Thinking about "Uncle Ted" Mccarrick: Duin and Abbott Say Press Should Keep Digging
By Terry Mattingly
December 9, 2020
The calendar here at GetReligion — like any cyber-workplace — starts getting complicated as we move through Advent and into the entire whirlwind of Hanukkah, Christmas, New Years Day, etc. That’s even true during a pandemic that has kept us (especially older folks like me) locked up.
Still, Julia Duin is out and about this week. However I saw an interesting “other side of the notebook” piece that I knew would interest her. It was linked to the Vatican’s long-delay report about the fall of former cardinal Theodore “Uncle Ted” McCarrick and why that story — shrouded in rumors for decades — was so hard for many journalists to cover.
The new piece — “My minor role in exposing McCarrick” — was written by Catholic scribe Matt C. Abbott and ran at RenewAmerica.com.
I asked Julia for a quick comment on the piece and she wrote back: “Matt definitely was one of the early guys to sound the alarm but like the rest of us, he had only hearsay to go on. Not that said hearsay wasn’t convincing. A number of us had been hearing rumors for years and Matt connected the dots quicker than a lot of us [in mainstream newsrooms] who were more constrained toward having to get actual on-the-record people confirm those rumors. As an independent, he could say what he wanted at the time.”
To grasp the context for Abbott’s new comments, it helps to flash back to Julia’s earlier GetReligion posts about the challenges journalists faced dragging this sordid story out into the light of day. Those were:
The story of the reporting of this story is unbelievably complicated and there are many angles and sources that are still not out in the open.
The best way to place Abbott’s new piece in context is to read a long, long passage drawn from the first of those three Duin posts. There’s no way to edit this down — because reality was complicated. Period. She starts with the fact that several journalists knew that there had been behind-the-scenes legal/financial settlements with victims, but no one could confirm how many or pin down key details:
Numerous journalists — and Catholics — knew that McCarrick has been accused of this sort of thing for decades and that he cultivated male seminarians for sexual purposes for years. … It is one of the great untold stories of the religion beat.
Look at this essay posted in 2010 by Richard Sipe, a former priest who has been a psychotherapist specializing in sexual abuse cases by Catholic clergy.
Yep, eight years ago. It is an R-rated account of McCarrick’s homosexual antics. One sordid incident – described in a four-page document – involved McCarrick and three other clerics and their sexual play during a summer 1987 trip to a fish camp in New York. It matches the legal documents I was given. Please read it.
It wasn’t Sipe who gave me the documents, but someone else. Those documents involved Gregory Littleton, a seminarian who later became a priest in the Diocese of Metuchen, N.J., a diocese that McCarrick headed in the early 1980s. In 1993, Littleton got implicated in some sexual acting out with two teen-aged boys; he underwent several years of counseling, then got sent to the Diocese of Charlotte, N.C., in 1997 where, as far as I know, he was performing just fine until the sex abuse crisis hit the U.S. Catholic Church in 2002.
Then, a new bishop of the Metuchen diocese reviewed Littleton’s file and sent his information south. By this time, no diocese could afford to have a priest on staff who had abused anyone for any reason, so in 2004, Littleton was removed. All this came out in a press release from the Charlotte officials. “My own life was left in psychological, emotional and financial ruins,” he wrote in a plaintive note to McCarrick (now a cardinal in Washington, D.C.) in 2005. “I was made a promise by the Diocese of Metuchen that I would be cared for.”
It was Littleton’s file that I was handed in 2008. On page after page, Littleton tells how he told bishops, other priests, counselors and whoever else would listen about McCarrick and that many of his sexual problems dated back to this prelate. Littleton is the writer of the memo about the fish camp.
But no one dared to go against such a powerful personality. I covered the election of Pope Benedict XVI in April 2005 in Rome and McCarrick was the darling of the American press there. Who would believe the words of a disgraced priest?
But word was beginning to seep out.
In December 2005, Catholic journalist Matt Abbott wrote a column about McCarrick’s invitations to seminarians to join him for weekends at his beach house in Sea Girt, N.J.
To my pleasant surprise, my name and column are mentioned in the Vatican’s recently-released 449-page report on disgraced former cardinal Theodore McCarrick. See pages 234 to 244 and 280 to 283. …
The information I wrote about beginning in 2005 pertained to McCarrick’s coercively sharing a bed with seminarians he favored, which constituted an abuse of power. It was, I came to find out, an “open secret” among several people in the Church and in the mainstream media. Yet it wasn’t until the Archdiocese of New York in 2017 deemed as credible and substantiated an allegation made against McCarrick of the sexual abuse of a minor that the dominoes began to fall, so to speak.
It was only then that we began to see stories about McCarrick’s corruption. It was only then that the mainstream media began to turn on him.
If you have been following this story, you need to read all of this piece. And what about reporters?
Abbott fires a parting shot over the bow, so to speak, of journalists and church officials who are still being less than candid about controversial issues linked to this scandal.
The bottom line: This was a close call. McCarrick almost got away.
The scary thought, if you will, is if the male victim had been just a couple of years older at the time the abusive incident took place, McCarrick would likely still be a prelate in good standing in the Church. The dominoes probably would not have begun to fall. Instead, the encounter could have been deemed consensual and effectively swept under the rug, as had occurred with McCarrick’s sexual harassment of seminarians years ago.
Thankfully, that didn’t happen this time.
So what shoe hasn’t dropped?
I’ve had positive communications with reporters employed by mainstream media outlets, but I will express my disappointment that the mainstream media usually seek to avoid the subject of a gay subculture in the priesthood working to undermine authentic Catholic teaching and practice. And if a Catholic writer focuses too much on the activities of this subculture, which are often done under the radar, he or she gets written off as a right-wing kook and effectively “canceled.”
It’s not surprising, however, considering the vast majority of secular journalists, and even some Catholic journalists, don’t agree with the Church’s teaching on homosexuality as presented in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. (Heck, I think it’s safe to say that a significant number of clergy disagree with the teaching as well.)
That’s just how it is.
Read it all. It isn’t time to close the “Uncle Ted” files.