Cardinal Theodore McCarrick is the target of new allegations of sexual misconduct
By Michelle Boorstein And Julie Zauzmer
July 22, 2018
|In this Sept. 23, 2015 file photo, Pope Francis reaches out to hug Cardinal Archbishop emeritus Theodore McCarrick after the Midday Prayer of the Divine with more than 300 U.S. Bishops at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington.|
Photo by Jonathan Newton
A month after the Vatican suspended Cardinal Theodore McCarrick from ministry, saying the prominent former D.C. archbishop had been credibly accused of sexually abusing a teenager decades ago, four additional complaints about sexual misconduct by the cardinal have surfaced.
Once a globe-trotting representative of the Catholic Church worldwide and one of the architects of the church’s policy on sexual abuse, McCarrick’s precipitous fall over the past month has shocked Catholics, especially in Washington, where he was a popular archbishop from 2001 to 2006.
McCarrick’s future now rests with Pope Francis, who as pontiff oversees the cardinals. Many church-watchers think this is a make-or-break moment for Francis because of McCarrick’s stature and the fact that Catholic clerical sex-abuse crises are exploding in Chile and Honduras.
In the most recent allegation, a Virginia man accused McCarrick of abusing him for nearly 20 years, beginning when he was about 11 years old. The man filed a police report on July 17 with the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office, a copy of which The Washington Post has seen.
Three other allegations have also surfaced against McCarrick, from men who said he sexually harassed or abused them early in their religious careers decades ago when they were young adults. Two were seminarians and one was a young priest at the time.
The highest-ranking U.S. Catholic leader to be removed for a child-sexual-abuse allegation, McCarrick declined through his canon lawyer Michael Ritty to comment last week. Susan Gibbs, his former archdiocesan spokeswoman, said that she had spoken with him and that he said he was committed to following the Vatican process.
Last month, when the New York Archdiocese said McCarrick had been credibly accused of groping a 16-year-old altar boy in the early 1970s and suspended him from the priesthood, McCarrick released a statement saying he had no recollection of the incident and asserted his innocence.
Then came more allegations.
The Virginia man, now 60, told The Post on Friday that his family was close with McCarrick when he was young. “I liked his attention. He had this aura,” said James, who spoke on the condition that his last name not be used.
“I was raised in a way to trust priests, to trust the Catholic Church. I was to believe they were always going to help me,” he said.
One summer when he was 11, James said that McCarrick walked in on him changing in his family’s house in New Jersey after swimming in the pool. James turned around to hide his nakedness, and McCarrick told him to turn to him, he said. Then McCarrick dropped his own pants, James recalled. He said, “See, we’re the same. It’s okay. We’re the same.”
It was the start of an abusive relationship that lasted well into James’s adulthood, said James, whose story was first reported by the New York Times. He said it drove him to alcoholism as a teen. He is now long sober but said the abuse has haunted him since.
“What he did to me was he ruined my entire life. I couldn’t break the hold. I couldn’t live up to my ability — to stay employed, married, have children. I lost all those opportunities because of him,” James said. Breaking into tears, he said, “I try to be a really good kid every day.”
Vatican representatives Greg Burke and Paloma García Ovejero did not respond to several requests for comment.
The day the Vatican announced McCarrick’s suspension, the Diocese of Metuchen and the Archdiocese of Newark said that in the 2000s they had received three complaints of sexual misconduct by McCarrick toward adult men. Two resulted in settlements to the accusers, they said.
On Friday, in response to James’s complaint, Metuchen Bishop James Checchio said he was hearing about it for the first time.
“The abuse of anyone who is vulnerable is both shameful and horrific,” Checchio said in a statement, adding that “the abuse of a minor by a priest is an abomination and sickens and saddens us all.”
Both New Jersey settlements involved seminarians who were training to become priests in McCarrick’s dioceses decades ago. The Post spoke to one of the two seminarians and also reviewed a lawsuit filed by a third man, a young priest, that was later withdrawn. All accused McCarrick, who was their superior, of varying levels of sexual harassment or misconduct.
Robert Ciolek, now a lawyer in his 50s, told The Post that when he was a seminarian in New Jersey in the 1980s, McCarrick would invite small groups of men to a beach house, then ask some of them to sleep in his bed — and more. He said McCarrick would touch him and other seminarians, and order them to give him back rubs. Ciolek said he did not experience or see touching below the waist or kissing.
“I didn’t want him doing that. I didn’t like it. I wished it didn’t happen,” he told The Post. But he said he felt powerless to say no to a bishop’s request.
Ciolek said he decided to come forward for the first time in the early 2000s, after the Boston Globe’s exposé of child sexual abuse in the church. He said he first told the Diocese of Metuchen about a religion teacher at his Catholic high school who abused him when he was a teenager and then told the diocese about McCarrick. In 2004, the church paid him $80,000, he said, in a process he described as a cold “numbers game.”
“There was no discussion or questioning or disbelief or awe,” he told The Post. “Never any words of sorrow or expressions of sorrow from anyone as it related to McCarrick.”
The Post has extensive files on the case of a second seminarian, including letters between officials of the Metuchen Diocese and therapists who examined the man, and the man’s own writings about McCarrick’s inappropriate sexual behavior toward him.
The man, who had gone on to become a priest, admitted in the 1990s that he had touched two minors himself. He said his confused sexual behavior was the result of the abuse he’d suffered by McCarrick in the 1980s and other clerics while he was a seminarian.
Clinicians at a church-run treatment facility, the St. John Vianney Center in Pennsylvania, wrote in their evaluations that they believed he had been a victim of sexual misconduct by “the former bishop of his diocese.” The man later wrote to then-Metuchen Bishop Edward Hughes a detailed letter in 1994 about a fishing trip with McCarrick. “This great ‘honor’ turned out to be a horrible nightmare,” he wrote.
McCarrick later took him to dinner in New York City and to an apartment, where there was one bed, he wrote Hughes. Feeling “totally frightened and trapped,” he went to bed, and McCarrick rubbed his crotch, he wrote.
Hughes wrote back to the therapist saying that he found the allegations “very troubling” but that he wasn’t sure he believed them. “At the present time, I do not have sufficient factual basis for making such a determination.”
Hughes died in 2012.
The church paid the man $100,000, the New York Times reported. He was eventually removed from ministry in the mid-2000s. The Post does not name victims of sexual abuse without their consent. Calls made to the man were not returned.
In August 2011, a Brazilian priest filed a complaint against the Newark and Metuchen dioceses, saying that in the 1990s McCarrick invited him to a beach house in Sea Girt, N.J., and “inappropriately used his power . . . by forcing Plaintiff to engage in sexual acts.” The complaint says the then-bishop “persuaded” the man to take off his clothes, forced “unwanted” sexual activity on him — both at the beach house and at the Waldorf Astoria.
“Plaintiff was fearful and repulsed,” said the complaint filed in Superior Court of New Jersey. “Cardinal McCarrick, through manipulation, deception and fraud . . . attempted to convince Plaintiff that engaging in the sexual relationship with Cardinal McCarrick was a necessary and accepted practice in the Roman Catholic Church in the United States.”
According to the complaint, the man told another priest of the diocese, as well as Hughes — who was the Metuchen bishop — who “advised Plaintiff to forget about the sexual incidents conducted by Cardinal McCarrick and to forgive him for the good of the Roman Catholic Church.”
Phone calls and an email to the Brazilian priest were not returned.
In 2012, the Metuchen Diocese sued the Brazilian priest, saying he had misused parish funds and had put leaflets on cars around Middlesex County, N.J., falsely alleging top clerics in the diocese were gay. It was unclear how that lawsuit was resolved.
Based on the allegations about his client’s behavior, the priest’s attorney Evan Goldman said he opted to withdraw his client’s suit against the church. However, he recalled the priest sobbing in his office and church officials locally “pooh-poohing it. They weren’t taking it seriously based on the way it came about. . . . It impacted him tremendously. None of his complaints were being listened to.”
Asked about the three cases, Metuchen spokeswoman Erin Friedlander, who said she was also speaking for the Archdiocese of Newark, said each claim that came to them about McCarrick was reported to law enforcement. She said that the first complaint about him came in 2004 and that the two settlements were reached quickly and reported to the Vatican — its representatives in Rome and in Washington.
She did not respond to questions about the earlier complaints in the 1990s made to Hughes or why McCarrick was allowed to remain in ministry, despite the complaints and settlements, until a few weeks ago.
Friedlander said the current Newark archbishop, Cardinal Joseph Tobin, “has expressed his intention to discuss this tragedy with the leadership of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in order to articulate standards that will assure high standards of respect by bishops, priests and deacons for all adults. We can confirm that the highest level of the Holy See is investigating a number of points raised in the ongoing questioning.”
Ciolek said he met with Tobin this month and offered to actively help work to combat clerical abuse. After many years of public silence, he said, he was speaking out in part “to help promote the change.”
The Rev. Boniface Ramsey, a New York City priest, said in the 1980s he had joined the faculty of Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J., when he began hearing reports from seminarians, including some who told him they had firsthand experiences, with McCarrick, the local archbishop, inviting a group to the beach and having one bed short so one man had to sleep with him.
Ramsey said he called the Vatican’s U.S. representative, Gabriel Montalvo, in the fall of 2000 and told him what he’d heard about McCarrick, who had just been named to the post of D.C. archbishop. Montalvo strongly encouraged Ramsey to put everything in writing, Ramsey said. Ramsey later told Montalvo that he was afraid McCarrick would find out. “He told me: ‘Send the letter! What do you think we are — fools? Send the letter.’ So I sent the letter. I never got a response.”
Montalvo died in 2006.
In March 2015, Ramsey said he ran into McCarrick at the funeral of Cardinal Edward Egan of New York City and became upset that the cardinal was still out and about, he said. He wrote a letter a few months later to Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, one of Francis’s key advisers on preventing clerical abuse, saying the issue was about “a form of sexual abuse/harassment/intimidation or maybe simply high-jinks as practiced by Theodore Cardinal McCarrick with his seminarians and perhaps other young men” when McCarrick was in New Jersey.
Within a few days, Ramsey received a note back from the Rev. Robert Kickham, O’Malley’s secretary. O’Malley, Kickham clarified, as president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, is responsible for “evaluating child protection policies and procedures . . . and to offer recommendations to improve” those policies. Commission members don’t review individual cases that fall under local authorities, he wrote. “Please know of our appreciation for your care and concern for the good of the Church and the people of God.”
Ramsey provided copies of his letter to O’Malley and Kickham’s response to The Post. O’Malley and his spokesman declined to comment.
“People are sick and tired of the subject, but feel more liberated than they did in the past to talk about it,” said Russell Shaw, a longtime spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and author of several books about the priesthood and American Catholicism. That said, even after the crisis that began nearly two decades ago, Shaw said, many Catholics “still want to continue to believe in the priesthood and its impermeability toward this kind of corruption. A lot of ordinary Catholics continue to hang on to their instinctive trust longer than facts warranted.”
Sister Katarina Schuth, considered one of the country’s leading experts on priest training, said the lofty position of McCarrick is shaking even Catholics left cynical by the crisis. “This is not one more thing. I think it’s having a stronger impact.”