Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, former Newark Archbishop, removed from ministry over past sex abuse allegations

By Kelly Heyboer And Ted Sherman
NJ Advance Media for
June 20, 2018

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former Archbishop of Newark, visiting a Bayonne church in 2008.

Pope John Paul II embraces Archbishop Theodore McCarrick in Sacred Heart Cathedral in Newark in 1995.
Photo by Amanda Brown

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former Archbishop of Newark and Archbishop Emeritus of Washington, D.C., has been removed from public ministry in the wake of allegations he abused a teen 50 years ago while serving as a priest in New York.

McCarrick, who accepted the Vatican's decision, is one of the highest-ranking American leaders in the Catholic Church to be removed from ministry over sex abuse charges.

The allegations against him have been deemed "credible and substantiated" by church officials, McCarrick acknowledged in a statement. However, the veteran cardinal said he does not remember the incident from a half-century ago, and believes he is innocent.

News of McCarrick's removal came as church officials in New Jersey separately revealed for the first time that the cardinal had previously been accused of sexual misconduct with three adults during his time in the state.

Two of those cases resulted in secret legal settlements with undisclosed terms, according to the Archdiocese of Newark.

Church officials said there had never been an accusation that McCarrick sexually abused a minor until the new accusation that the cardinal abused a teenager 50 years ago while working as a priest in New York.

The shocking removal of McCarrick came in a statement on Wednesday, when the 87-year-old retired Archbishop of Washington, D.C., said he accepted that he must step away from public ministry.

"While I have absolutely no recollection of this reported abuse, and believe in my innocence, I am sorry for the pain the person who brought the charges has gone through, as well as for the scandal such charges cause our people," he said.

McCarrick said he had been advised several months ago by the Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, that an allegation of sexual abuse of a teenager from almost 50 years ago had been made against him.

At that time, he was a priest of the Archdiocese of New York.

"While shocked by the report, and while maintaining my innocence, I considered it essential that the charges be reported to the police, thoroughly investigated by an independent agency, and given to the Review Board of the Archdiocese of New York. I fully cooperated in the process," he said. "My sadness was deepened when I was informed that the allegations had been determined credible and substantiated."

He said in obedience, he accepted the decision of The Holy See, that he no longer exercise any public ministry.

"I realize this painful development will shock my many friends, family members, and people I have been honored to serve in my sixty-years as a priest," he said.

Due to the statute of limitations on sexual abuse prosecution in New York, it is unlikely prosecutors would consider pursuing criminal charges against McCarrick.

Church officials in the Archdiocese of Newark and the Diocese of Metuchen, where McCarrick had previously served as bishop, said they were aware of past sexual misconduct allegations with adults.

Cardinal Joseph Tobin, who has been Archbishop of Newark since January 2017, disclosed that allegations that McCarrick engaged in sexual misconduct with adults decades ago resulted in legal settlements.

"This Archdiocese and the Diocese of Metuchen received three allegations of sexual misconduct with adults decades ago; two of these allegations resulted in settlements," Tobin revealed.

The dates and of the settlements were not disclosed. Church officials also did not say if the settlements involved payments to the victims.

Tobin said the Archdiocese of Newark never received an accusation that McCarrick abused a minor.

At the Archdiocese of Washington, where McCarrick became a cardinal, church officials said they were shocked by the sexual misconduct allegation.

"While saddened and shocked, this archdiocese awaits the final outcome of the canonical process and in the meantime asks for prayers for all involved," the Archdiocese of Washington said in a statement. "At the same time, we renew our commitment to care for the victims who have suffered abuse, to prevent abuse before it occurs, and to identify and report child abuse once it has happened."

Mark Crawford, New Jersey state director of the priest-abuse victims group SNAP, said he was disappointed to hear there were past accusations of sexual misconduct against McCarrick and settlements involving adults that were not revealed until now, despite the church's promises to be more transparent.

"We've been told it. We've been promised. Clearly this is not the case," Crawford said of the Catholic church's pledges to reform how it handles sexual misconduct by priests.

McCarrick was bishop of Metuchen from 1981 to 1986, and then served as Newark's archbishop from 1986 to 2000.

In Metuchen, he was the shepherd of a newly formed diocese. Later, he would build a $13 million archdiocesan center next to the cathedral in Newark. Those who knew him said he used his connections to get Pope John Paul II to Newark in 1995.

McCarrick was known to have guided more than seminarians through the ordination process, ordaining 171 in 14 years as Newark's archbishop, more than any other American bishop.

While still in Newark, he was said to be looking at retirement when he turned 70. But Pope John Paul II picked him as Washington's archbishop in late 2000, and in 2001 made him a cardinal.

In the Diocese of Metuchen, church officials were aware of accusations his sexual misconduct with adults. But, Metuchen officials did not receive any reports McCarrick abused minors.

"This very disturbing report has prompted me to direct that the records of our diocese be re-examined, and I can report to you that there has never been any report or allegation that Cardinal McCarrick ever abused any minor during his time here in Metuchen.  In the past, there have been allegations that he engaged in sexual behavior with adults," said James F. Checchio, Bishop of the Diocese of Metuchen on Wednesday.

Checchio offered apologies to anyone who was victimized.

"The abuse of anyone who is vulnerable is both shameful and horrific.  The abuse of a minor by a priest - as is being reported in this case from New York - is an abomination and sickens and saddens us all," Checchio said in a statement.

In Newark, Cardinal Tobin said he recognized that the people of the Newark Archdiocese would meet the announcement by the Archdiocese of New York of a credible and substantiated claim of abuse of a minor by Cardinal McCarrick with a range of emotions. 

"I am thinking particularly of those who have experienced the trauma of sexual abuse by clergy--whose lives have been impacted tragically by abuse.  To those survivors, their families and loved ones, I offer my sincere apologies and my commitment of prayer and action to support you in your healing," Tobin said in a statement.

For years, McCarrick was the most recognized Catholic leader in New Jersey and a leading voice on national issues for the church.

"Cardinal McCarrick served this archdiocese for almost fifteen years.  No doubt many of you developed strong relationships with him and appreciate the impact of his service.  Those feelings are likely hard to reconcile with the news of a credible and substantiated claim of abuse of a minor," he said. "While Cardinal McCarrick maintains his innocence and the canonical process continues, we must put first the serious nature of this matter with respect and support for the process aimed at hearing victims and finding truth."

Tobin said the abuse crisis in the Catholic Church has been devastating.

"We cannot undo the actions of the past, but we must continue to act with vigilance today.  I renew my commitment to seek forgiveness and healing, while ensuring a safe environment for children in this archdiocese," he said.



Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.