ROME — Theodore McCarrick, once the most powerful man in the American Catholic church, is no longer a priest after Pope Francis signed off on his laicization, the canonical term for official removal from the priesthood. According to a statement from the Vatican press office issued early Saturday morning in Rome, the high-ranking prelate was found “guilty of the following delicts while a cleric: solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession, and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power.” The pope then imposed on him “the penalty of dismissal from the clerical state” with no chance of appeal.
But for one of his victims, James Grein, who the prelate allegedly abused from the time he was 11 until he was 29, the punishment comes far too late. “I will never get my childhood back,” he told The Daily Beast through his lawyer. “I will never have a chance to go back and be a normal, happy child.”
Grein’s story is common both among abuse victims and their predators. McCarrick was a family friend who had easy access to Grein throughout his early life. He was the first baby McCarrick baptized shorty after his ordination, and he went on to hold the boy captive through a combination of coercion and the power of Catholic guilt. The abuse lasted 18 years and only ended when Grein got married at a Catholic wedding that McCarrick officiated.
“When I was 11 and through all my formative years, just starting to grow up, he groomed me to a point that I needed to be with him. I was his special boy,” Grein said in a recent taped testimonial shared with The Daily Beast. “It was important that I needed to tell him everything. I had to keep going to Confession with only him and to confide everything with him and that way I was very, very close to him and shut off from everybody else.”
Grein was by no means the prelate’s only victim. McCarrick’s five-bedroom New Jersey beach house was something of a rumpus room where the rising star of the Catholic Church would invite six or more seminarians, implying at least one had to share his bed. Because those young men were above the age of consent, McCarrick was seen to be committing sins, not crimes and because he was so important to Rome, he was apparently forgiven.
Grein was never invited to the beach house. “That was for seminarians,” he says. “He was done with me because by that time I was too old for him. He likes younger men.”
Only when credible allegations surfaced last summer that he had groped a different young boy in a confessional back in the 1990s did the Vatican apparently feel it had to intervene. In July of last year, Pope Francis accepted McCarrick’s resignation from the College of Cardinals, the first such removal of a red hat in a century.
It was then that it started looking into the more credible allegations, including sending Vatican investigators to the U.S. to interview Grein to build the case that led to his laicization this week.
Rumors about McCarrick’s penchant for sex with young seminarians spanned three papacies, starting under John Paul II, now a saint despite what is clearly complicity in the clerical sexual-abuse coverup. McCarrick brought millions of dollars in donations into the church coffers—money that was used to feed the poor and play politics on a global scale. “He got to do anything he wanted to do and what he wanted to do was prey on young people,” says Grein. “And he could have his own little world where he was the king and that he could prey on anyone he wanted to. And all because he was bringing so much money into the church.”
John Paul II tapped him as a cardinal in 2000, despite what were already credible allegations of sexual harassment of seminarians outlined in the Jesuit magazine America. “John Paul II needed money,” Grein says. “The only way he was going to get any kind of money donated was through McCarrick… John Paul II did not want to turn off that faucet, because he needed that money to make his legacy stronger.”
All the while he was abusing Grein and others, McCarrick continued to climb the Catholic hierarchy, speaking out against clerical sex abuse while he inflicted it. He spoke five languages and his personal lawyer worked for the U.S. Justice Department under the Clinton and Obama administrations. He could easily get diplomatic passports and visas to fly anywhere in the world to negotiate for the Holy See, which he did in China, laying the groundwork for the deal Francis forged to recognize China’s official communist Catholic church late last year at the expense of its underground church.
He was indispensable to Rome, which Grein, who often traveled with him, says led to its blind eye. When he traveled, McCarrick would carry white envelopes with cash to pay off priests, bishops, and secretaries. “He would tell me it was full of holy cards to thank them for their service,” Grein said. “The service was basically to hide what we were doing. It was hush money.”
McCarrick was the godfather of a group of liberal reformist Catholic prelates known as the St. Gallen mafia, self-named for the Swiss retreat where they met regularly from 1995 through 2006. They lobbied against the election of Joseph Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI in 2005 and are often blamed for his resignation, and they were staunchly behind the election of Jorge Bergoglio as Pope Francis in 2013.
Grein says that McCarrick’s involvement in the Swiss group gave him a sense of untouchable power. Grein says he often told him that if he accused him of abuse, no one would believe him. “He said that if I told, he was going to ruin me completely,” Grein says. “He said, ‘I'm the best thing you ever had.’ He was very, very powerful.”
Like many victims of clerical sex abuse, Grein’s life has been troubled. He has battled substance abuse and is no longer married. The last time he saw McCarrick was in 2012, when the then cardinal officiated at Grein’s mother’s funeral. When the allegations started to surface last summer, Grein started talking, too. First, to a lawyer, then to Vatican investigators and Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Sara Sullivan, who is conducting an investigation in New York on its diocese record on abuse. “I am finally going to be free,” he said. “It is my turn now.”
McCarrick will never face criminal court for his crimes because of statute of limitations. He is currently living out his years in prayers and penance at a friary in Kansas.