Op-Ed: My Minor Role In Exposing Disgraced Former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick
Then Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington, following a Sept. 16 morning service held in the Basilica of The National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. – U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 1st Class Michael W. Pendergrass.

LAKE GENEVA, WI – 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. McCarrick, who (sadly) was one of the most powerful and politically well-connected prelates in the United States for many years, was laicized in 2019 by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith after being found “guilty of solicitation during the Sacrament of Confession and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power.”

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.

I need to emphasize that we should thank the male victim (whose identity I don’t know) that came forward to the Archdiocese of New York in 2017 with enough evidence that the archdiocese believed his account. This was not a given. The archdiocese’s review board could have easily dismissed the victim’s account as lacking credibility due to McCarrick being held in high esteem by various Church officials and politicians for so long.


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From the report (minus footnotes):

On 8 June 2017, the Archdiocese of New York received a claim through its voluntary Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program (IRCP) alleging that McCarrick unlawfully touched Minor 1 during the early 1970s, when the claimant was 16 and 17 years old. This constituted the first accusation against McCarrick of sexual abuse of a minor involving a named victim.

The Archdiocese reported the allegation by Minor 1 to local law enforcement. After consultation with the bishops where McCarrick had served as Ordinary, and given the jurisdiction reserved to the Holy Father under the canon law, Cardinal Dolan wrote to Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin on 7 September 2017 for instructions as to how to proceed.

On 18 October 2017, the Holy Father, acting through the Cardinal Secretary of State, instructed Cardinal Dolan to conduct ‘the preliminary investigation called for by canons 1717ff. of the Code of Canon Law and art. 16 of the Motu Proprio Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela’ and provided ‘that the allegation made by [Minor 1] . . . be examined by the Review Board of the Archdiocese of New York in accordance with its own norms and those of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.’ On 28 October 2017, Cardinal Parolin communicated the Holy Father’s decision to Cardinal Dolan, directing that, ‘[a]t the conclusion of this initial phase, you are to send the acts of the investigation, together with your personal votum, to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which will submit them to the Holy Father for further action.’

The Archbishop of New York thereafter ordered that ‘a preliminary investigation be opened to gain a clear and specific understanding of the facts and circumstances of the alleged acts.’ The investigation was carried out from late December 2017 through mid-April 2018 with the assistance of lay investigators.

In accordance with the USCCB’s Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, the investigative information was turned over to the Archdiocese of New York’s Review Board, which included jurists, psychologists, attorneys, physicians, parents, a priest and a woman religious. The Board examined the case and conducted further interviews with both the accuser and Cardinal McCarrick and, based on the accumulated evidence, unanimously found the allegations against McCarrick credible and substantiated.

Cardinal Dolan communicated the Board’s decision to Cardinal Parolin on 23 April 2018. On 8 May 2018, Cardinal Dolan informed Cardinal Parolin of his own votum ‘that, given the gravity of the allegations against Cardinal McCarrick, he be permanently removed from public ministry and placed on a life of ‘prayer and penance.’’ Consistent with the Archdiocese’s policies, Cardinal Dolan also recommended that the case be made public since it involved the sexual abuse of a minor.

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.

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.

Regarding my own minor role in exposing McCarrick, while I didn’t have nearly enough information to bring down the powerful yet loathsome prelate in 2005 or 2006 – nor did anyone else in the media, apparently – I like to think that I helped soften, even slightly so, the once untouchable image and reputation of McCarrick.

It was somewhat risky, and after realizing that nothing was happening with the story – Church officials were publicly silent at the time and the mainstream media were reluctant to pursue the story too much, possibly because of McCarrick’s political connections — I thought perhaps I made a mistake in publishing the information. Maybe I had sinned (although I was still morally certain the information was credible) and had given scandal to the Church, I thought. I had a few of the articles removed from RenewAmerica, although other websites had already captured and/or reprinted them.

After 2017, and especially when the Vatican’s report was finally made public a few weeks ago, I felt vindicated and relieved. The dominoes have fallen in their entirety – at least in regard to McCarrick himself.

Stephen Bullivant of the Catholic Herald wrote:

As I noted shortly after it dropped, much of the real story in the McCarrick Report will likely emerge from the footnotes. This will be no easy or swift task. There’s always more than one way to join up the dots. There’s a fine line between a flight-of-fancy conspiracy theory and a genuine investigative insight. 

(And let’s not forget here that several ‘blogger–journalists’ – all too easily dismissed as conspiracy theorists – who broke parts of this story, long before ‘respectable media outlets’ joined the fray. Take a bow, Matt Abbott: see footnote 802).

Thank you, Stephen.

Bill Donohue of the Catholic League wrote:

More problems emerged when Richard Sipe, a former Benedictine monk and psychotherapist, sent a letter to Pope Benedict about McCarrick’s sexual misconduct, providing a lot of information, including reports by Catholic journalist Matt Abbott. Though Sipe’s letter was posted on the internet, it received little attention by the media. Fortunately, it wasn’t ignored in Rome.

Thank you, Bill.

Maike Hickson of LifeSiteNews.com wrote:

At the time, in 2005, Pope Benedict had received information from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that one priest from the Diocese of Metuchen who accused McCarrick of misdeeds was deemed credible. Cardinal Re wrote on November 7 of that year: ‘Unfortunately, new rumors have come from Metuchen that lead one to hold to be true those [rumors] of years ago that had been judged false.’ Allegations of McCarrick’s having shared a bed with another priest had also come to the public light, in December of 2005, due to an article written by U.S. journalist Matt Abbott.

Pope Benedict commented on these developments in 2005 for the McCarrick report, and here we quote the report at length. In an interview, Cardinal Re stated, ‘I spoke to Benedict XVI about the problem with McCarrick and he immediately approved the process for the appointment of a successor.’

Thank you, Maike.

Is the McCarrick report a whitewash? I would say it’s very likely a partial whitewash. There’s a lot of detailed information in the report, no doubt. But with all the corruption in the Church over the years that continues to the present day, I find it very difficult to fully accept the Vatican’s seemingly sanitized version of what transpired with McCarrick and his clerical allies. As one noted priest (who shall remain anonymous) communicated to me recently,

“I was extremely disappointed that some of our illustrious hierarchy claim total or partial ignorance when it is obvious many of them knew or suspected what was going on.”

Indeed.

Still, I’m grateful the writer(s) of the report included me in it. God only knows what’s next for the Church in these terribly tumultuous times. Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us. Pope St. Pius X, pray for us. 

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