The Vatican women’s magazine is blaming the drastic drop in the number of nuns worldwide in part on their wretched working conditions and the sexual abuse and abuses of power they suffer at the hands of priests and their own superiors.
“Women Church World” dedicated its February issue to the burnout, trauma and exploitation experienced by religious sisters and how the church is realizing it must change its ways if it wants to attract new vocations.
The magazine published Thursday revealed that Pope Francis had authorized the creation of a special home in Rome for nuns who were kicked out of their orders and all but left on the street, some forced into prostitution to survive.
“There are some really tough cases, in which the superiors withheld the identity documents of the sisters who wanted to leave the convent, or who were kicked out,” the head of the Vatican’s religious orders congregation, Cardinal Joao Braz di Aviz, told the magazine.
“There were also cases of prostitution to be able to provide for themselves,” he said. “These are ex-nuns!”
“We are dealing with people who are wounded, and for whom we have to rebuild trust. We have to change this attitude of rejection, the temptation to ignore these people and say ‘you’re not our problem anymore.’’”
“All of this must absolutely change,” he said.
The Catholic Church has seen a continuing free fall in the number of nuns around the world, as elderly sisters die and fewer young ones take their place. Vatican statistics from 2016 show the number of sisters was down 10,885 from the previous year to 659,445 globally. Ten years prior, there were 753,400 nuns around the world, meaning the Catholic Church shed nearly 100,000 sisters in the span of a decade.
European nuns regularly fare the worst, Latin American numbers are stable and the numbers are rising in Asia and Africa.
The magazine has made headlines in the past with articles exposing the sexual abuse of nuns by priests and the slave-like conditions sisters are often forced to work under, without contracts and doing menial jobs like cleaning for cardinals.
The drop in their numbers has resulted in the closure of convents around Europe, and the ensuing battle between the remaining sisters and diocesan bishops or the Vatican for control of their assets.
Braz insisted the assets don’t belong to the sisters themselves, but the entire church, and called for a new culture of exchange, so that “five nuns aren’t managing an enormous patrimony” while other orders go broke.
Braz acknowledged the problem of nuns being sexually abused by priests and bishops. But he said in recent times, his office has also heard from nuns who were abused by other nuns — including one congregation with nine cases.
There were also cases of gross abuses of power.
“We’ve had cases, not many thank goodness, of superiors who once they were elected refused to step down. They went around all the rules,” he was quoted as saying. “And in the communities there are sisters who tend to blindly obey, without saying what they think.”
The international umbrella group of nuns has begun speaking out more forcefully about the abuses of nuns and has formed a commission with its male counterpart to take better care of their members.
Len Schreiner couldn’t help falling in love. So he wrote a letter to Pope John Paul II and waited.
by Danya Issawi
I grew up in a very Roman Catholic atmosphere in western Kansas and had always been drawn to the priesthood.
I joined the Capuchin religious order in 1976, and I was ordained in 1978 at age 28. Almost immediately, the underlying tension I had felt about intimate relationships really came to the fore. I struggled greatly.
I was in various flirtations with women, or little romantic relationships, but that’s a normal part of life. The Roman Catholic priesthood, though, with its mandatory celibacy, discourages any close contact with women.
I would look at my brothers and sister and the families they raised, and I couldn’t accept the notion that I was making a greater sacrifice than they were in their jobs and raising children.
I went on a leave of absence from the priesthood in 1989 and started dispensation two years later, which means I had to write up a paper to John Paul II in Rome to explain why I wasn’t able to continue. I wrote that there were two things that prompted my leaving: that I wanted to be more involved in social justice and peace work, and that I felt I could not successfully live a celibate life.
I sought dispensation both for my own peace of my mind and for my family. I knew it would soften the blow for my parents — it was a heartbreak for them.
A lot of priests did not get dispensations. Their applications would be in a pile someplace for years. One priest said to me, “They haven’t gotten back to me in 11 years.”
In my case, by the grace of God, I received a letter and document in January of 1992 granting me “a dispensation from the obligations of priestly ordination, including celibacy, and from religious vows.”
Then I was considered, in the eyes of the church, a lay person. I was free, and in June of that same year, I got married in a Catholic church in Seattle.
I knew my wife for seven years before we got married. I had met her when I was still a pastor of a church in Denver. She had been in a religious order of nuns, but had left three years prior to our meeting.
We became friends, and by the time I left the Roman Catholic priesthood in 1989 we were in a relationship. We weren’t married until 1992, and part of that was just my slowness to mature. I had to work through a lot.
The transition was huge. I had gone to a high school seminary and a college seminary, where it’s a celibate atmosphere and an all-male atmosphere, and both psychologically and on a sexual level, I was quite immature. The first 10 years of my relationship with my wife, Nancy, were about learning how to be in a romantic relationship, and it was a long learning curve.
By the grace of God we have been married now for 26 years. You have to learn how to be a “we” rather than a “me” — the celibate priesthood is kind of honing you to be individualistic, yet also an overly generous servant of the church.
When you leave, you have very little financially. I worked in lots of labor jobs. I was a furniture laborer. I worked day jobs for $5 an hour. I dug ditches. I unloaded trucks. During what I call the 14-year hiatus, I wanted to get back to ministry as a priest, but there wasn’t an avenue to do that in the Roman Catholic church.
It wasn’t until 2004 when I found the Ecumenical Catholic Communion that I could be a priest again.
We are one of the expressions of independent Catholicism, which are churches that follow the practices, the beliefs and the teachings of the Catholic church but are not under Rome, not under the pope. The pope is not our superior. I’m still functioning as a priest because I was accepted by the founding bishop of this Ecumenical Catholic Communion.
There’s another way of being Catholic. There’s another way of being to be complete. That’s what all transitions are about. I’ve taken everything that I learned in my life as a Capuchin and as a Roman Catholic priest.
It’s with me all the time, but I have gone beyond the limitations of that to a much more extensive consciousness.
Richard J. Poster served time for possessing child pornography, violated his probation by having contact with children, admitted masturbating in the bushes near a church school and in 2005 was put on a sex offender registry. And yet the former Catholic priest was only just this month added to a list of clergy members credibly accused of child sexual abuse — after The Associated Press asked why he was not included.
Victims advocates had long criticized the Roman Catholic Church for not making public the names of credibly accused priests. Now, despite the dioceses’ release of nearly 5,300 names, most in the last two years, critics say the lists are far from complete.
An AP analysis found more than 900 clergy members accused of child sexual abuse who were missing from lists released by the dioceses and religious orders where they served.
The AP reached that number by matching those public diocesan lists against a database of accused priests tracked by the group BishopAccountability.org and then scouring bankruptcy documents, lawsuits, settlement information, grand jury reports and media accounts.
More than a hundred of the former clergy members not listed by dioceses or religious orders had been charged with sexual crimes, including rape, solicitation and receiving or viewing child pornography.
On top of that, the AP found another nearly 400 priests and clergy members who were accused of abuse while serving in dioceses that have not yet released any names.
“No one should think, ‘Oh, the bishops are releasing their lists, there’s nothing left to do,’” said Terence McKiernan, co-founder of BishopAccountability.org, who has been tracking the abuse crisis and cataloging accused priests for almost two decades, accumulating a database of thousands of priests.
“There are a lot of holes in these lists,” he said. “There’s still a lot to do to get to actual, true transparency.”
Church officials say that absent an admission of guilt, they have to weigh releasing a name against harming the reputation of priests who may have been falsely accused. By naming accused priests, they note, they also open themselves to lawsuits from those who maintain their innocence.
Earlier this month, former priest John Tormey sued the Providence, Rhode Island, diocese, saying his reputation was irreparably harmed by his inclusion on the diocese’s credibly accused list. After the list was made public, he said he was asked to retire by the community college where he had worked for over a decade.
Some dioceses have excluded entire classes of clergy members from their lists — priests in religious orders, deceased priests who had only one allegation against them, priests ordained in foreign countries and, sometimes, deacons or seminarians ousted before they were ordained.
Others, like Poster, were excluded because of technicalities.
Poster’s name was not included when the Davenport, Iowa, diocese issued its first list of two dozen credibly accused priests in 2008. The diocese said his crime of possessing more than 270 videos and images of child pornography on his work laptop was not originally a qualifying offense in the church’s landmark charter on child abuse because there wasn’t a direct victim.
After he was released from prison, the diocese found Poster a job as a maintenance man at its office, but he was fired less than a year later after admitting to masturbating in the bushes on the property, which abuts a Catholic high school. Still, the diocese did not list him.
Poster went on to violate the terms of his probation, admitting he had contact with minors at a bookstore and near an elementary school, federal court records unsealed at the AP’s request show. A judge sent him back to jail for two months and imposed several other monitoring conditions.
Child pornography was added to the church’s child abuse charter in 2011 and, though the diocese promised it would update its list of perpetrators as required under a court-approved bankruptcy plan, it never included Poster.
“It was an oversight,” diocese spokesman Deacon David Montgomery told the AP. He said the public had been kept informed about the case through press releases issued from Poster’s arrest until his removal from the priesthood in 2007.
Poster, now 54, lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, near a school and two parks. He hasn’t been accused of any wrongdoing for more than a decade and declined to comment when reached by the AP, saying he preferred to stay out of the spotlight.
Of the 900 unlisted accused clergy members, more than a tenth had been charged with a sex-related crime — a higher percentage than those named publicly by dioceses and orders, the AP found.
Dioceses varied widely in what they considered a credible accusation. Like Poster, some of the priests criminally charged with child pornography weren’t listed because some dioceses said a victim needed to report a complaint. In addition to Poster, the AP review found 15 other priests charged with possessing, distributing or creating child pornography who were not included on any list.
Other dioceses created exceptions for a host of other reasons, ranging from cases being deemed not credible by a board of lay church people to the clergy members in question having since died and thus being unable to defend themselves.
“If your goal is protecting kids and healing victims, your lists will be as broad and detailed as possible. If your goal is protecting your reputation and institution, it will be narrow and vague. And that’s the choice most bishops are making,” said David Clohessy, the former executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, who now heads the group’s St. Louis chapter.
The largest exceptions were made for the nearly 400 priests in religious orders who, while they serve in diocesan schools and parishes, don’t report to the bishops.
Richard J. McCormick, a Salesian priest who worked at parishes, schools and religious camps in dioceses in Florida, New York, Massachusetts, Indiana and Louisiana, has been accused of molesting or having inappropriate contact with children from three states. In 2009, his order settled the first three civil claims against him. Yet he does not appear on any list of credibly accused clergy members.
McCormick finally faced criminal charges after one of his victims spotted the priest’s name on a very different list — one posted in 2011 by a Boston lawyer, Mitchell Garabedian, who represents church sexual abuse victims.
Thirty years had gone by, but Joey Covino said he immediately recognized a photo of McCormick as the priest who had molested him over two summers at a Salesian camp, a woodsy retreat for underprivileged boys in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Covino’s boyhood had revolved around church, where he served as an altar boy, played in a Catholic Little League and where his mother — raising four children on her own — gratefully accepted assistance from friendly priests.
When she sent Covino and his brothers back to the free camp for a second year, “I was petrified — petrified — and I couldn’t say anything. I couldn’t even ask my brothers to see if it had happened to them,” said Covino, now 49 and a police officer in Revere, Massachusetts. “I’ve always told myself I should have done something. I should have fought back.”
Covino said the entirety of his adult life had been altered by McCormick’s abuse — failed relationships, his decisions to join the military and later the police, nightmares that plagued him. His decision to come forward led to McCormick being convicted of rape in 2014 and sentenced to up to 10 years. The priest since has pleaded guilty to assaulting another boy.
The Salesians, based in New Rochelle, New York, have never posted a list of credibly accused priests.
“Our men who have been credibly accused and have had accusations have been listed in the various dioceses that we serve,” said Father Steve Ryan, vice provincial of the order.
Ryan said he was certain McCormick’s name appeared on several lists, including Boston’s.
But when Boston posted its list in 2011, Archbishop Sean Patrick O’Malley wrote that he was not including priests from religious orders or visiting clerics because the diocese “does not determine the outcome in such cases; that is the responsibility of the priest’s order or diocese.”
O’Malley since has called on religious orders to post their own lists, spokesman Terry Donilon said.
The AP found the Boston archdiocese has the most accused priests left off its list, with almost 80 not included. Nearly three-quarters, like McCormick, were priests from religious orders. Another dozen died before allegations were received — another exclusion cited by the archdiocese.
McCormick also is not on the New York archdiocese’s list or lists posted by the Archdiocese of Gary, Indiana, and the Diocese of St. Petersburg, Florida — both places where he faced accusations.
After the AP inquired, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese in New Orleans, where McCormick served in 1991, said the archdiocese would seek to verify information about the priest and add him to its list.
If McCormick goes onto New Orleans’ list, he would be excluded from the AP’s undercount analysis, despite still being absent on lists in the other dioceses where he served. Because the AP counted only priests left off all lists, critics say the number of 900 unnamed priests represents just a tiny portion of the true scope of the underreporting problem.
Other priests excluded from the credibly accused lists were left off because of findings from the diocesan investigations process.
Review boards — independent panels in each diocese staffed with lay people to review allegations of abuse — make the initial recommendation on whether an allegation is credible. The standards those boards use to investigate claims and the process itself often is so shrouded from public view that some victims say they weren’t allowed to attend when their allegations were discussed.
Dozens of priests whose accusers received payouts or legal settlements were left off credibly accused lists because review boards deemed the accusations not substantiated or because bishops or even the Vatican later overturned the board’s findings on appeal. The standards for Vatican appeals are even more secretive.
In 2006, the Chicago Archdiocese’s review board investigated a claim from two brothers who alleged a priest named Robert Stepek had abused them. The board found “reasonable cause to suspect that sexual abuse of minors occurred,” but Stepek was restored to good standing in 2013 after a Vatican court said it was “unable to find evidence strong enough.” The court found Stepek engaged in inappropriate behavior for a priest, however, and he remained without an assignment under restrictions until his death in 2016.
The AP found about 45 accused clergy members who did not appear on the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s list of credibly accused priests. The archdiocese said they were excluded for a variety of reasons, including deciding that about a dozen priests found unsuitable for ministry by a review board due to conduct involving minors did not do anything that rose to the level of abuse.
A spokesman said the archdiocese has a thorough and transparent investigation process, but declined to comment on any of the individual cases of priests not named on its list.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro told the AP that he had to fight church leaders to release a groundbreaking 2018 grand jury report that named more than 300 predator priests and cataloged clergy abuse over seven decades in six of the state’s dioceses, not including Philadelphia.
Several bishops played a direct role in covering up the abuse in Pennsylvania, Shapiro said.
“You can’t put much stock in the lists that the church voluntarily provides because they cannot be trusted to police themselves,” he said.
In Buffalo, New York, Bishop Richard Malone resigned under pressure earlier this month after his executive assistant leaked internal church documents to a reporter after becoming concerned the bishop had intentionally omitted dozens of names from its list of credibly accused priests.
Buffalo’s list has more than doubled to 105 clergy members since those documents were released. Still, the AP found nearly three dozen accused priests who remain unnamed by the diocese.
The number of new claims being reported to law enforcement and church officials over the last two years has increased, spurred in part by revelations of abuse from high-ranking church officials such as former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and by the Pennsylvania grand jury report and the more than 20 other state investigations launched in its wake.
The AP found more than 130 priests who were accused in the last two years whose names do not appear on any lists. Another 37 unlisted priests were accused under New York’s Child Victims Act, which recently opened a window for victims to file civil lawsuits regardless of the statute of limitations, a trend being echoed across the country.
Anne Burke, now chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, was part of the Catholic Church’s inaugural National Review Board, a commission formed to help implement the church’s 2002 child abuse charter.
“We gave our report and recommendations over 15 years ago. They never followed through. That was the final nail in the coffin as far as we were concerned in terms of the bishops ever being able to pull themselves away … from the bureaucracy and be transparent,” Burke said. “That is why we are here again today, and it’s worse.”
Many advocates say the church has a long way to go toward being transparent and are determined to see that it becomes far more open about problem priests.
Attorney Jeff Anderson, known for suing dioceses for information on accused clergy, has released almost 30 various rosters of clergy he has received allegations against or whose names appear in church documents.
“We feel a fierce public imperative to continue to release our lists because those released by dioceses contain only a fraction of the true report,” Anderson said. “And they lead people to believe they are coming clean when they are not.”
It was a list that Anderson’s law firm released in the Archdiocese of New York that led 34-year-old Joe Caramanno to file a complaint, decades after he said he was abused.
Caramanno had been hospitalized for an anxiety disorder when he was a teenager and part of his return to high school involved mandated meetings with a priest who controlled his medication. It was during those sessions that Caramanno said Monsignor John Paddack fondled him.
Caramanno, now a teacher, said it wasn’t until he saw Paddack’s name on Anderson’s list that he felt he could come forward. “I needed the validation that it wasn’t just me. It made it more real,” he said.
The archdiocese’s official list of credibly accused priests, released a few months after Anderson’s, contains only half the names and does not include Paddack, who has stepped down during the ongoing investigation.
“It makes me wonder if I hadn’t come forward … would he still be an active priest?” said Caramanno, who has filed a lawsuit against the archdiocese under New York’s Child Victims Act.
An archdiocese spokesman said a request for comment had been relayed to Paddack, but the priest did not respond.
Victims and advocates say the church should be transparent about investigations when allegations are received, arguing that trust in the church can be restored only if bishops are completely forthcoming.
Several dioceses have chosen to include priests under investigation on their lists, removing them if the allegations are determined to be unsubstantiated, but many others do not disclose investigations or include those names.
“Every cleric no matter where they came from or were ordained or went to school or who signs their paycheck … all of that is hair-splitting and irrelevant,” said Clohessy, of the group SNAP. “What matters is one question: Did or does this credibly accused predator have access to my flock ever? Even for a few hours. If the answer is yes, then that bishop needs to put that predator on his list.”
Former cardinal Theodore McCarrick gave hundreds of thousands of dollars in church money to powerful Catholic clerics over nearly two decades, according to financial records obtained by The Washington Post, while the Vatican failed to act on claims he had sexually harassed young men.
Starting in 2001, McCarrick sent checks totaling more than $600,000 to clerics in Rome and elsewhere, including Vatican bureaucrats, papal advisers and two popes, according to church ledgers and former church officials.
Several of the more than 100 recipients were directly involved in assessing misconduct claims against McCarrick, documents and interviews show. It was not until 2018 that McCarrick was removed from public ministry amid allegations of misconduct decades earlier with a 16-year-old altar boy, and this year he became the first cardinal known to be defrocked for sexual abuse.
The checks were drawn from a little-known account at the Archdiocese of Washington, where McCarrick began serving as archbishop in 2001. The “Archbishop’s Special Fund” enabled him to raise money from wealthy Catholic donors and to spend it as he chose, with little oversight, according to the former officials.
McCarrick sent Pope John Paul II $90,000 from 2001 to 2005. Pope Benedict XVI received $291,000, most of it a single check for $250,000 in May 2005, a month after he was elevated to succeed the late John Paul.
Representatives of the former popes declined to comment or said they had no information about those specific checks. A former personal secretary to John Paul said donations to the pope were forwarded to the secretary of state, the second most powerful post at the Vatican. Experts cautioned that such gifts may also have been directed to papal charities.
A Vatican spokesman declined to comment. In statements, Vatican clerics who received checks described them as customary gifts among Catholic leaders during the Christmas season or as a gesture of appreciation for their service. They said the gifts from McCarrick were directed to charity or used for other proper purposes.
The gifts “never had any effect on the Cardinal’s decision-making as an official of the Holy See,” said a spokesman for Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, a high-ranking cleric who received $6,500 from McCarrick in the 2000s, the ledgers show.
The checks from McCarrick’s fund add a new dimension to a scandal over how he rose to the highest levels of the U.S. Catholic Church and remained there despite complaints of misconduct that reached the Vatican as early as 2000. A Post investigation earlier this year found that another cleric, a McCarrick ally who was a bishop in West Virginia, also gave cash gifts to influential clergy in the United States and at the Vatican while facing allegations of sexual misconduct and financial abuses.
McCarrick, a legendary fundraiser for the church, was defrocked in February after Vatican officials found him guilty of two charges: soliciting sex during confession and committing “sins” with minors and adults “with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power.”
The Vatican plans to release a report about its handling of the allegations against McCarrick in the coming months, church officials have said. The financial records from the Archbishop’s Special Fund are among the documents church officials in Washington sent to Rome for that examination, according to one former archdiocese official. The former officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.
An attorney for McCarrick did not respond to requests for comment for this story. In his only public statements about the misconduct allegations, McCarrick recently told a reporter, “I do not believe that I did the things that they accuse me of.”
In a statement to The Post, the Archdiocese of Washington said McCarrick had sole control of the tax-exempt fund.
“The funds in the account came from donations sent personally to Mr. McCarrick to direct in his sole discretion,” the archdiocese said. “During his tenure in Washington, Mr. McCarrick made contributions to many charitable and religious organizations and members of leadership in the Church.”
The ledgers obtained by The Post show names of beneficiaries, check numbers, amounts and dates of disbursement. The ledgers also contain the names of donors for the years 2010 to 2016.
McCarrick’s fund took in more than $6 million over 17 years. Among the biggest contributors was Maryanne Trump Barry, the sister of President Trump and a former federal appellate judge. She gave him at least $450,000 over four years, the records show. She declined to comment.
McCarrick directed millions of dollars from the fund to Catholic charities in the United States and in Rome, as well as organizations in countries stricken by poverty and conflict, the ledgers show.
Yet nearly 200 checks were sent to fellow clerics, including more than 60 archbishops and cardinals.
The leader of a foundation that made substantial contributions to McCarrick’s fund said he was surprised to learn that checks went to clerics. Tom Riley, president of the Connelly Foundation, based outside Philadelphia, said in a statement that his group’s contributions were meant to help “the poor, the needy, refugees, and the mission of the Catholic Church.”
“Everything about the current situation is a source of terrible sadness for us,” he said.
Checks to key figures
McCarrick, 89, became one of the most recognizable church figures in America during a career spanning a half-century. He traveled the world for the Vatican and became the U.S. Catholic Church’s de facto spokesman nearly two decades ago as it reeled from a sex-abuse crisis that began in Boston. In Washington, he presided over funerals of the city’s political elite, including Edward M. Kennedy, the Democratic senator from Massachusetts, and hosted dinners for President George W. Bush and other dignitaries.
Behind the scenes, McCarrick’s alleged conduct so alarmed some of his fellow clerics that they reported it to superiors, according to documents that have been posted online in recent years and interviews with some of those involved.
One of those who came forward was the Rev. Boniface Ramsey, a teacher in the late 1980s and early 1990s at the Immaculate Conception Seminary in the Archdiocese of Newark. McCarrick was leader of the archdiocese for more than a decade.
Ramsey said publicly last year that he called the Vatican’s U.S. diplomat, known as the apostolic nuncio, in 2000 to sound the alarm when McCarrick was announced as the next archbishop in Washington.
“I was just shocked,” Ramsey said in a recent interview with The Post.
Ramsey said he told the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, that McCarrick routinely took students from the seminary to his New Jersey beach house and pressured them to sleep with him in his bed. Ramsey told Montalvo he was not aware of any sexual contact but considered McCarrick’s behavior inappropriate.
Montalvo instructed Ramsey to put his claims in writing so they could be forwarded to the Vatican, and Ramsey did so, he said. Ramsey heard nothing back until 2006, when he received a letter from Sandri, then an archbishop in the Vatican secretary of state’s office. The letter briefly acknowledged his warning from several years earlier, according to a copy he posted online.
The ledgers obtained by The Post show that McCarrick was writing checks in those years to Montalvo, Sandri and other senior prelates responsible for managing clerics or handling sex-abuse allegations.
Montalvo accepted three checks from McCarrick worth a total of $5,000 before his death in 2006, the ledgers show, while Sandri received the $6,500 from 2002 to 2008.
Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who until 2006 served as secretary of state, received $19,000 from 2002 to 2016, the records show.
Sodano did not respond to messages seeking comment.
The Rev. J. Augustine Di Noia, an American who in 2001 started working in the Vatican office that assessed sex-abuse claims, accepted six checks worth a total of $9,500 from 2001 to 2009, the records show.
In a statement, a spokesman for Di Noia, now an archbishop, said the first check was for expenses related to his move to the Vatican. Others were “Christmas-time offerings” or were given to support him as he transferred to another Vatican post in 2009.
“Archbishop Di Noia affirms categorically that Theodore McCarrick never attempted to influence him in his work for the Holy See,” he said. “Whatever were Theodore McCarrick’s tragic personal failures, it is nevertheless a sad day when improper motives are reflexively assigned to assistance given and received in good faith.”
Told by The Post of McCarrick’s checks, Ramsey said he was not surprised.
“I assumed something like this was going on,” he said. “But I didn’t know checks were going to individual clerics.”
Lack of action
A retired bishop of the Diocese of Metuchen, N.J., said in a statement last year that in December 2005 he contacted Montalvo with new allegations about McCarrick. Bishop Emeritus Paul Bootkoski said he called the apostolic nuncio and then followed up in writing to relay two former seminarians’ claims of sexual misconduct by McCarrick.
Officials in the Metuchen Diocese deemed one claim so significant that they had already secretly paid an $80,000 settlement, according to recent news accounts. They would pay $100,000 to the second seminarian a short time later.
While leaders in Rome considered how to proceed, McCarrick reached retirement age. In May 2006, he stepped down from his post in Washington, his public reputation untarnished. He remained prominent in church affairs and in his capacity as archbishop emeritus was allowed to maintain control of the special fund.
At least one Vatican official has said he was infuriated by the lack of action against McCarrick. Late in 2006, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò wrote a memo urging Sandri and Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, then the secretary of state, to sanction McCarrick, according to a public letter Viganò released through Catholic publications in 2018.
Viganò wrote that his superiors never responded to the memo he sent in 2006. He accused Vatican officials of protecting McCarrick and asserted that McCarrick “had the financial means to influence decisions” at the time. He did not elaborate in the letter and did not respond to a message seeking comment.
Viganò’s August 2018 letter was published soon after the church announced that McCarrick was being removed from public ministry.
Critics of Viganò have accused him of using the letter to undermine progressive adversaries within the church. In public statements, some top Vatican officials have disputed details of Viganò’s account, including his claim that Pope Francis was aware of detailed allegations against McCarrick years ago but ignored them. Francis does not appear among the list of check recipients, according to the ledgers obtained by The Post.
At the same time Viganò says he was urging sanctions, McCarrick continued sending checks to key church figures. The checks were often clustered around Christmas, with just over half recorded in the ledgers in December or January, according to a Post analysis. In some cases, McCarrick started giving clerics money when they took on new jobs with more authority.
In 2007, among the new beneficiaries was Bertone, who had recently been named secretary of state. Records show that Bertone received seven checks worth a total of $7,000 before he stepped down in 2013.
Cardinal Fernando Filoni began receiving checks in 2008, soon after he was elevated to be a top aide to Bertone. Filoni received $3,500 through 2013, the records show.
Viganò said in his public letter that he shared his concerns about McCarrick with Filoni in 2008. Once again, nothing came of it, Viganò said.
“I was greatly dismayed at my superiors for the inconceivable absence of any measure against the Cardinal,” Viganò wrote.
Bertone and Filoni did not respond to messages seeking comment.
McCarrick also gave to lower-level officials in Rome.
American Archbishop Peter Wells started receiving checks in 2010, the year after he took a key Vatican job under Filoni. Wells had received $2,500 by the time the checks stopped in 2016, the year he left the post for an assignment outside the Vatican.
Other recipients included the longtime head of the papal household, Cardinal James Harvey, and at least two priests working as personal assistants to Benedict and John Paul.
Wells did not respond to messages seeking comment.
In an interview, Harvey said numerous bishops from big cities in the United States sent him monetary gifts to show appreciation for his office’s help, including in making arrangements for visits to the pope.
“It never occurred to me that this would be in some way improper,” he said.
“It wasn’t about currying favor,” Harvey said. “It wasn’t some parallel system of nefarious activity.”
A spokesman for Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, called such gifts common and said they do not influence how Parolin exercises his official responsibilities. He received $1,000 from McCarrick shortly after becoming secretary of state in 2013.
“To send and receive such gifts is customary during the Christmas season, including between Bishops, as a sign of appreciation for work carried out in the service of the universal Church and for the Holy Father,” the spokesman said in a statement.
Some experts, told of The Post’s findings, said cash gifts can create the appearance of a conflict.
“It raises questions about whether McCarrick was buying access or protection,” said the Rev. Thomas Reese, a columnist at Religion News Service and author of a book about Vatican politics and operations. “This doesn’t pass the smell test.”
Former West Virginia bishop Michael J. Bransfield gave $350,000 in cash gifts to clerics in the United States and at the Vatican from 2005 to 2018, The Post reported in June. He used church money that was routed through his personal account.
The church began investigating Bransfield last year after one of his top aides wrote in a confidential letter to church leaders that the gifts, many of them sent around the Christmas season, were an attempt to “purchase influence.” The investigation later faulted Bransfield for the gifts and found that he inappropriately spent millions of dollars in church money on personal extravagances and engaged in sexual misconduct with seminarians and young priests. Bransfield, who was removed from public ministry in July, has denied wrongdoing.
More than a dozen recipients of Bransfield’s gifts pledged to return the money after The Post reported that it was drawn from church accounts.
At least 17 clerics who received cash gifts from Bransfield also received checks from McCarrick, records show.
The donors to the Archbishop’s Special Fund include wealthy and well-known figures.
Among them are novelist Mary Higgins Clark; John B. Hess, chief executive of oil giant Hess Corp.; and a foundation run by Rep. Francis Rooney (R-Fla.), who previously served as U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, the ledgers show.
“For many years I have supported a long list of Catholic charities and causes because I believe in the work they do,” Clark said in a statement. “If the money I donated to Cardinal McCarrick was misused in any way, it was without my knowledge, and I am shocked and saddened.”
Hess and Rooney did not respond to requests for comment.
Another donor was William McIntosh, a former Wall Street executive. McIntosh said he got to know McCarrick in the 1990s when both served on the board of the Papal Foundation, a Philadelphia-based charity that has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for initiatives favored by the pope. McCarrick was a founder of the charity and its first president.
McIntosh said he began sending contributions to McCarrick when he was archbishop in Newark for a discretionary charitable account he controlled at the time. McIntosh said he trusted McCarrick’s judgment and was unaware that money he sent him over the years went to other clerics.
“Based on my work with him at the Papal Foundation, I considered him excellent at what he did and tried to be helpful,” McIntosh said. “I had no idea what he was doing with it. I assumed he was doing good things.”
A spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Newark, Maria Margiotta, declined to answer questions about the fund McCarrick controlled there. “Since matters involving former Cardinal McCarrick are under review by law enforcement and/or involve litigation, it would be inappropriate for us to discuss publicly,” she said.
The current archbishop of Newark, Joseph W. Tobin, received a $1,000 check from McCarrick in 2016, the ledgers show. Margiotta said that the check was a gift marking Tobin’s elevation as a cardinal and that he believes he deposited it “in a personal account, where it was used to defray the expenses incurred by his new responsibilities or for charitable purposes.”
Some of the money that flowed into McCarrick’s fund came from a foundation that he advised as a board member.
McCarrick directed at least $250,000 to his fund from the Loyola Foundation between 2011 and 2016, as he sat on the foundation’s board, said Executive Director Gregory McCarthy. Each foundation board member was allowed to designate an annual allotment to a favored charity, McCarthy said.
“In this case, the funds went to the Archbishop’s Fund, which was overseen by the Archdiocese of Washington,” McCarthy said. “Frankly I did not know where the funds would go from there.”
McCarthy said foundation officials received assurances from the Archdiocese of Washington that McCarrick’s account was a legitimate charitable fund.
According to two former archdiocese officials, the fund was reviewed yearly to account for expenditures and deposits but otherwise received minimal oversight.
Meanwhile, the number of people claiming to have been abused by McCarrick continues to expand. Early this year, U.S. church officials sent the Vatican allegations involving at least seven boys and dating from 1970 to 1990, The Post has reported.
Amid the fallout, the Catholic Church has been under pressure to explain how it ignored or missed years of warnings. The Vatican report addressing those issues is expected to be released as early as January. In announcing the review in 2018, the Vatican said in a statement that “both abuse and its cover-up can no longer be tolerated.”
The Roman Catholic bishop of Buffalo, New York, Richard Malone, became the seventh U.S. bishop since 2015 to be forced out of power for his role in covering up clergy sexual abuse cases. Malone resigned on Dec. 4, stating that his departure stemmed from a recognition that “the people of Buffalo will be better served by a new bishop who perhaps is better able to bring about the reconciliation, healing and renewal that is so needed.”
By comparison, during the prior 35 years, only three U.S. bishops had resigned because of the scandal, even though there were more than 10,000 cases of clergy sexual abuse reported to the American bishops during that time.
In my research, I have found that this increase in bishop accountability is due not to an improvement in the Vatican’s protocols, but rather to the activism of local Catholic reform groups.
Start of survivor-advocacy groups
I study how survivors and their advocates have exposed the problem of clergy sexual abuse.
Survivors first went public with their stories of abuse in the 1980s. But other Catholics did not begin forming survivor-advocacy groups until 2002, when a series of reports detailing how Cardinal Bernard Law, then the archbishop of Boston, had protected more than 230 abusive priests.
Energized by the Boston Globe’s investigation, Boston parishioners founded Voice of the Faithful in 2002, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting clergy abuse survivors and increasing transparency in the Catholic Church.
Within months, Voice of the Faithful had grown into a national movement of 50,000 members organized into 220 local chapters. It was through their public protests and petitions that Cardinal Law was forced to resign in December 2002.
Seeking reforms, not revolutions
Voice of the Faithful’s rapid ascension came in part, sociologists have concluded, because their leaders were highly educated professionals with a proven track record as activists.
Founding Voice of the Faithful president James Muller, for example, was a recipient of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, which joined Soviet and American doctors during the Cold War. With Muller and other accomplished professionals in their leadership, Voice of the Faithful was able to quickly attract national media attention and financial support.
The group was never declared schismatic, and the top archbishops and cardinals in the United States met with its leaders from the very start. Several bishops also openly supported the group.
Its motto, “Keep the faith, change the church,” indicates how Voice of the Faithful worked toward specific reforms without upending the broader institutional framework of the Catholic Church. For example, they stressed the value of women’s leadership, but they did not demand that the Church begin ordaining women priests.
For Catholics who felt betrayed by their bishops – even if they were not sexually abused – Voice of the Faithful provided a mechanism to voice their dissatisfaction. Through listening sessions held in dioceses across the country, Voice of the Faithful provided more direct access to the cardinals and bishops. These sessions offered Catholics a glimpse of democratic participation, and they also helped shape the American bishops’ new policies to protect children.
In Buffalo, New York, a community of affluent and highly educated Catholics formed the Movement to Restore Trust in 2018. The group is led by executives in business, law and education, and they were the most powerful of several Catholic organizations in calling on Bishop Malone to resign.
Other Catholics in Buffalo staged protests and created an online petition demanding Malone’s departure. Borrowing a strategy that Catholic survivors began using in the 1990s, some parishioners placed protest notes instead of money into the weekly collection basket. The notes said they were withholding donations to the church until Malone stepped down.
Priests join groups in supporting survivors
Like Voice of the Faithful, the Movement to Restore Trust and other Catholic survivor-advocate groups in Buffalo have tried to work within the Church, maintaining close ties with clergy.
These strong relationships allowed Buffalo Catholics to eventually win the public support of their local priests.
In September 2019, a second key whistleblower emerged in Buffalo. Malone’s priest secretary, the Rev. Ryszard Biernat, leaked audio recordings in which the bishop admitted to hiding a suspected abuser in order to protect his own reputation.
Holding bishops accountable
After O’Connor leaked diocesan files to the media, the FBI and the New York attorney general initiated their own investigations into Bishop Malone, adding to the pressure for him to resign.
This year, there has been an avalanche of new lawsuits filed by survivors across the country. Lawmakers in nearly half of the country’s 50 states reacted to the 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report by changing their state’s laws for child sexual abuse.
In February 2019, legislators in New York enacted the Child Victims Act, which extended the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse to age 55. The new legislation also opened a one-year window for survivors of any age to file suit if they were abused prior to the new law taking effect.
Within the Diocese of Buffalo alone, the Child Victims Act resulted in more than 200 new clergy sexual abuse lawsuits filed by victims who were unable to seek justice under the prior laws.
Bishop Malone’s resignation represents the dramatic increase in Catholic support for survivors since 2002. No longer alone in their calls for bishop accountability, survivors now have the support of fellow Catholics, whistleblowers, their parish priests, state lawmakers and federal prosecutors.