A leading United States Catholic church figure, who has slammed the Irish government’s Deputy Leader Leo Varadkar for being gay, attacked Irish clergy as weak, and dismissed decades of sex abuse scandals in Ireland’s Catholic Church as “peripheral”, is being investigated for sexual assault, after a church worker allegedly filmed him watching gay pornography.
Father George Rutler had made the comments about Fine Gael’s Leo Varadkar, in March 2019, on EWTN, the global Catholic network, and slammed Ireland’s then-leader for “publicly living in perverse contempt for the sacrament of holy matrimony.”
When asked at the time about his comments by IrishCentral, Father Rutler agreed that he was speaking specifically about Vardkar’s sexual orientation and the fact that he may well marry his partner, Dr. Matthew Barrett.
Father Rutler, who is pastor of the Church of St. Michael in Manhattan and a conservative icon and author of 30 books, has stepped down while the allegations are being investigated by the Manhattan District Attorney. The Archdiocese of New York has confirmed he is no longer in ministry while the charges are being investigated.
The accusation comes from Ashley Gonzalez, a 22-year-old security guard who had just been hired as an overnight security guard by Rutler.
She alleges that on Nov 4, at around 1.20 am, Rutler forcibly groped her, after she had filmed him late at night watching hardcore homosexual pornography on an office computer in the church rectory. The incident took place during Gonzalez’s second night on the job.
According to Gonzalez, she was sitting in the rectory texting her mother when Rutler came in.
She claims he sat down at the computer and watched a political program before switching over to gay pornography.
In the video, the person Gonzalez identifies as Rutler is sitting at a desk in the office decorated with religious icons while watching gay porn. Gonzalez claims she tried to leave the office after Rutler saw her filming him and that he grabbed her chest and slammed the door on her hand as she tried to escape. She filed sexual assault allegations the next day.
Father Rutler is a superstar in conservative circles. Columnist Rod Dreher of the American Conservative stated:
“People outside the Catholic world may not be aware that George Rutler is one of the most famous conservative priests in the country. He has been a staple on EWTN, the Catholic channel, for many years. He is a powerful homilist and presents himself as a flinty arch-conservative who suffers no fools gladly. “
Dreher says Rutler’s time as a priest is over if he is convicted. Rutler was once an Episcopal priest who was accepted into the Catholic Church.
Rutler is an arch critic of Ireland, both its political and religious leaders. Writing in 2019 he stated, “The Taoiseach (Prime Minister), was elected while publicly living in perverse contempt of the sacrament of Holy Matrimony. The chief seminary of Maynooth has the lowest numbers of students since its foundation in 1795. Its rector of fifteen years abandoned the Faith and now conducts an esoteric cult in Arizona… An Irish commentator and playwright recently called Ireland ‘The Most Anti-Catholic Country on Planet Earth.'”
The Manhattan DA’s office refused to comment on the investigation.
Fifty-two Catholic priests who served in Colorado during the last half of the 20th century victimized more than 200 children in that time, according to a sweeping final report on priest sexual abuse released by state officials Tuesday.
But investigators note the church has agreed to large-scale reform.
The 93-page report is the last product of 22 months of work by independent investigators working at the behest of Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser.
Led by former U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer, the group interviewed hundreds of people and analyzed thousands of documents in an attempt to furnish an accurate — and complete — reckoning of 70 years of priest sex abuse in Colorado.
Investigators first publisheda preliminary report more than a year ago, detailing painful accounts of abuse at the hands of priests in the state for more than four decades. Tuesday’s report comes after more victims came forward after the first report.
It adds more details, increases the number of victims, and names several additional priests accused of abuse in Denver and Pueblo — including a high profile Denver priest who started several homeless shelters.
“We cannot overstate the courage it takes for victims to recount their abuse,” the report said. “No one helped us more than the victims themselves. We hope the First Report and this Supplemental Report honor the courage, suffering, sacrifice, and healing of all the victims of clergy child sex abuse.”
The nearly two-year probe, launched by Weiser upon his election in 2018, also aimed to change what Colorado’s dioceses are doing to be safer for children, both now and in the future — including putting into place child-abuse prevention and protection systems.
Those reforms include suspending any priest accused of child sexual misconduct and providing victim-assistance coordinators to anyone who comes forward with an accusation. Each diocese also has substantially improved its records system to facilitate child abuse reporting and coordination with law enforcement.
Most significantly, Colorado dioceses have committed to regular audits of their child-protection systems.
“These important improvements appear to be sound,” the report said. “At this point, though, they are largely untested.”
The final report includes 46 additional incidents of abuse of children, 37 boys and nine girls, by 25 diocesan priests in Colorado that weren’t previously reported.
Sixteen of the 46 newly reported victims were abused by priests who had already been identified to the relevant diocese as a child sex abuser, the report said.
Nine of those priests were previously unreported in the state’s first accounting. They are Father Kenneth Funk, Father Daniel Kelleher, Father James Moreno, Father Gregory Smith and Father Charles Woodrich, from the Denver Archdiocese and Monsignor Marvin Kapushion, Father Duane Repola, Father Carlos Trujillo and Father Joseph Walsh of Pueblo.
Woodrich, who died in 1991, was known as “Father Woody.” He opened the Samaritan House on 23rd and Lawrence for the homeless and was hailed as the “patron saint” for the poor when he died. He was known for giving out cash to homeless people at Christmas.
Woodrich’s victims, three boys, all stepped forward saying Woodrich groomed them while they attended Holy Ghost Parish in Denver, forcing them to engage in sexual contact, oral sex and anal sex, according to the report. The abuse took place in the 1970s and 1980s.
The three victims reported the abuse after the priest was dead and it did not appear that the Denver Archdiocese received any reports on Woodrich engaging in sexual misconduct.
In a statement, Mark Haas, a spokesman for the Denver Archdiocese, said learning about the “sins of former priests” has been extremely difficult.
He said the church has removed Woody’s name from any honorary designations, including buildings, facilities and programs. There were “Father Woody” programs at Regis University and he was the namesake of a day shelter in Denver, called Haven of Hope.
“It is important to note that the ministerial work of the church is the work of Jesus Christ,” Haas said, in a statement. “Not the work of a specific priest.”
Haven of Hope’s executive director, Tawnya Trahan, said on Tuesday the shelter has never had any affiliation with the Catholic Church and that Woody’s name was on the building because the founders were inspired by his work for the poor.
But when allegations surfaced this summer that Woodrich was under investigation, Trahan took the steps to officially strip his name from the enterprise, including filing official paperwork with the Secretary of State’s office.
“What we do here is very positive,” Trahan said. “He never has set foot in our shelter, he never had anything to do with what we do here … We had to protect our work and what we do is incredibly important.”
At Regis University, spokeswoman Jennifer Forker confirmed that the school has “rechristened” the service program to honor the school’s namesake, St. John Francis Regis, who also toiled to serve the poor and needy.
“The name has changed, but the mission has not,” Forker said, in a statement. “We unequivocally support the attorney general and the Archdiocese of Denver for jointly agreeing to this comprehensive, independent and critically necessary review and for the commitment to transparency.”
In Denver, the newly named priests are all deceased, with the exception of Moreno and Haas confirmed the church is working to laicize him. A spokeswoman from the Pueblo Archdiocese said all of the newly named Pueblo priests are dead, except Trujillo, but he has already been laicized.
Weiser said, while painful, he hoped the report brought “meaningful change” to how Colorado dioceses protect children from abuse.
“I recognize there isn’t one program or dollar amount that can make up for the trauma that many have been through in their lives,” Weiser said. “But my sincerest hope is that this unique Colorado program has allowed survivors of sexual abuse by a priest to take one more step on the path to healing and recovery.”
The incidents of abuse, including the newest revelations, took place between 1951 and 1999, with the majority of the abuse occurring in the 1960s, according to the report.
Colorado’s Catholic Church has paid out $7.3 million in settlements to victims as apart of the independent compensation program set up by the state probe.
In October, Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila said he wanted to meet with all of the survivors who participated in the program, so he could offer a personal apology.
“I am deeply sorry for the pain and hurt that was caused by the abuse you suffered,” Aquila wrote to the archdiocese community. “I remain steadfastly committed to meeting with any survivor who desires to meet with me and doing everything I can so that the problems of the past never repeat themselves.”
Jeb Barrett, director of Colorado’s chapter of SNAP, or Surviors Network of Those Abused By Priests, said he is grateful for the state’s commitment to pursue the revelations about priest abuse — but is skeptical that the church will really change.
“They love to make it sound like they are doing all they can, but they are doing all that they want to do,” Barrett said. “I don’t know if there is any outside monitoring … I am not confident.”
Indeed, even Weiser stopped short of ensuring the Catholic church would embark on the reforms, as promised.
“If they don’t do it, we would have to see what, if any, oversight there might be,” Weiser said. “I think at a minimum they have put themselves out there and they are in the position for needing to rebuild a reputation that was shattered in this controversy.”
Weiser added that the report was extremely difficult for him to read.
“It was a reckoning that in our society, people who were in positions of trust hurt other people and inflicted trauma,” he said. “We want to tell your story if you wanted it told … The work we have to do is to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
— 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.”
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.