A former priest and LGBTQ activist who has blessed same-sex unions in Pope Francis’ home country, Argentina, is leaving the Roman Catholic Church after the Vatican issued a pronouncement this week that priests may not perform such blessings.
Andrés Gioeni delivered a letter disavowing his faith to the bishopric in a Buenos Aires suburb on Wednesday, the anniversary of his ordination as a priest in 2000 and two days after the declaration from the Holy See.
“I do not want to continue being an accomplice to this institution, because I realize the harm they are doing to people. I am not renouncing my faith in God but rather I am renouncing a role and a rite,” said Gioeni, 49.
He spoke in an interview with The Associated Press at the home he shares with his husband, 50-year-old Luis Iarocci, and their three dogs, a few blocks from the cathedral in San Isidro north of the capital.
Like other LGBTQ Catholics, Gioeni was shocked by Monday’s proclamation, which argued that clergy members cannot bless same-sex unions on the grounds that they are not part of the divine plan and God “cannot bless sin.”
The Vatican says LGBTQ people should be treated with dignity and respect, but that gay sex is “intrinsically disordered” and same-sex unions are sinful.
The declaration from the Holy See’s orthodoxy office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was authorized by Francis, who prior to assuming the papacy supported legal protection for gay people in civil unions in the country as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires.
“There is no mention in any book (of the Bible) of consensual love between two people of the same sex and God telling them no,” said Gioeni, who has blessed at least four such unions.
Born in Mendoza province some 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) west of Buenos Aires, Gioeni pursued a religious vocation as a young man despite being tormented by doubts about his sexuality. He even “outed” to his superiors three fellow seminarians who had confessed attraction to him.
“All throughout seminary I was terribly homophobic,” Gioeni said. “It was a defense.”
After ordination he rose quickly in the provincial church, while secretly exploring chatrooms for the local gay community. He had his first sexual encounter with another man, broke it off to continue the priesthood, but then saw the man again. Gioeni told the bishop he needed to leave.
The church did not offer him psychological help, just a room next to the organ of the Buenos Aires cathedral where he was to confront his supposed crisis of faith.
“That was my descent into hell. … There I realized that I was considered like the Hunchback of Notre Dame — a defective being who could not go out into the world because he would be criticized and singled out,” Gioeni recalled.
Gioeni’s superiors became aware of his sexual identity in 2003, when he appeared nude on the cover of a gay magazine, and barred him from exercising priestly ministry.
He studied acting and worked as a waiter in a disco, where he met Iarocci. Together for 17 years now, they wed after Argentina became the first Latin American nation to legalize same-sex marriage in 2010.
In recent years Gioeni has become an LGBTQ activist lobbying for a more open Catholic Church.
Severing formal ties with the institution doesn’t change his faith in God, he said.
“I continue believing in God and He will be my God. In that, my spirituality is unchanged,” Gioeni said. “I no longer have a label. ‘What religion are you?’ I believe in God.”
A Manhattan woman with a large brood of mostly boys and an Irish husband, she had become suspicious of then-New York Monsignor Theodore McCarrick, who snaked his way into her family and had her children call him “Uncle Ted.’’
Her husband thought it an honor to have a clergyman take an interest in his children. Mother 1, not so.
Her antennae went up when she learned McCarrick gave her sons alcohol when he took them on trips. He continued to visit even after moving to New Jersey, and, one day, she came home to find McCarrick sitting on the couch with a son on either side of him and a hand on the thigh of each.
By then, it was the early 1980s. She took it upon herself to mail identical anonymous letters accusing McCarrick of abuse to every cardinal in the United States and to the Apostolic Nuncio in Washington, D.C.
“It’s a club of men who all knew about it and had ignored it,” Mother 1 concluded nearly 40 years later in one of three interviews she gave to an investigator working for the Vatican.
She was right.
Having been ordained in his native New York in 1958, Theodore Edgar McCarrick rose to be an auxiliary bishop there, then crossed the river as the first bishop of the New Jersey’s Metuchen Diocese from 1981-86. He then served as archbishop of the Newark Archdiocese for 14 years before moving to the Washington, D.C., archdiocese and becoming a cardinal.
In all that time, we now know, complaints and rumors of abuse by him fell on deaf ears.
I was among the priests in the Archdiocese of Newark who thought McCarrick’s drippy piety was synthetic. One of our most respected monsignors called him “slippery.”
He was, in fact, a master manipulator who gamed the Catholic system for one goal: to get the red hat of a cardinal, which he did.
The 449-page Vatican “Report on the Holy See’s Institutional Knowledge and Decision-Making Related to Former Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick (1930-2017),’’ released Nov. 10 and carrying 1, 400 footnotes, chronicles his rise and demise once credible accusations of sexual abuse of minors surfaced.
Thorough and meticulous in detail, the report includes many salacious details that wouldn’t be expected from something commissioned by the Vatican. It indicts the clerical system – meaning an all-male leadership – but it doesn’t address what the future might hold.
After reading it, I differ on some of the conclusions drawn by other commentators.
SHOW US THE MONEY TRAIL
Most conspicuously absent from the report’s pages is the money trail.
While it asserts that McCarrick was a prodigious fund-raiser and a natural money man, it falls short of showing how he used the largesse of others to ascend the hierarchy, escape scrutiny and still become a cardinal.
“Overall, the record appears to show that although McCarrick’s fundraising skills were weighed heavily, they were not determinative with respect to major decisions made relating to McCarrick,” wrote U.S. lawyer Jeffrey Lena, who investigated him and authored the report.
“In addition, the examination did not reveal evidence that McCarrick’s customary gift-giving and donations impacted significant decisions made by the Holy See regarding McCarrick during any period,” Lena wrote.
But the report fails to account for why so many members of the hierarchy failed to take evidence of alleged abuse seriously and investigate and, at best, stop him in his tracks.
Later the report stated: “McCarrick began in earnest his customary gift giving to Roman Curia and Nunciature officials, a practice that continued through 2017
The Vatican should reveal these gifts, show us the money trail and hold anyone swayed by money over duty responsible. Otherwise, the Vatican continues to be one of the enablers.
In my view, three popes have unfairly come under attack for giving McCarrick a pass. Francis took heat, especially from the former apostolic nuncio to the U.S., Archbishop Carlo Vigano, for failing to reign in McCarrick.
But the report shows that once definite proof surfaced in June 2017 that McCarrick sexually assaulted children from the time he was a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, Francis removed him from the College of Cardinals and eventually defrocked him, removing him from the clerical state and making him a layman. (It’s unknown where McCarrick, now 90, lives although it’s been reported he’s in Florida.)
The report does implicate the late Pope John Paul II for promoting McCarrick to become the archbishop of Washington, D.C., in 2000 when rumors of his sexual abuse of seminarians and priests — from his time as the first bishop of Metuchen starting in 1981 — were an open secret.
I think this accusation is a stretch since John Paul’s Parkinson’s had evidently debilitated him and he relied on advice from his staff and other members of his curia, who clearly ignored numerous red flags that surfaced.
Pope Benedict XVI made McCarrick retire from the D.C. post in 2006, after he’d turned 75, and did not allow him to stay the usual several years more, which is common for most cardinals. He also imposed loose voluntary measures for McCarrick to keep a low profile and tone down his travels and media presence, which McCarrick flouted.
Even papal warnings did not deter McCarrick from the high life, according to the report.
Up until his mid-80s, McCarrick must have traveled the globe a hundred times.
As archbishop of Newark, he would publish scores of letters sent to the priests recounting his global stops, famous people he met and tireless work for the church. McCarrick had a knack of blowing his own horn to make himself appear more important than he really was.
The report notes that the late John Cardinal O’Connor, though, put a kibosh on that. Perhaps jealous that McCarrick was poaching his big New York donors for the Papal Foundation, which would later on contribute to McCarrick’s red hat, O’Connor called out McCarrick’s alleged sexual abuses in a 1999 letter to the Apostolic Nuncio in D.C. and said he did not want McCarrick to succeed him.
Other members of the hierarchy saw the letter without confirming it ever got to John Paul.
But, as the report says, McCarrick had been buttering up John Paul and especially his personal secretary, now-retired Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, since he was a New York priest and he pulled out all the stops to become archbishop of Washington, D.C.
The report does show failures by several now-deceased New Jersey bishops to stop McCarrick, thus allowing him to continue to abuse. Had his Metuchen successor Edward Hughes, for example, followed up on first-hand testimony from seminarians that he sexually abused them, McCarrick might have gone nowhere.
“He did not want to accept that there was sex abuse in the church, much less by a bishop,’’ an unidentified priest of Metuchen told the investigator. “And, as holy a man as he was, he was also a person who believed that nearly blind obedience to bishops was a foundational principle. So, dealing with an issue like this with regard to the archbishop of Newark would have opened a real crack in that foundation. It was not something that this man was ready to do.”
Back then, the only bishop who stood up to McCarrick was James McHugh, a Newark priest who became Bishop of Camden and is now deceased. The report states that he alerted the D.C. nuncio that McCarrick would take seminarians to a Sea Girt shore house and share a bed with them.
Soon after, the house was sold.
Sadly, the report adds a footnote that McCarrick priest secretaries, almost 30 from Newark alone, had amnesia about McCarrick’s trysts. Nor is there any evidence that seminary rectors, faculty and even bishops from New Jersey and New York were even interviewed or cited in the report.
McCarrick did not get away with this all by himself. He had willing accomplices who did his bidding blindly.
The report cites a chilling conclusion from a 2019 Seton Hall University investigation, not previously released to the public:
“McCarrick created a culture of fear and intimidation that supported his personal objectives. McCarrick used his position of power as then-archbishop of Newark to sexually harass seminarians.”
‘OLD BOYS’ NETWORK’
Another shortcoming of the investigation is that only a handful of women are mentioned in the voluminous report.
Mother Mary Quentin, superior general of a Michigan order of nuns, is named for reporting to the D.C. nuncio in 1994 that she learned that McCarrick abused a priest. The report quotes that the nuncio dismissed her with a snide comment, “She wanted to make herself appear important.”
Calling out the Catholic church’s misogyny, I believe, is a needed prelude to exposing how the clerical system protected McCarrick and allowed him to become a cardinal.
This report also indicts the secretive system of selecting and promoting bishops.
What is needed is “truth telling,” Chestnut Hill Josephite Sister Catherine Nerney told me in a telephone interview.
“The church has not really been upfront and that needs to happen,” said Nerney, a professor of theology and founding director of the Institute of Forgiveness and Reconciliation at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia.
‘CONFONT THE EVIL’
After spending time in Rwanda in 2006 to learn how the country tried to heal from the four-month 1994 civil war that took the lives of almost one million citizens, she learned, she said, that the first thing to do in an overwhelming crisis is to “confront the evil
In Rwanda, small groups came together “for the good of society,” she said, to confront the killers.
Comparing the McCarrick report to that process, Nerney said: “The church has hidden so much that it is complicit and corrupt behind its clerical status.”
In other words, clericalism puts an all-male clergy on a pedestal and uses secrecy to handle its own dirty laundry, so to speak, so it can protect its male members.
Back on Sept. 14, 2018. Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin led the Archdiocese of Newark in an evening service of Prayer, Reconciliation and Hope in the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Hundreds of clergy, religious and laypeople prayed for the survivors of clergy abuse, their families, the accused, and the church.
One abuse survivor preached quite candidly about what a priest did to him. Some priests pushed back, and two subsequent services decreased in attendance and then stopped.
WILL ANY GOOD COME OF IT?
So, where do we go from here?
Since the McCarrick report was released, nothing has been said about any follow-up by the Vatican or any of the local dioceses where McCarrick served as a bishop. And while the release of the report was historic, this failure is a disappointment.
The church needs to report now what it will do to prevent another McCarrick from abusing with impunity – even being promoted to the highest offices as he was — and what protocols will be put in place
First, the process for selecting priests to become bishops and promoting a bishop to become a diocesan bishop needs to become transparent.
— Ireland’s sex abuse survivors Access to the comments
Revelations of sexual abuse inside the Catholic church shook Ireland to its core. Unreported Europe speaks to those who survived the paedophile priests and examines if the church has truly taken responsibility for the scandal.
Our lives are not as normal as other people who haven’t been abused. The abuse has just changed our attitude to life, changed our attitude to people. —Martin Gallagher, Survivor
Ireland has one of the largest Catholic communities in Europe. The Church is rooted into the culture of the country, but when Pope Francis visited Dublin in 2018 his words divided the nation.
Since 2002, multiple reports and investigations have shed light on nearly 15,000 cases of sexual abuse committed in Ireland between 1970 and 1990.
The pontiff had come to apologise for those crimes carried out by members of the Church’s clergy. For many survivors, the visit and remorse that came with it was far too late.
You know, you only have to do a few Google searches to see loads of examples of popes and bishops saying ‘We didn’t know’. Like the rest of society, we didn’t understand such things were possible. They did. They lied. —Colm O’Gorman, Survivor
‘’they would laugh at us and call us liars’’
Some 500,000 of the faithful were expected to welcome Pope Francis in Dublin. In the end, only 130,000 took part in an open-air mass, a far cry from the 1 million or so who turned out 40 years earlier for John Paul ll’s visit.
The abuse inflicted by Catholic priests is believed to have led to hundreds of suicides. Those that managed to pick up the pieces and face what happened, have been named ‘The Survivors’.
Martin Gallagher is one of them. During his childhood he was sexually abused by Eugene Green, a priest in county Donegal, situated in north west Ireland.
‘’When we were younger and abused, there was nobody to talk to, that we could trust. The priests, we couldn’t go near, they would laugh at us and call us liars,’’ Gallagher told Euronews.
‘’We couldn’t tell our parents, because they would have to go to the priest, and he’d do the same thing to them. We couldn’t tell the guards, because the guards and the priests, and teachers, were all big buddies, they stuck together, so we were alone.
‘’Martin here, came along and started investigating Eugene Green, and that opened up a big page in our life, because it released a lot of pressure, anxiety, depression, all those bad feelings we were building up for years. So just by talking to Martin the first day, that lifted a big load from my shoulders, that somebody was going to help me in the end.’’
Martin Ridge, a retired police inspector was the first to hear Gallagher’s story. In 2008, Ridge published ‘Breaking the Silence’, a book detailing the investigation he conducted against Eugene Green and the abuse committed by the priest between the 1960s and 1990s.
Ridge insists the Catholic church decided not to do anything to stop decades of abuse by Green, even though there were multiple complaints filed against the priest.
‘’I was glad I was there for them, because they educated me too, and they’re educating society,’’ Ridge told Euronews.
‘’Those people are experts because they know what they’re talking about, you see…Martin doesn’t need my platitudes but I’m so grateful, and so are the public for the likes of Martin.
‘’And it is not easy….I would like to say thank you Martin again, and again, and again.‘’ Ridge said.
Thousands of child victims
Martin Gallagher’s story is not an isolated case. Allegations of sexual abuse in Ireland concern some 14,500 children for crimes committed over several decades.
In Europe, Ireland is one of the countries most affected when compared to Belgium, Germany and France, which have registered around several hundred complaints since 2010.
Most of the victims who filed claims in Ireland were in Dublin, Ireland’s biggest diocese. Between 1975 and 2004, twelve priests were responsible for two thirds of the allegations filed in the capital.
In response, the diocese put into place the Child Safeguarding and Protection Service in 2002, alongside an agency run by the state. Andrew Fagan has been its director and coordinator since 2010.
‘’When it became known that, you know, priests had behaved in an abusive way towards children, that was understood as a problem for the priest, not as a problem for the child, or for other children.
‘’For a long time, it’s not as if the diocese and authorities didn’t do anything about those situations, they did do things, but they were all about trying to fix up the priest and send him back, and they were not child centered, you know, they did not prioritise the safety of children.
‘’Even though lots of things have changed, I’m not sure the perception has changed. I think that a lot of people still think it’s a bit risky to allow your children to be involved in church activities, so I would say that there are a lot of parents who have made a decision to distance themselves from the church,’’ Fagan said.
‘’I was raped with the burning candle’’
48-year-old Darren McGavin is another survivor of sexual abuse. His abuser, Tony Walsh, is currently in prison for raping more than 200 children in the suburb of Ballyfermot, where Darren grew up in a violent family.
‘’At the age of seven when I went to that school, he became the parish priest, so he was adorned,’’ Darren told Euronews.
‘’He was also an impersonator of Elvis Presley, so he was in a thing called ‘The All Priest Show’, and they went around the country in halls, in clubs, they got paid! So, everyone thought “isn’t he brilliant, isn’t he great, how amazing is he. And then when he talks on the pulpit about his Lord Jesus Christ, Jesus is my friend, I’m gonna save you.
‘’He went home and told my parents – so the dirty secret was out – “I now know you’re beating that child and your wife”. So now both parents, which were adults, were vulnerable to the priest, and in his pocket, because he knows their dirty secret.
‘’So, the priest suggested that I take your son out of this environment, because you’ve damaged him, he’s acting out, and you’re beating him more, you don’t know how to deal with him. If he comes with me I can teach him love and he can serve at morning mass, and we’ll bring him to lovely places, take a bit of pressure off you.
‘’To somebody, a mother, of five children who are all going mad, and the husband was very rarely there, and when he was, he was beating the shit out of her, that was brilliant, my child is safe.
What if I was to tell you that a young boy was tied to a coffee table, bound by his hands to his ankles, and noticed a candle burning, a thin one, but just thought it was a clerical candle. And while I was told that I would burn in hell for all eternity, I was raped with the burning candle.’’
At the age of 12, Darren realised while watching a documentary about paedophilia, that his relationship with his parish priest was not normal. From that day, he started seeing a child psychiatrist, with only one fear: that the judge would not believe his testimony during the trial.
Detailing one of his meetings with the psychiatrist Darren said: ‘’The lady gave me the doll, and said to me. “Can you show me what happened?” And I said “you want me to stick my cock and my penis inside the doll in front of you?’’
‘’She said “What?”
‘’I said “well you told me to show you, so you want me to rip the doll and ride the doll?”
She goes “No, just show me”,
I said “I don’t understand, I’d have to do it, but you said it was wrong.
“Why do you want me to do something that’s wrong? I don’t understand that.”
So they were like “that kind of makes sense, we didn’t come across that before”.
So I said “how about just asking me what happened?
“So when I was asking, I had to keep asking them and taking the tissues, at 12, saying “are you ok?” because I had traumatised them. To me it was ok, because I was used to it.”
Now a therapist, Darren is able to help other victims of abuse. A survivor of five suicide attempts himself, he is one of the 10% of victims who have brought their case to the authorities.
In 2014, in an interview with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Pope Francis estimated the number of paedophile priests in the Church, including bishops and cardinals, stood at 2%.
But during an investigation conducted by Spotlight in Boston, Richard Sipe, a psychiatrist and retired priest, put that figure at 6%.
According to Sipe, a paedophile inside the Church abuses 250 victims during his lifetime. If correct, for Ireland, this would amount to 280 paedophile priests and 70,000 victims. For the whole of Europe, it would mean 11,200 priests and 2.8 million victims.
Colm O’Gorman, also a survivor, and the Director of Amnesty International Ireland, is fighting to repair the damage caused.
‘’The way that the church conducted itself, and the hypocrisy and the corruption at the heart of the church was revealed, and that led to people in Ireland rejecting the moral authority of the church. It led to an end of the political dominance of the church here in Ireland.
‘’You know for decades the Vatican called us liars, they said we were telling lies, that we were fantasists, that this was an anti-Catholic agenda, that there was no cover-up. So now the Pope says there was a cover-up and we’re meant to think he’s great for acknowledging the truth? That’s the minimum.’’
‘’there was so much resistance in the Vatican to change’’
Marie Collins was also abused by members of the Catholic church. She campaigns to prevent abuses and child pornography online. In 2014, she was added to the Vatican commission by Pope Francis, to protect minors and fight sexual abuse. But she resigned in 2017, tired of the Vatican’s attitude.
‘’The commission was experts outside the church, child-protection experts from every area brought together to advise the Pope, to bring expertise into the church from outside. And I went along with it, because if the church was sincere in wanting to change, I thought that I should work to help. But I found after a couple of years that there was so much resistance in the Vatican to change. They were undermining the work of the commission. They were resisting the work of the commission, and really we were making recommendations, the Pope was approving them and they were not being implemented.’’
Summing up Marie adds: ‘’So it was a waste of time? The Curia, the civil service, the Pope’s civil service, they saw us on the commission as people coming in from the outside and interfering. The importance of child protection was ignored really, it was more politics.”
Church in modern Ireland
Pope Francis’ recent decision to speak out about the scandals inside the church shows a desire for more transparency within the Vatican. Now, complaints and testimonies about sexual abuse are passed on to the civil authorities.
But Ireland as a country has also changed dramatically in recent years. In 2015, it approved gay marriage through a referendum. Then in 2018, the country revoked the 8th amendment of its constitution, and allowed abortion.
80% of the Irish population is Catholic. The same population that voted for these two reforms despite opposing directives of the Church. Such numbers highlight a paradox: Irish society remains culturally Catholic, but has distanced itself from the Church as an institution.
It’s a trend seen across Europe. The only continent where the Catholic community has fallen or stagnated in the past few years.
Learning lessons from Ireland’s trauma
Ireland has since tried to heal its wounds and improve the security of children. Arguably, the country had understood that the Church itself would not fix anything.
An important lesson that other countries, like Australia, France, Poland, and the United States might heed where victims of sexual abuse inside the Church are only just being heard.
The voices of those abused in Ireland bear witness to the extent of the cover up, and the much too frequent response of the Church: silence or even worse complicity.
In the US, the Theodore McCarrick case, was a high profile example. The cardinal was finally defrocked in 2019 after historical sexual abuse allegations, that he claimed to have “no recollection” of.
A Vatican report pointed to failings by senior US clerics, Vatican officials, and popes, including John Paul II, who let him rise through the ranks despite accusations of sexual misconduct.
More often, victims have found themselves having to turn to non-religious bodies to be heard, with the hope of one day rebuilding their lives.
I am keeping my own faith, yes, I’ve kept my own faith and my beliefs,’’ says Marie, adding: But the institution of the Church does not mean that much to me now. The institutional Church has… really I’ve lost all trust in it. I still have a relationship with God and I will still pray, and I still consider myself a Catholic.’’
On the question of faith Colm O’Gorman said: ‘’ Do I have faith? I don’t have religious faith, but I have, I suppose, an even greater faith in humanity, in goodness, in life, in healing.
‘’And even greater faith in something that I know to be true, and that is that no matter how awful the harm done, no matter how awful the offense caused, that if we’re prepared to own it, to face it with courage, and with truth, and with compassion, and with love, and with the commitment to moving forward, then healing and recovery and progress is not just possible, it’s inevitable…this I know, this I have unshakeable faith in.’’
‘’It’s the living in silence, which is the most awful thing, insists Marie. Looking at both the past and the present she sums up: ‘’For so many victims, it’s been too much and they have taken their own lives, as we know. So we have to think about the countries where this is still happening, and think of the children there.”
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.”
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.
“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.”