ROME—Former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was promoted and allowed to maintain his role as the U.S. Catholic Church’s most powerful figure, despite the Vatican’s knowledge that he often shared a bed in his New Jersey beach house with teenagers who were studying to become priests, according to a damning new report by the Vatican itself.
Around the time Pope John Paul II personally elevated McCarrick to his role as head of the powerful Washington, D.C. diocese in 2000, reports of McCarrick's systematic abuse of power in coercing men training for the priesthood was well known, according to a report by the Vatican's internal investigation until issued by the Holy See on Tuesday.
“At the time of his appointment to Washington, the allegations against McCarrick generally fell into four categories,” the report states, listing them as priests personally witnessing “McCarrick’s sexual conduct” and with one priest lodging a complaint that McCarrick “attempted to engage in sexual activity” with him the summer of his appointment. The report says that the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Apostolic Nuncio to the U.S., and various cardinals in the United States received anonymous letters that “accused McCarrick of pedophilia with his ‘nephews’,” as the young men were called. It was also well known at the time that McCarrick “shared a bed with young adult men in the Bishop’s residence in Metuchen and Newark” and that “McCarrick was known to have shared a bed with adult seminarians at a beach house on the New Jersey shore.”
The full 461-page report published online gives disturbing testimony from many of the priests who were called to McCarrick’s bedroom. One, referred to as Priest 4, says he felt “frozen and trapped” as McCarrick “wrapped his body around me.” Priest 4 then described being “ensnared and could feel that McCarrick was sexually aroused.” The report goes on to say that the priest was shocked and left the beach house, knowing that his time in the diocese would soon be over for his choice.
Another man who was an immigrant studying as a seminarian under McCarrick interviewed in the investigation, referred to as Priest 3, recalled an occasion in 1991 when McCarrick “sent a limousine” to pick him up from his parish and take him to the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. “After a meeting in the hotel, McCarrick invited Priest 3 to his hotel room, where sexual activity again took place,” the report says. “A third and final sexual incident occurred that same year, also at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.” The priest stated that he “knew these things were wrong and tried to object,” but that McCarrick “tried to convince me that priests engaging in sexual activity with each other was normal and accepted in the United States, and particularly in that diocese.” The priest went on to say he felt “conflicted, confused and afraid.” But that he felt that he was in a vulnerable position given his immigration status at the time.
The report goes on to say that the allegations “were summarized in a letter dated October 1999 from Cardinal O’Connor, then the Archbishop of New York, to the Apostolic Nuncio, and were shared with Pope John Paul II shortly after.”
Yet the pope chose to elevate McCarrick anyway.
So worrying were the allegations floating around about McCarrick that the Vatican agreed with U.S. churchmen that “it would be imprudent to transfer him from Newark to another See on three occasions,” which included Chicago in 1997, New York in 1999 and Washington, D.C. in 2000. But then John Paul II overruled the decisions and signed off on his move to lead the powerful diocese in the U.S. capital. “However Pope John Paul II seems to have changed his mind in August/September 2000,” the report states. “Ultimately leading to his decision to appoint McCarrick to Washington in November 2000.”
John Paul II even wrote to New Jersey bishops to determine whether the sexual allegations were true. “The bishops’ responses to the inquiry confirmed that McCarrick had shared a bed with young men but did not indicate with certainty that McCarrick had engaged in any sexual misconduct.” What is now known, the report says, is that “three of the four American bishops provided inaccurate and incomplete information to the Holy See regarding McCarrick’s sexual conduct with young adults.”
The report also contains McCarrick’s own affirmation. “In the seventy years of my life, I have never had sexual relations with any person, male or female, young or old, cleric or lay, nor have I abused another person or treated them with disrespect.” The report goes on to say that the Holy See never received any letter of complaint from any young men and that the accusations were written off as “gossip and rumors.”
But those interviewed in the Vatican’s investigation paint a different picture. Another young man who was invited to McCarrick’s New Jersey beach house recalled, “He told me how everyone knows him and how powerful he was.” He described how McCarrick invited him to his bed one night. “The archbishop kept saying ‘Pray for your poor uncle.’ All of a sudden I felt paralyzed. I didn’t have my own car, and there was no where to go,” the man said in a written testimony to the Vatican investigators. “The Arch Bishop started to kiss me and move his hands and legs around me. I remained frozen, curled up like a ball. I felt his penis inside his underwear leaning against my buttocks as he was rubbing my legs up and down. His hands were moving up and down my chest and back, while tightening his legs around mine. I tried to move or scream but could not. I couldn’t move... I couldn’t say anything... nothing would come out of my mouth.”
The man then escaped McCarrick’s bed. “He even tried several times to force his hands under my shorts. He tried to roll me over so that he could get on top of me, but I resisted,” he wrote. “I felt sick and disgusted and finally was able jump out of the bed. I went into the bathroom where I vomited several times and started to cry. After twenty minutes in the bathroom, the Archbishop told me to come back to bed. Instead I went to the recliner and pretended to fall asleep.”
But because those young men were of age, the church under the last three popes appeared to have turned a blind eye to the cardinal’s sin of breaking his celibacy in exchange for all he brought to Rome in the form of hefty donations through the U.S. Papal fund and his global influence as a Vatican globetrotter. The report admits as much, stating that over his lengthy ministry, “McCarrick was recognized as an exceptionally hard-working and effective bishop able to handle delicate and difficult assignments both in the United States and in some of the most sensitive parts of the world—including in the former Eastern Bloc and particularly Yugoslavia.”
That all changed in June 2018, when the archdiocese of New York said it had found “credible and substantiated” allegations that McCarrick sexually abused a teenage altar boy in the 1970s. The victim said McCarrick fondled him during Christmas Mass preparations inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The church believed the victim was telling the truth and thus launched a Vatican investigation into how McCarrick was allowed to wield so much power despite inflicting such pain on others.
And on Tuesday, after nearly two years, the Vatican finally released its internal report of the matter, which paints a picture of a church still in denial of the gravity of its prolific sinners.
The Vatican investigation in large part is due to an 11-page expose written by the former Vatican ambassador to the U.S., Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, in August 2018 in which he demanded Francis resign, insisting he told the pope about McCarrick's alleged abuse in 2013 after his election. Francis told a Mexican television station he had no recollection of that conversation but has not addressed it beyond that. Vigano is aligned with a number of Francis haters, including U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke who has asked publicly for the pope to address matters he calls heresy dealing with the pope’s more lenient stance on divorced and gay Catholics. Vigano’s letter accused more than two dozen high ranking prelates of knowingly covering up for McCarrick. But the report in turn accuses Vigano of failing to investigate McCarrick when he had the chance.
For the first time ever, the Vatican seems to vindicate Vigano, who has been cast as a persona non grata in the current papacy, and admit that he, as acting Secretary of State in 2006 and 2008, wrote letters to Pope Benedict XVI referring to the allegations against McCarrick. “The memoranda referred to the allegations and rumors about McCarrick’s misconduct during the 1980s and raised concerns that a scandal could result given that the information had already circulated widely.” Still, nothing was done by Benedict.
The report also points fingers at some of the most influential prelates, including Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who lost favor with frugal Pope Francis after a multi-million dollar renovation of his penthouse apartment in Rome. According to the report, Bertone had taken the matter of McCarrick’s sexual peccadilloes directly to Benedict. “Ultimately the path of a canonical process to resolve factual issues and possibly prescribe canonical penalties was not taken,” the report admits. “Instead, the decision was made to appeal to McCarrick’s conscience and ecclesial spirit by indicating to him that he should maintain a lower profile and minimize travel for the good of the church.”
Again, nothing concrete was done and Benedict chose to believe McCarrick’s pleas of sexual innocence despite admitting he had shared a bed with younger men, and instead McCarrick was given even more responsibility for the church, traveling to Rome for high-level meetings and working in the Middle East, even liaising on behalf of the United States State Department.
Under Francis’ papacy, McCarrick at first continued as usual but a new revelation of McCarrick’s penchant not just for seminarians but for younger altar boys set off a chain of mea culpa events including how McCarrick’s previous diocese in New Jersey financially settled two allegations involving sexual abuse on the cardinal’s behalf. He had also been sanctioned by the Vatican in 2008 after it was alleged that his five-bedroom New Jersey beach house was used for gay orgies with the men studying for the priesthood during which he always invited six young men so one would have to share his bed. In a letter to the Vatican about the allegations, McCarrick denied the sex but apologized for his “unfortunate lack of judgment” for having shared his bed with the young men.
Then a man named James Grein, whose family often hosted McCarrick at their home, accused “Uncle Ted” of grooming him through years of sexual abuse and emotional manipulation that began when Grein was just 11 years old.
It was only in 2017 when Francis was given the full report on McCarrick’s previous investigations, the report says, naming several high-ranking cardinals who kept it from him. “Until 2017, no one—including Cardinal Parolin, Cardinal Oullet, Archbishop Becciu or Archbishop Vigano—provided Pope Francis with any documentation regarding allegations against McCarrick,” the report states, despite Vigano insisting he had. “Believing that the allegations had already been reviewed and rejected by Pope John Paul II, and well aware that McCarrick was active during the papacy of Benedict XVI, Pope Francis did not see the need to alter the approach that had been adopted in prior years.”
But that changed in 2017 when the Archdiocese of New York admitted that McCarrick was credibly accused of sexually abusing a victim under the age of 18. “Shortly after the accusation was deemed credible, Pope Francis requested McCarrick’s resignation from the College of Cardinals.” When Pope Francis stripped McCarrick of his red cardinal cap and laicized him, McCarrick became the highest-ranking prelate to ever be wiped of all it means to be a Catholic priest. He was sent to a friary in Kansas to live out his years in prayer and moved in 2019 to an undisclosed location after the friary had enough of the backlash from hosting him.
McCarrick has always maintained his innocence, saying in June 2018 that he remembered no such abuse. “While I have absolutely no recollection of this reported abuse, and believe in my innocence, I am sorry for the pain the person who brought the charges has gone through, as well as for the scandal such charges cause our people.”