weeks. 

NJ’s Governor Phil Murphy, elected in November to a second term in office, is expected to nominate a new attorney general shortly after his Jan. 18 inauguration. The governor is reportedly vetting eight candidates for the state’s chief law enforcement position.

When New Jersey’s task force was formed, the state’s attorney general, Gurbir Grewal, said its mandate was “investigating allegations of sexual abuse by clergy and undertaking a comprehensive review of the New Jersey Catholic dioceses’ compliance with a 2002 Memorandum of Understanding entered into with the Attorney General’s Office and various County Prosecutors’ Offices regarding policies and procedures for the dioceses to share information and cooperate regarding potential cases of sexual abuse.”

Grewal resigned in 2021, and was replaced by Acting Attorney General Bruck. But with Bruck himself likely to be replaced himself in coming days, it is not clear whether the state’s clerical sexual abuse investigation might soon be concluded by new leadership. 

The attorney general’s office told The Pillar only that “the investigation is ongoing.” 

McCarrick is currently facing criminal sexual assault charges in Massachusetts. The former cardinal, laicized in 2019, has pled not guilty.

For his part, Tobin said in 2019 he was optimistic that the investigation would show that New Jersey’s dioceses have appropriately handled allegations of clergy sexual abuse. 

“We, since 2002, have had a memorandum of understanding with each of the 21 county prosecutors in the state that we will report any criminal activity, and as far as I can say — the attorney general will be able to verify that — we’ve been very faithful to that,” Tobin told reporters in 2019.

In the same 2019 press conference, Tobin also voiced his support for lay involvement and transparency in addressing clerical sexual abuse, especially in the wake of McCarrick.

Cardinal Tobin told reporters: “I’m confident that the idea of doing this in-house is long gone.”