The Secret Life of Catholic Cardinal Theodore Mccarrick and Reports of Sex Abuse

By Mike Kelly
Record /
August 31, 2018

In these days when we are learning about all manner of shocking secrets within the Catholic Church, here is one from Newark’s Cardinal Joseph Tobin.

When Tobin arrived in Newark nearly two years ago to lead the city’s sprawling Catholic archdiocese — one of America’s largest with roughly 1.3 million parishioners — no one bothered to tell him that church lawyers had secretly arranged to pay $180,000 to settle two claims of sexual abuse against one of his predecessors, Theodore McCarrick.

Tobin said he learned of the settlements just before they were revealed in media reports in June.

“It’s embarrassing,” Tobin told me in a phone interview the other day. “I was really shocked.”

That’s an understatement.

Roman Catholicism was born amid secrets. The gospels are filled with numerous examples of Jesus telling his followers not to spread the news about him healing sick people or bringing the dead back to life. And during the church’s early years, keeping secrets about the identities of priests or meeting spots for worship became necessary for survival amid persecutions by Rome’s collection of self-indulgent emperors.

Those days are long gone. Today, the vast majority of Catholics no longer worry about being crucified, beheaded or burned at the stake for practicing their faith. But secrecy is still a guiding force in the church — especially now when it comes to the criminal scandals of sexual abuse by priests.

This is what Tobin is trying to fight. And if recent events are any indication, he faces a monumental task, starting with why he was never told about the legal settlements by two of McCarrick’s alleged victims.

In recent months, several men have come forward to say that McCarrick abused them as boys, mostly in New York. What concerns Tobin now is McCarrick’s alleged abuse of seminarians or even newly ordained priests in the Newark Archdiocese.

Interview with Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin 2 p.m. at the Archdiocese in Newark NJ. February 14, 2017. (Photo: Demitrius Balevski/NORTHJERSEY.C)

What McCarrick reportedly orchestrated was a classic power-sex set of relationships. The seminarians or young priests were all beholden to McCarrick for their future careers, possibly even good assignments as priests at graduate schools. Think of now-disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein manipulating young actresses into sleeping with him in order to gain roles in films, and you’ll get an idea of how this sort of creepy relationship works. The key difference between McCarrick and Weinstein is that McCarrick was posing as a holy man who was a leader in a church that proclaimed a set of firm morals. Weinstein was just another Hollywood jerk. Morals were little more than chess pieces in a game of life.

For years, McCarrick would reportedly invite seminarians to his beach house in Sea Girt — usually just five at a time. The problem was that the house had only five beds in three bedrooms. Two of the bedrooms were furnished with twin beds — enough for four visiting seminarians. The master bedroom had just one, double bed.

McCarrick slept on one side and ordered the fifth visiting seminarian to climb into bed next to him.

By the late 1990s – only years before McCarrick was promoted to the high-profile post of archbishop of Washington, D.C., where he was also made a church cardinal — the sleeping arrangements with seminarians had become a tawdry open secret among North Jersey’s Catholics.

Some priests and nuns apparently regularly discussed the rumors of the archbishop’s strange sleeping relationships with his favored seminarians. One priest even phoned this columnist in 1998, asking for The Record to investigate McCarrick.

I remember responding by saying something like: “The archbishop is sleeping with seminarians? You’ve got to be kidding me.” I even added a colorful expletive, too. (Readers: feel free to use your imagination.)

This 1974 photo provided by a man who agreed to be identified only by his first name, James, shows him in California with Theodore McCarrick, a Roman Catholic priest who eventually became a cardinal. James says he was sexually abused for about two decades by McCarrick, who was removed from public ministry June 2018 over separate child abuse allegations. (Photo: Family photo via AP)

McCarrick was seen as a savvy, articulate church leader. He traveled the world and became closely tied to a variety of U.S. and international political leaders. How could someone who seemed so smart be so stupid as to force seminary students to sleep with him? Wasn't McCarrick afraid of being caught?

Apparently not. With several reporters at The Record, I tried to check out the story – and promptly ran into the brick wall of silence. It was akin to investigating the mob.

No seminarians would talk. Certainly McCarrick would not talk. Nor would any priests with direct knowledge of the escapades at the beach house.

Now that shocking, you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me story is back in the news — with firm confirmations from Catholic leaders who apparently knew about McCarrick for years but never told their flocks.

It turns out that after McCarrick left Newark for Washington in 2000, at least two former seminarians filed legal claims against him. But those claims were settled in secret. Ordinary Catholic parishioners, who regularly drop cash into church collection baskets, were never told. Nor were front-line priests and nuns who have been valiantly serving the archdiocese for years.

After McCarrick was forced by the Vatican in June to resign his cardinal’s status and was barred from participating in public church services, Tobin says he was finally told about the secret legal settlements. To his credit, Tobin ordered his staff to remove the cloak of secrecy and tell the general public.

But in announcing the news of the settlements, Tobin has re-focused attention — and legitimate questions — on the church’s penchant for secrecy whenever it is confronted with a sex abuse problem.

Tobin, 66, grew up in Detroit, the oldest of 13 children. After joining the Redemptorists order of priests, who specialize in missionary work in non-developed nations, he spent much of his career traveling around the world.

When he was tapped to be a bishop, Tobin, who speaks five languages and has been known to spend his free time in lifting weights in a gym, quickly earned a reputation as something of a maverick reformer. He led efforts to block Vatican conservatives who tried to crack down on American nuns who were showing their independence from old-line customs by shedding their bulky, medieval style of dress, returning to college and earning graduate degrees and then engaging in such radical, un-Christian pastimes as working with the poor, new immigrants and single moms. A few years later, after being named archbishop of Indianapolis, Tobin defied then-Gov. Mike Pence’s anti-immigrant policies and helped Syrian war refugees resettle in Indiana.

When Tobin took over the Newark Archdiocese in 2017 as a newly appointed cardinal by Pope Francis, he was cast as a friendly, far more humble replacement for the retiring archbishop, John Myers.

For more than a decade, Myers was largely viewed as a dour, out-of-touch conservative who seemed more intent on condemning gay marriages than caring for Newark’s poor. Myers, who replaced McCarrick in 2001 and reportedly preferred to be called “Your Grace” by priests, retired in 2016 to a lavish, 7,500-square foot mansion in Hunterdon County with $500,000 in renovations that included a whirlpool.

Tobin now has his own image problem to fight. With the shocking news about McCarrick, who was Newark’s archbishop for 14 years before moving to Washington as a cardinal, Tobin has been thrust into the vortex of the church sex abuse crisis. But the problem for Tobin is not that he tried to cover up sex abuse – an allegation that other church leaders now face, including Pope Francis. For Tobin, the question is why he did not know about the misdeeds of McCarrick.

Was Tobin naive? Out of touch? Too trusting of his aides?

In his phone conversation with me the other day, Tobin outlined his predicament, pausing often and punctuating many sentiments with exasperated exhaling. Not only was he kept in the dark about the legal settlements on McCarrick’s behalf, but no one even bothered to sit him down and explain McCarrick’s alleged sleeping arrangements with the seminarians.

This is astonishing. Imagine a new CEO taking over a corporation and not being told of a legal quagmire involving one of his predecessors.

Tobin told me that soon after arriving in Newark, he heard “rumors” about McCarrick’s beach house. But he never bothered to check them out. He says he thought the story was too “incredulous” to believe.

“Shame on me that I didn’t ask sooner,” he now says.

Tobin is far too hard on himself. Yes, he should have asked about the rumors of McCarrick’s beach house. Yes, it’s hard to believe that as a high-ranking Catholic prelate that he never heard about those rumors before arriving in Newark. And, yes, he should have been more savvy and curious about the secrets of church bureaucracy.

But why didn’t anyone in that church bureaucracy tell him about McCarrick?

At least one priest, the Rev. Boniface Ramsey, spoke up — or tried to.

Ramsey taught church art and history at the archdiocesan seminary at Seton Hall University during the 1980s and 1990s. After seminarians told him about McCarrick’s beach house, Ramsey tried to investigate.

“It took me a while to digest it,” Ramsey told me when I telephoned him recently at St. Joseph’s church in Manhattan where is now pastor. “I talked to a priest friend. Everybody knew about the beach house.”

But Ramsey could never confirm the rumors. Nonetheless, he said he complained about McCarrick in a 2000 letter to the Vatican ambassador in Washington, D.C. He never got a response. He complained again to New York’s Cardinal Edward Egan in 2004. Ramsey said Egan brushed him off. In 2015, Ramsey wrote to Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley, who had been tapped by the Vatican to look into Catholicism’s sex abuse scandal in America. But Ramsey was never told if O’Malley looked into the matter.

Mike Kelly (Photo:

Meanwhile, McCarrick is not talking. He reportedly is living in seclusion in the Washington area.

Looking back, Ramsey wonders now why people now seem so shocked about McCarrick. “All you had to do was talk to me,” Ramsey said. “But this was suppressed.”

Tobin won’t go so far as to say the allegations about McCarrick were covered up. But he shares Ramsey’s sense of frustration.

“All I keep hearing is everybody knew,” Tobin said. “But if everybody knew, why didn’t someone speak up?”

Since then, Tobin said several priests have come forward to talk about McCarrick. But if McCarrick was regularly inviting groups of five seminarians to his beach house during his tenure in Newark, it stands to reason that scores of seminarians had direct knowledge of what took place. It also stands to reason that a large number of those seminarians became priests and are now serving parishes in North Jersey. Why haven’t they spoken up? It's time to break the code of silence.

Tobin said he plans to launch an internal investigation into why he wasn’t told about McCarrick’s alleged antics. To help in this effort, he said he recently hired Kinsale Management Consultants, an investigative firm run by former FBI official Kathleen McChesney, to examine all of the archdiocesan files on sex abuse to determine if there are landmines.

For now, Tobin says he is trying deal with the imploding crisis that not only involves McCarrick but other reports of sexual abuse from a Pennsylvania grand jury report. He promises transparency – surely a notable goal in a church that has lived with far too many secrets for too many years. But Tobin knows what he faces.

“It’s a bit like being in the boxing ring with your hands tied behind your back and a blindfold over your eyes,” he said. “You’re not sure where the next punch is coming from.”

Tobin’s first task is to remove that blindfold of secrecy from his church. After 2000 years, it’s time Catholicism opened its eyes.









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