Catholic Church was warned about McCarrick decades ago, yet promotions, honors kept coming

By Abbott Koloff And Deena Yellin
August 10, 2020

In the late 1980s, several seminary students approached one of their professors imploring him for help, saying they didn't want to take any more trips to Newark Archbishop Theodore McCarrick’s Jersey shore home, but feared reprisals if they complained to archdiocesan officials.

The Rev. Ed Reading, a priest of the Paterson Diocese, was alarmed when the seminarians told him they felt pressured into sharing a bed with McCarrick and having to undress in front of him, though they did not say he touched them sexually. Reading reported it to his bishop, Frank Rodimer, who indicated he'd contact the Vatican's U.S. representatives.

“Something had to be done,” said Reading, who now works as a substance abuse counselor outside of the Paterson Diocese. “It’s emotional abuse and it’s a power problem.”

About two weeks later, Newark priests told Reading that church officials made an unannounced visit to the archdiocese, apparently to clamp down on use of the beach house. It was perhaps the first attempt to curtail McCarrick’s activities. But like some other actions later taken by priests and church officials, there were either no consequences or they were fleeting, as McCarrick took seminarians to the shore home for years afterward.

Reading called the harassment “the worst kept secret ever.”

Until two years ago, McCarrick, now 90, remained a popular figure, rising to become one of the Catholic Church's most powerful leaders. But in June 2018, his storied career came to an abrupt end when church officials removed him from ministry, saying they received credible allegations that he abused an altar boy decades ago in New York.

At the same time, church officials said they received "three allegations of sexual misconduct with adults decades ago" against McCarrick, saying that two of the claims resulted in settlements years before. Last year, McCarrick became the first American cardinal to be defrocked, underscoring allegations of the sexual harassment of seminarians that followed him for much of his career.

McCarrick had been revered for his ability to raise money — and the shore house in Sea Girt helped serve that purpose. Several people interviewed said McCarrick was known to take seminarians to dinner with wealthy potential donors who had homes at the shore, parading the young men as the future of the church.

He was promoted to archbishop of Washington, D.C. in 2000 and elevated to cardinal months later — even after the Vatican received a written complaint about his alleged abuse of seminary students. Church leaders first moved to limit his ministry in 2008, after the Newark Archdiocese quietly paid two seminarians to settle abuse claims. But McCarrick skirted the restrictions and continued to travel around the world with impunity, representing the church as its emissary.

In 2002, McCarrick had taken a leadership role among American cardinals, becoming the face of the church as it promised to reform itself in the wake of allegations that bishops had been covering up the sexual abuse of children by priests.

But and the USA TODAY NETWORK New Jersey has learned through interviews and shared documents that McCarrick overlooked abuse allegations made against several priests in the Newark Archdiocese. And the former cardinal is now accused of abusing children himself in three New Jersey lawsuits — including one filed last month alleging he shared children with other priests at the Jersey shore.

Letters to cardinals

Mark Crawford, now a victims' advocate, said he met with McCarrick in late 1997 to tell him that he and his brother had been sexually abused and beaten by the Rev. Kenneth Martin, a Bayonne priest who continued working until 2002, when he was removed amid the national scandal.

After McCarrick failed to follow up on promises made during that meeting, Crawford said he sent letters to cardinals across the U.S. in 1998 asking for help. Only a handful responded, and none offered to take action. Several suggested that McCarrick would address the matter.

"It was, 'this isn't our problem,'" said Crawford, who is now the head of the New Jersey chapter of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP.

By then, Crawford, who had considered becoming a priest and knew many clerics and seminarians, had heard rumors about McCarrick's behavior with seminarians at his beach house. "If I knew, they had to know," Crawford said of the cardinals.

One of the cardinals who did respond to Crawford's letters, Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles, wrote that McCarrick "is greatly concerned about all these problems and issues, and I know that you can rely upon him to be attentive to these pastoral needs." In 2013, church officials barred Mahoney from public ministry for allegedly failing to protect children from abusive priests.

Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, who died in 2017, also wrote back to Crawford, and told him that “your pain and frustration is familiar to me because I have had to deal with the problem of sexual misconduct by clergy.” He asked Crawford to “pray for the leaders of the Church, that we might do God’s will whenever this awful problem occurs.”

Four years later, reporting by the Boston Globe revealed that Law himself had moved abusive priests from one parish to another, accusations that led him to resign in disgrace.

The allegations against McCarrick remained an open secret in the church even after the Newark Archdiocese and Metuchen Diocese paid two seminarians to settle claims against him in 2005 and 2007. Archbishop John Myers was the leader of the Newark Archdiocese by then. McCarrick retired as head of the Washington Archdiocese in 2006 when he turned 75, the Vatican's required age of retirement. It is not known whether his departure was connected to the payouts.

Cardinal Joseph Tobin, who took over the Newark Archdiocese from Myers in 2017, revealed the settlements in a written statement in June 2018.

McCarrick's personal secretary

Months later, in late 2018, Tobin was given an opportunity to examine letters that cast new light on McCarrick’s abuse of power, according to a priest who worked for McCarrick for decades, first as his secretary in Newark and then at the Vatican.

Monsignor Anthony Figueiredo told that he met with Tobin in late 2018, bringing with him letters he believed would be important in the investigation into McCarrick. They showed that McCarrick acknowledged a “lack of judgement” by sharing a bed with seminarians and ignoring restrictions placed on his ministry in 2008.

According to Figueiredo, Tobin said “this was not the time to discuss that.”

The Newark Archdiocese did not address Figueredo's claim but issued a statement in an email: "Cardinal Tobin has not seen the contents of the letters to which you refer, and it would be inappropriate to comment on them without seeing them. Information and correspondence publicly released or information still not made public by Monsignor Anthony Figueiredo properly belong to the Holy See to investigate."

Figueiredo, who now lives in Rome, posted excerpts from the letters last year on a website called the Figueiredo Report. He said the Vatican has supported his decision to do so.

Figueiredo said that on Christmas Day 2019, he received a phone call from McCarrick “out of the blue.” He expected the former cardinal to be angry about the letters, but they weren’t mentioned.

“I’m sorry for all the trouble I caused you,” McCarrick said, according to Figueiredo.

"I was moved by it,” Figueiredo said. “I saw a grain of repentance in the man.”

McCarrick has denied that he sexually abused anyone. His attorney, Barry Coburn, declined to comment for this story.

In one 2008 letter to a Vatican diplomat, which was translated into Italian by Figueiredo, McCarrick wrote that he had "an unfortunate lack of judgment" and "always considered my priests and seminarians as part of my family,” sharing his bed with them as he had done with blood relatives “without thinking of it as being wrong.”

"In no case were there minors involved,” McCarrick wrote. “I have never had sexual relations with anyone, man, woman or child, nor have I ever sought such acts.”

McCarrick indicated in that letter and others from 2008 that he had been directed by church officials to be "less public a figure," and was planning to comply. The letters also indicate he was asked to move his residence from a seminary to a parish and to make public appearances only when approved by church officials.

Figueiredo said on his website that the restrictions, which were imposed under the rule of Pope Benedict XVI, were not made public "and despite McCarrick’s promises, he continued his public ministry, including taking a highly visible public role" that included dealings with high-ranking Vatican officials along with "public officials in the United States and around the globe."

After Figueiredo posted the letters, he said Tobin wrote to him and expressed surprise that he hadn’t been informed about them.

"I had no idea that you had all of this information,” Tobin wrote, according to Figueiredo. “From the excerpts that you had published, I am concerned by your longstanding knowledge of some very grave facts, which you failed to disclose earlier."

Figueiredo said he tried to disclose the letters to Tobin months earlier, and that he had all but forgotten them until allegations against McCarrick became public. And while he heard rumors of misconduct in the 1990s, he said he couldn’t be sure they were true and chalked it up to McCarrick having enemies in the church “because he provoked a lot of jealousy and envy.”

“I quite liked working as his secretary," Figueiredo said. “He was a good role model in many ways. He was always very polite. I can never remember a moment where he shouted. He was gracious and welcoming.”

Figueiredo said he hadn’t heard about the payouts to seminarians until two years ago, when they became widely known. Given the seminarians' accusations of McCarrick's behavior, Figueiredo questioned why McCarrick was allowed to stay at a seminary in Rome whenever he visited the Vatican until 2018. Myers, the former Newark archbishop, was also head of that seminary, the North American College, which trains clerics from the United States.

“He knew about the paid allegations,” Figueiredo said of Myers.

In the mid-1990s, when he worked in Newark, Figueiredo said he visited McCarrick's Sea Girt beach house. The monsignor said McCarrick didn’t go there often but selected seminarians to be invited to the house. Figueiredo said he didn’t witness abuse.

Seminary professor intercedes

Another seminary professor also heard McCarrick had been abusing seminarians, and said he took steps to intercede. The Rev. Boniface Ramsey, who taught from 1986 to 1996 at the College Seminary of the Immaculate Conception, on the Seton Hall University campus, told it was widely known that seminarians had to share McCarrick’s bed at the Sea Girt home.

“There’s always one less bed than there should be so one seminarian has to stay in bed with him,” Ramsey said. “Everyone kind of accepted it. This is what McCarrick does. It’s odd, but that’s what he does. It was said that he never touched anybody. And if he did touch someone, they never said anything.”

In the late 1980s, Ramsey said he took his concerns to the director of the seminary, who had been acting as a middleman in the selection of seminarians invited to McCarrick’s shore home.

“He told me he would not do it again,” Ramsey said. “I believe him.”

After that, he said, McCarrick may have found another way to invite seminarians to his beach house. Ramsey didn’t name the seminary director. The priest who headed the seminary in the late 1980s did not respond to requests for an interview.

In 2000, Ramsey sent a letter to a Vatican representative to sound an alarm. McCarrick had just been appointed Archbishop of Washington, and Ramsey was concerned that his “misbehavior” would continue and be “hurtful to the church.” Ramsey did not get an immediate reply and McCarrick was subsequently promoted to cardinal. Years later, Ramsey received a response to his letter, letting him know that it had been received.

“Then they knew about it,” Ramsey said. “They didn’t do anything. This had to do with the seminarians and the beach house. We are not talking about child abuse, which we didn’t come to know until just two years ago.”

The beach house

Over the past year, three lawsuits have been filed in New Jersey alleging that McCarrick abused children. The latest, filed last month, accused McCarrick of running a child sex ring with other priests out of a New Jersey beach house — the same Sea Girt home where he allegedly abused seminarians, first as bishop of the Metuchen Diocese and then as Archbishop of Newark.

However, Jeff Anderson, the attorney who filed the suit, later said it’s possible McCarrick had another shore home. The Metuchen Diocese, which McCarrick ran from 1981 to 1986, purchased the Sea Girt home in 1985, several years after the abuse alleged in the suit. It was sold to the Newark Archdiocese in 1988, two years after McCarrick moved there from Metuchen.

This Baltimore Boulevard home in Sea Girt was purchased by the Metuchen Diocese in 1985 and later sold to the Newark Archdiocese. It is where seminarians say that they were invited on overnight stays with former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. It was sold to a private party in 1997. Photo from July 22, 2020.

Anderson said he believed McCarrick eventually was “required” to sell the house “because of activities that became known to others.”

The Sea Girt home was sold in 1997 — but property records show McCarrick had access to another shore home for the rest of his time in the Newark Archdiocese. The archdiocese purchased a home in Brick in 1997 and sold it in 2002, two years after McCarrick left for Washington. The archdiocese said in an email it "cannot speculate on the specific history and purpose of these private properties."

Michael Reading, a former priest who was ordained in 1986, said he went to the Sea Girt house when he was a deacon. McCarrick told him that he wouldn’t ordain priests he didn’t get to know, Reading told He reluctantly accompanied McCarrick and other seminarians on a trip to the shore but, having heard rumors of improprieties, made an excuse that he couldn’t stay the night.

He went to an upstairs bedroom to change and said McCarrick stood there watching. He finally realized the prelate wasn’t going to leave until he changed into his bathing suit. Later, on the beach, he said McCarrick stuck his hand under Reading's swimsuit in front of other seminarians. He said they didn’t talk about it and he didn’t know what to do.

“I didn’t know there was a way to report anything,” Reading said.

Reading said he distanced himself from McCarrick after that incident — which he believes may have led to him be passed over for a position he wanted and not being assigned to a parish he requested.

“We knew that you needed to be in favor with the archbishop, and I was not in favor,” he said.

He eventually left the priesthood over what he called McCarrick’s abuse of power. He told one person about the beach house incident — his former seminary teacher, Ed Reading, the Paterson Diocese priest who went to Bishop Rodimer in the late 1980s.

Ed Reading, who’s not related to Michael, said several seminarians approached him about the beach house because he was outside of the archdiocese and not directly under McCarrick. He said they didn’t trust telling anyone in the archdiocese.

“McCarrick was so powerful, if someone confronted him, they would be gone,” Reading said.

He said Rodimer turned “pure white in a kind of shock” when he told him about the allegations against McCarrick. The bishop, Reading said, noted that McCarrick was his superior. Reading suggested contacting the Vatican’s representatives in the United States. Rodimer thanked him “and said he would take it very seriously.”

Reading said he never asked Rodimer about what happened until he visited the bishop at a nursing home shortly before his death in 2018. Rodimer, who was in failing health, couldn’t recall the conversation about McCarrick or whether he went to Vatican officials.

“I hope I did that,” he said, according to Reading.


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