Decades before the Vatican’s McCarrick report, there was a mother on a secret mission

By Michelle Boorstein

Decades before there was a “bombshell Vatican report” about ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick, before there was the 2020 fall meeting of U.S. bishops discussing whether the best reaction to the report is more prayer or more focus on sin, there was a mother with a stack of letters, trembling hands and a secret.

The report, released last week, devotes 10 full pages to the woman it calls “Mother 1.” It describes what is apparently the first time a person tried to alert church authorities about a cleric who she had come to believe, when she sent her anonymous letters in the 1980s, was a danger to multiple boys in her family. Nothing came of the letters she said she sent to every U.S. cardinal and the Vatican’s D.C. ambassador about McCarrick, who would go on to rise to become archbishop of Washington and a cardinal, despite persistent allegations of sexual misconduct that went all the way to three popes. It would take decades for the cleric who charmed presidents and celebrities to be accused of sexual mistreatment by nearly 20 boys and men, charges that would rock the church all the way to Rome.

The unprecedented, 461-page investigation that the Vatican released on Nov. 10 marked the church’s most significant attempt at transparency in the case of a high cleric. And it led this week to the U.S. bishops, at their semiannual meeting, coming “face to face with the failures of the past,” Archbishop José Gómez, president of the U.S. bishops conference, told the group Tuesday.

But Mother 1, now in her mid-80s, stranded alone in her apartment by the pandemic, doesn’t have real expectations for anyone to be held accountable for McCarrick’s rise. The report, she told The Washington Post in her only interview, came too late for her extended family. Pain spinning out from McCarrick’s treatment of multiple young males in the family, she said, has already carved out deep divisions and destruction; secrets and denials have already had their way.

“As far as my family goes it’s not important,” she said of the report. And as far as the bishops this week discussing reform? “Buzzwords like transparency, compensation, accountability, responsibility. … I don’t believe the Church will let these ‘notions’ get very far,” she emailed The Post. “The institution before the people!”

But she did pause at times during an interview to consider the faint possibility that the report’s hundreds of pages of facts and documentation could bring some measure of healing in her family. I wish, she says, “that those who have doubts about [McCarrick] will know the truth.”

With the males in her family alleging harm by McCarrick unwilling to be identified, Mother 1 spoke on the condition that she not be named. Several of the men were interviewed for this McCarrick report as well as for a previous investigation that led to McCarrick’s defrocking last year.

The family had met McCarrick in the 1970s, before he was a bishop, through their parish priest. He quickly became close to them, coming over weekly, Mother 1 testified in the report. He would sometimes celebrate Mass there and bring the children trinkets from his travels. As they grew, he’d sometimes bring over other Catholic boys, “who recounted enthusiastically the fun they had on overnight trips with him,” the report reads.

The trips became an exciting privilege for her boys from a devout, working-class family. However, Mother 1 became alarmed, she said, when she heard about the sharing of beds, and when she saw how McCarrick pressured some of the teens to go away with him. One, she said in her testimony, was in tears because he wanted to attend a dance instead. Another time, she said, she almost fainted as she watched from the kitchen as McCarrick sat on the living room couch with two of her sons, across from their father, with one hand on each boy’s inner thigh, massaging them.

Her husband, she said in an interview with The Post, refused to believe anything was wrong, and couldn’t fathom a holy priest doing anything improper. “You’ve always been a priest-basher,” she said he told her. The husband has since died.

She confronted McCarrick, she testified, and told him “he was not to intimidate” her children. He was cool to her after that but kept up just as much of a presence around her home. She felt helpless.

“Ted McCarrick is the devil in my mind — the devil personified,” she said in an interview. “It felt like there was no getting away from this man’s evil, living in our midst, injecting himself into our family and into other families. It was frightening because there was no pushing him back.”

It was a sunny day in the 1980s, Mother 1 told investigators, when she packed up special pens and paper and envelopes and got into the family car and sneaked away. Telling no one, the homemaker drove more than an hour to the library branch near the bishop’s residence in Metuchen, where McCarrick then lived. There, she handwrote anonymous warnings about the inappropriate touching of boys she saw, and then mailed them to every U.S. cardinal and to the Vatican’s ambassador in the United States.

Yet she felt unsure about what she was reporting, she testified. “She had seen things that made her uncomfortable because they appeared to her to be of a sexual nature, but Mother 1 explained that she lacked the language and understanding to be sure, even though, at the same time, [she] knew he was doing something very wrong.”

In her testimony, she recalled that she used the word “children” and that she had personally witnessed McCarrick inappropriately touching boys.

“Mother 1 stated that the letters did not use the terms ‘predator’ or ‘pedophile.’ As Mother 1 recalled, “I did not have the language to explain it. The letters I wrote used simple terms. I did not use any fancy words,” the report quotes her as saying.

In footnotes, the report quotes one of her sons confirming she told him in the 1990s that she had sent the letters. The report focuses on the hierarchy, not on specific abuse claims, but makes clear that members of the family disagree about whether McCarrick’s behavior was inappropriate or sexual abuse.

Postmarking the letters across the street from McCarrick’s residence was as close as she felt she could get, she told The Post, to directly threatening a powerful cleric who had showed up to one of her children’s confirmations in a helicopter. She wanted the man who she saw multiple times touch boys in her family to know his accuser had been nearby.

“My hands were shaking putting them in the mailbox. I was so afraid he’d open the door and come out,” she told The Post. In her testimony, she said she was driven to warn church leaders. “I wanted to alert all of them as to what was going on.” She wrote the letters, the report says, “feeling pure anger.”

Terrified her sons would pay the price if her act was discovered, the woman said, she told no one for years of her letters. And over time, her faith turned to seething doubt that the church was going to do anything to stop McCarrick, who continued his steep rise to the top of the U.S. church and sailed into retirement, before his case finally exploded into public view in 2018.

One of her sons told The Post that reading his mother’s testimony in the report felt religious. “It made me think of the Gospel. It made me think about how when Jesus was hanging on the cross getting tortured and taunted by the powerful, it was the women and children who stayed with Jesus while our saintly Apostles ran and hid,” said the man, who was interviewed for the report.

The son praised the report as it was written but agonizes over the decades that have passed since his mother’s letters.

The report says no copies of the letters, nor any reference to them, were found in the Vatican’s investigation. A different set of anonymous letters accusing McCarrick of pedophilia were sent to several top U.S. church officials in the 1990s. The letters were in church records and were discussed in the report, and McCarrick himself raised them in the early 2000s with Post reporters writing about the clergy sex abuse scandal. He said he brought the letters to church officials.

“Because I think light is what kills these things. You gotta put them in light,” he told The Post then.

If officials had looked into his mother’s letters, the son told The Post, “there’s a lot of damage that could have been prevented — a lot. A lot of suffering could have been avoided.”

Mother 1 said it was traumatizing to see the report, to see words in print she’d kept to herself for so long. Now she just hopes it might lead to McCarrick facing some kind of justice. But, she said, “I’m not expecting miracles.”

Complete Article HERE!

The queer and Catholic dilemma

By Isabella Brown

In a documentary that aired last month, Pope Francis commented seemingly in support of same-sex civil unions, prompting critique, clarification, and confusion.

The paradoxical reality of the American Catholic Church is that it is has gay priests, gay followers, and followers in support of same-sex marriage,yet it continues to teach that homosexual behavior, same-sex marriage, and civil unions are sins against God’s plan.

The queer and Catholic dilemma feels like a never-ending standstill between equality and Catholic law, and until the Church can offer more than kind words, it may always remain as such.

“What we have to create is a civil union law,” Francis said in the documentary according to the New York Times. “That way they are legally covered … They are children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it.”

The Pope’s comments contradict those of his predecessor, not to mention official Catholic doctrine, who referred to homosexuality as an “intrinsic moral evil.” In 2003, the Congregation of the Faith took a clear stance against same-sex marriage and civil unions.

“Homosexuality is a troubling moral and social phenomenon,” the Congregation stated. “There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family. Under no circumstances can they be approved.”

The doctrine’s strong opposition to same-sex civil unions may have contributed to the Vatican’s original attempt to censor Pope Francis’ comment, which was recently revealed to have been cut from a 2019 interview with Televisa, only to resurface in the documentary. According to the New York Times, “Almost everyone involved declined to comment or evaded questions of how the footage emerged.” Clearly the Church feels these comments were something to hide.

Some members of the church have clarified the Pope’s commentary, arguing that the Pope was not actually voicing support for same-sex civil unions but simply reiterating that LGBTQIA+ people should be “loved, cherished, and respected in whatever way they live,” according to Fr. Marcin Szymanski, assistant director of the Newman Center, a Catholic ministry that serves the UW community.

“He is saying you should not disown, kick out, or disrespect any member of your family because of homosexual preference,” Szymanski said.

The confusion stems from nuances in translation from the interview, which was conducted in Spanish. The Pope used the phrase “convivencia civil,” which some have argued translates to “civil coexistence,” not civil union.

UW Spanish professor Ana M. Gómez-Bravo disagrees.

“The Pope was clearly speaking in favor of civil unions,” Gómez-Bravo said. “The second half of his statement erases any ambiguity.”

Despite confusion around the Pope’s verbiage, his comments were highly encouraging to an anonymous UW student who is bisexual and Catholic.

“I would like to hear more on what he has to say from an official standpoint but as it is, it’s a hint to something that is really positive for me,” the student said.

But for many LGBTQIA+ people, myself included, this doesn’t exactly feel like a major step forward. Rather, it feels like an empty declaration disguising the Church’s inaction on LGBTQIA+ issues.

Even if the Pope is in favor of same-sex civil unions, this legal separation is still unequal treatment. A civil union is a legally recognized partnership created to preserve the iron-clad walls around the institution of marriage, ensuring that same-sex couples remain excluded from the right to marry. A rose by any other name does not smell as sweet, and with U.S. Christianity in rapid decline (while the number of religiously unaffiliated U.S. adults is rising), it seems the Church is paying the price for it.

The Catholic Church exists in contradiction when it comes to the LGBTQIA+ community. The same document that claims that “homosexual inclination is ‘objectively disordered’” also claims that LGBTQIA+ people “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity,” and “unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”

We tend to think of Catholicism as a solidified entity that derives its power from its permanence. But the reality is that the Church has reversed its ideology a handful of times throughout history, changing its mind on Jews, usury, and slavery, to name a few.

A full-hearted acceptance of same-sex couples is long overdue, and yet it comes at a cost the Church can’t seem to pay. This change would require a radical rewrite of some of the Church’s essential teachings, rooted in Catholic beliefs that marital and sexual relationships must be procreative. This reasoning makes it nearly “impossible” for the Church to ever change their position on same-sex relationships, according to Fr. Syzmanski.

The Bible tells us that faith without action is dead. There’s a hidden repercussion in the Pope’s words: By appearing in favor of same-sex relationships, the Church saves itself from having to address its own hypocrisy and homophobia.

We need something the Church can’t offer: change, now.

Complete Article HERE!

Tony Flannery: ‘I’ve no doubt that the Vatican has nothing to do with God’

The dissident priest reveals why he voted ‘yes’ to repeal and why he considers the exclusion of women the ‘biggest blight’ on the 
Catholic Church

Fr Tony Flannery pictured at Ahane, near Newport, Co Tipperary.

By Ellen Coyne

Fr Tony Flannery started laughing as soon as he read what he was expected to sign.

The outspoken priest, who was suspended by the Vatican in 2012, received a letter in September that suggested he could return to ministry if he signed a document vowing to obey the church’s teaching on women and LGBT+ people.

He had been effectively banned for publicly saying the church should change its position on such issues. “What kind of crazy people are they?” he laughed. Fr Flannery and others had hoped that Pope Francis had ushered in a more open era for the Catholic Church, but the Vatican still takes a hard line with those who challenge it.

Fr Flannery is aware of others who had taken on the Vatican and had died “because of the stress of the thing”.

“I’ve said to myself, the one thing I have to avoid is becoming embittered. Because if I become embittered I will destroy myself,” he says. “There are a lot of people in the church who think like me. Why don’t they go public? Some of them would be afraid, yes.”

The 72-year-old has taken advantage of his position in the pews, rather than at the altar, to write a new book called From the Outside: Rethinking Church Doctrine. It calls for sweeping reform of the Catholic Church, including its attitudes to women and sexuality.

“The church is so locked into old doctrines and old ideas, even though the world has completely moved on and left all of that behind,” he says.

He has little faith in those who are at the top of the church at the moment, and says the Vatican is full of “pathetic” careerism. The Irish Catholic bishops don’t inspire him either, and he notes that Archbishop Diarmuid Martin was the only senior Irish cleric to publicly welcome Pope Francis’s recent comments condoning civil partnerships for same-sex couples.

Huge leap

“What Pope Francis said was that homosexual people are human beings, who are as entitled to love and relationships as anyone else and should be respected as such. That is a huge leap forward. Church teaching is still very reliant on the old, awful discrimination against gay people.”

Fr Flannery was a founder of the Association of Catholic Priests, and at the height of the clerical child sex abuse scandal found himself bombarded with requests for help from accused clergy.

As a child, he was a victim of sexual abuse himself. He recoils at the word “survivor”, because he does not believe that his experience of abuse has had a devastating effect on his life.

In 2014, he upset survivors of institutional abuse and advocacy groups when he suggested that priests accused of child abuse should be forgiven and allowed to return to the ministry. He still believes, and argues in his book, that child abusers are not entirely bad people, and claims that they deserve forgiveness.

“The idea that the person who abuses a child is inherently a bad person, I don’t go along with that. I think that we are all inherently a mixture of good and bad,” he says.

I ask if he is aware this is a very upsetting thing to say? First of all, because of the possible perception that those within the church are once again shielding paedophiles from the consequences of their actions, and secondly because many people see child sex abuse as an evil thing that they could not possibly forgive. “There is an element of evil to child sex abuse, it is an awfully evil thing,” he agrees. “But I’d be fully aware that what I’m saying is not in line with the popular consensus, but that’s what has me where I am.”

Fr Flannery tries to broach the thorny issue of the incidence of paedophilia among Catholic clergy. He explains that making priests “superior” people with closer relationships to God is “dreadfully dangerous”. He believes that this, combined with forced celibacy and the church’s regressive attitudes to sexuality, can manifest itself in abusive behaviour.

But isn’t that also a deeply controversial thing to say? Not least because it suggests that anyone could be capable of the monstrosity of child abuse if they existed in certain circumstances. It also appears to lay the blame for abuse on the institution rather than the individual carrying it out.

“It is, I know,” he says. “And I’ve dealt with that many times over the last 10 years. I’d be fully aware of that. But that is the truth as I see it.”

For most of the last decade, he has been attacked by right-wing Catholic commentators.

He says it’s “probably true” that groups such as the Iona Institute have put people off Catholicism. He singles out the American Catholic Church for its “appalling” support of Donald Trump.

A number of prominent US Catholics chose to back Trump over Joe Biden, a devout Catholic, because the Republican candidate claimed to be anti-abortion while the Democrat supports pro-choice policies.

“Pope John Paul and Pope Benedict put the most right-wing, narrow-minded and reactionary people into office in the church in the United States,” Fr Flannery says.

“Abortion is a single issue, and life is much more complicated than that. The ironic thing is that Trump was doing feck all about abortion. He couldn’t care less about abortion.”

Fr Flannery said that he finds the issue of abortion “very, very difficult” but after much internal wrangling voted ‘yes‘ in the 2018 referendum — the most difficult vote of his life.

“I don’t have any connection with the emotion and the distress and everything else of pregnancy, the whole world is foreign to me. Here I would be again, another male celibate priest, telling women how they should live their lives. And I said, we’ve had more than enough of that,” he says.

The banned priest says that the more he has thought about it, the more convinced he is that the church’s attitudes to and exclusion of women has been a “biggest blight” on the institution since the beginning.

“It has to change, and it will change,” he said, dismissing attempts by Pope John Paul and Pope Benedict to shut down discussion on the issue as a “total failure”.

Even the current pope, who Fr Flannery refers to sympathetically as “poor aul’ Francis” for his uphill struggle for reform, has disappointed him.

“Some of the things he says about women are so patronising. Oh God, I go mad at times,” he says.

Fr Flannery’s arguments for church reform are clear and unapologetic.

But was there ever any fleeting doubt? Did he ever worry that the Vatican might be right, and that God might disapprove of what he was calling for?

“No,” he said, firmly. “I’d have no doubt that the Vatican and the way it operates has nothing to do with God.”

Much like Mary McAleese, Fr Flannery’s calls for the Catholic Church to be better have been regularly met with derision from some right-wing Catholics and the suggestion that he should “go off and become a Protestant”.

Well, why wouldn’t he? Surely after everything he’s been through with the Vatican, he must have considered it, even briefly?

“Arah, no,” he says. “Catholicism is part of what I am and has been all my life. I couldn’t even conceive of it.”

Complete Article HERE!

The Catholic Sex Abuse Crisis Is Far From Over

What can we learn about needed reforms from the Vatican’s damning report on the defrocked cardinal Theodore McCarrick?

By

After the Catholic sex abuse crisis exploded into headlines in 2002, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops promulgated standards that would guide the American church’s efforts to protect children. In May 2002, the editorial board of USA Today met with an American bishop who would play an important role in shaping the new regulations.

“We haven’t been focused on the Lord; I’m trying to do that,” he told them. “As I see the bishops losing credibility in many areas, I want to try to be as good a bishop as I can be. I’ve got a long way to go.” It now seems that bishop, Theodore McCarrick, had further to go than it seemed.

But the report the Vatican released Tuesday on Mr. McCarrick’s history of sexual misconduct before he was removed from the College of Cardinals and defrocked in 2019 sheds harsh light on the church’s unfinished response to the sex abuse crisis. It indicates policy weaknesses and dangerous habits that must be corrected so figures like Mr. McCarrick cannot again wreak havoc on future generations of Catholics.

Mr. McCarrick’s own history of abuse underscores the gaps left by the standards he helped craft in 2002.

While the charter improved the church’s policies on sex abuse prevention and its management of allegations, it was directed specifically at shielding children and youths from the predations of priests. As Mr. McCarrick’s exploits show, it isn’t just children who are at risk of sexual exploitation in the church.

While Mr. McCarrick did sexually abuse children, some of the more egregious of his offenses were committed against adults, namely seminarians he met during his tenure as a bishop in New Jersey. In the report, it is clear that his peers and superiors were convinced his case wasn’t particularly urgent because Mr. McCarrick preyed mostly on adults.

There appears to be confusion among prelates throughout the document as to whether what had transpired between Mr. McCarrick and these seminarians ought to be seen as consensual sexual activity between adults — which would be a sin and an error, by the church’s count, though not necessarily a career-ending disgrace — or as something much more insidious and abusive.

Pope Francis has since expanded the church’s definition of “vulnerable adults” from those without the mental or physical capacity to resist sexual advances to include those who have “some deprivation of personal freedom,” which could include seminarians and junior priests who rely on their bishops for ordination, promotion and favorable appointments.

Yet even that definition can be easily misconstrued. The Vatican ought to clarify that any sexual contact suggested or initiated by a superior in the church hierarchy involving an inferior will be met with the same rigorous reprimands — including removal from one’s post and possibly laicization — as similar offenses committed against children. Likewise, priests, seminarians and other adult victims of clergy sex abuse need reliable ways to report misconduct with transparent accountability and no threat of retaliation.

The church is also due for a slew of cultural reforms. According to the report, Mr. McCarrick was able to coerce seminarians into bed with him by creating an atmosphere of fearful cooperation at Seton Hall’s Immaculate Conception Seminary School of Theology. I have heard many similar, recent accounts from seminarians across the country, involving a number of clergy members. Sexual abuse in Catholic seminaries has been well known since at least 1983, when the author Paul Hendrickson published “Seminary: A Search,” detailing his own experiences. The Catholic seminary system is long overdue for a thorough, independent investigation into these disturbing patterns.

As a character study of Mr. McCarrick, the report offers another important area for review: the spiritual formation of its clergymen. Mr. McCarrick’s sexual behavior seemed at times juvenile, arrested; he clearly felt lonely and longed for intimacy and was unable to find a licit way to channel those emotions. If policies regarding the Catholic clergy and sex aren’t going to change, then something must, and it’s reasonable to begin with the way those considering holy orders are taught about the nature and goodness of sex.

Then there is the problem of bishops. While America’s bishops have vowed to hold themselves accountable for sexual abuses via a hotline for tips and procedures for investigation of bishops by senior bishops, those policies allow for no oversight from laypeople. But lay participation in accountability processes is crucial, because laypeople provide a perspective less entwined with the interests of the church hierarchy, and because trust and transparency are sorely lacking in the church.

Tuesday’s report is, I suspect, as remarkably unflinching as it is precisely because it was written by a layperson, the American lawyer Jeff Lena, who was given vast investigative power by the church. It should be seen as a model for accountability processes for bishops and other senior church officials going forward.

The church stands at a crossroads. It can continue to fight legislation that would empower victims to seek redress and respond to abuse long after the fact, such as the suspension of statutes of limitation in sex abuse cases. Or it can confess the way it asks us to confess, and repent the way it asks us to repent: Fully, openly, over and over again, as often as it takes, as painful as it is.

Complete Article HERE!

Paul Shanley, Ex-Priest in Child Sex-Abuse Scandal, Dies at 89

A former counselor for gay and troubled youths, he became a sexual predator and a central figure in a crisis that engulfed the Boston Archdiocese.

Paul R. Shanley being led away in 2005 in Middlesex County Superior Court in Cambridge, Mass., after a judge sentenced him to 12 to 15 years in prison for raping a boy in 1983.

Paul R. Shanley, a former priest who figured prominently in the child sexual abuse scandal in Boston in the early 2000s that rocked the Roman Catholic Church, has died at 89.

The police in Ware, a town in west-central Massachusetts where Mr. Shanley had lived since his release from prison in 2017, confirmed his death on Friday. WFXT-TV, Boston’s Fox News affiliate, said he died of heart failure on Oct. 28.

Mr. Shanley became well known in Boston and beyond in the 1960s and ’70s as an admired “street priest,” counseling gay and troubled youths. The journalist J. Anthony Lukas mentioned him in “Common Ground,’’ his 1985 Pulitzer Prize-winning book about Boston.

But in 2004 the Vatican defrocked him after dozens of men came forward and reported that he had sexually abused them. In 2005, he was convicted of raping a 6-year-old boy in 1983 at a suburban church where he had been pastor. He was sentenced to 12 to 15 years in prison.

His release in 2017 set off a firestorm of protest by some of his victims and their families.

The clergy sex-abuse scandal exploded in Boston in 2002 after The Boston Globe’s Spotlight investigation team revealed that for decades dozens of priests, including Mr. Shanley, had molested and raped children while church supervisors covered up the crimes and shuffled the priests from parish to parish. (A 2015 movie based on the investigation, “Spotlight,” won the Academy Award for best picture.)

Internal church records that were made public during the scandal indicated that Mr. Shanley had attended a forum with others who later formed the North American Man-Boy Love Association, or NAMBLA, a pedophile advocacy organization.

In a long article about him as the scandal unfolded in 2002, The New York Times wrote: “Interviews with Father Shanley’s accusers, his relatives and people who worked with him, as well as an examination of thousands of pages of court papers and his previously undisclosed private writings, portray a man split in two: part protector, part predator, with the church central to both roles, providing both his mission and his cover.”

A police chief who was involved in his arrest called him simply “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

Paul Richard Shanley was born in 1931 in Boston in Dorchester, at the time a heavily Irish-American, working-class section of the city. His father owned a bowling alley and pool room. His mother was a legal secretary. While in high school, Paul Shanley worked as a camp counselor. He later maintained that as a 12-year-old he had been molested by a priest.

He attended St. John’s Seminary in Boston and was ordained a priest in 1960.

The Archdiocese of Boston, the fourth-largest in the United States, with more than 1.8 million Catholics, has called Mr. Shanley’s crimes against children “reprehensible.”

Complete Article HERE!