This summer, news that Theodore McCarrick was a long-time sexual predator broke, prompting his resignation from the College of Cardinals. The reports of abuse include massaging seminarians, sharing beds with young priests, and abusing young boys. McCarrick would often invite small groups of seminaries over for drinks, and then assign the seminarians sleeping arrangements—including assigning one to sleep with him. In addition to sexual abuse, he groomed young priests and encourage them to climb the hierarchy. These seminarians and priests felt helpless to speak up about any of the situations.
As their bishop, he would have near unlimited control over their placements as priests. When some abuse victims did report McCarrick’s behavior, the reports went unheeded. Despite his atrocious actions, “Uncle Ted” still had an aura of holiness and complaints against him were generally dismissed even by victims’ parents.
While all of this happened behind closed doors, McCarrick continued to ascend the Church hierarchy. After years as the abusive Archbishop of Metuchen, New Jersey, he was promoted to the prestigious Archbishopric of Washington, D.C. by Pope St. John Paul II, and he was created cardinal three months later. In these positions, he functioned as one of the most powerful clerics in the United States. He was on the committee for the appointment of bishops and functioned as a “kingmaker.” During his time as Archbishop, he acquired a reputation as a very successful fundraiser as president of the Papal Foundation, and he was so trusted that Pope St. John Paul II invited him to be one of the cardinals to help respond to the 2002 clergy sex abuse crisis.
One of the most confusing and disturbing facets of the whole scandal is McCarrick’s near unopposed rise, despite the many claims that his sexual activities were widely known. Multiple different victims reported McCarrick’s activities to various prelates. Fr. Boniface Ramsey, a professor at Immaculate Conception Seminary in New Jersey, relayed reports from seminarians to the papal nuncio and the Vatican once McCarrick was promoted to Archbishop of Washington. After seeing no reaction from anyone in the hierarchy, Fr. Ramsey continued these reports for years. From 2000 to 2015 Fr. Ramsey wrote letters and blew the whistle to as many Church leaders as he could including Sean Cardinal O’Malley, but McCarrick kept rising unopposed.
On August 26, 2018, Archbishop Viganò, former papal nuncio to the United States, wrote an open letter to Pope Francis alleging that he had told the Holy Father personally about McCarrick’s history of abuse and that the Pope actively restrictions placed on McCarrick by Pope Benedict. The sanctions that were placed on McCarrick by Pope Benedict were only known to a few high ranking prelates; however, McCarrick only minorly curbed his travelling. All of these were repealed by Pope Francis. The Viganò letter also implicated numerous prelates whom he claimed were aware of McCarrick’s history. The list included Cardinals Bertone and Parolin, former and current Secretaries of State, Cardinal Wuerl, Cardinal Farrell, and several more.
Cardinal O’Malley was also mentioned for his claim to have received a letter concerning reports of abuse by McCarrick. The pope has said that he will not respond to these claims. Currently, the only punishments for McCarrick have been commands from the Pope to remain in seclusion and prayer, along with his voluntary resignation from the College of Cardinals.
Featured image courtesy of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston