ROME — For the better part of three decades, ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick rose through the ranks of the American Church, gaining power, prestige and influence while – as we now know — living a double life unknown to the wider public.
The latest phase of the saga came on Sunday, when Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, a former papal ambassador to the United States, published a bombshell statement alleging that Pope Francis knew about accusations of sexual misconduct against McCarrick but ignored them.
McCarrick was ordained in 1958 at the age of 28 for the Archdiocese of New York. Just seven years later in 1965, he was named president of the Catholic University of Puerto Rico and given the title of “Monsignor.” In 1969, he was called back to New York by the late Cardinal Terrence Cooke.
From 1971-1977 he served as Cooke’s personal secretary and, in 1977, was named as auxiliary bishop of New York. Four years later, in 1981, he was named Bishop of Metuchen by St. John Paul II. He stayed in that role for five years and, in 1986, was named Archbishop of Newark, where he gained popularity among the city’s large Hispanic population.
During his 14 years in Newark, he held positions on various committees in the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, mainly concerned with issues such as migration and international policy, particularly related to Eastern Europe and Latin America.
In 2000, he was named Archbishop of Washington and installed in 2001. Just seven weeks after his installation, McCarrick was elevated to the College of Cardinals and got his red hat from John Paul II in February of that year.
In the fall of 2001, McCarrick opened a Redemptoris Mater Seminary in the archdiocese, where he stayed for a time after his retirement. It houses vocations from a global lay movement called the Neocatechumenal Way, which had close ties to McCarrick. In fact, it was McCarrick who opened the first Redemptoris Mater seminary in the United States when he established one in Newark in 1990.
Under his guidance, the archdiocese from 2003-2005 led the “Forward in Faith” campaign, which yielded some $185 million to support education, seminarians and social service work. Cashing in at $50 million over their goal, the campaign was described as one of the most successful in U.S. diocesan history.
McCarrick, who also traveled frequently with American charity organization Catholic Relief Services, retired in 2006. Around the same time, the diocese of Metuchen was reaching a settlement in a case brought forward by Gregory Littleton, a former priest from the Diocese of Charlotte, who alleged that he had been sexually assaulted by McCarrick in the 1980s. He settled with Metuchen in 2007.
Two years prior, in 2005, the Diocese of Metuchen and the Archdiocese of Newark, settled with another former priest from Metuchen, Robert Ciolek, who cited around a dozen trips to a New Jersey beach house and a small apartment on the upper floor of a hospital in New York that McCarrick used for overnight stays, where he says he was abused by McCarrick in the 1980s.
According to the New York Times, the first documented complaint against McCarrick came in 1994 when Littleton wrote to Bishop Edward Hughes, McCarrick’s successor in Metuchen, alleging that his predecessor had touched him in the 1980s. Littleton said that, as a result of the abuse he suffered at the hands of McCarrick, he then touched two 15-year-old boys.
Despite the complaint against McCarrick in 1994, John Paul II chose to land in Newark during his visit to the U.S. in 1995.
McCarrick’s sexual misconduct was first made public in 2008 when Richard Sipe, a former priest, posted an open letter to Benedict XVI saying he had knowledge of McCarrick’s misdeeds, including first-person testimonies, and asked the pontiff to take action. In 2010, Sipe published excerpts from the settlement documents from the Archdiocese of Newark on his website.
According to Viganò’s statement, Benedict enforced at least some private sanctions against McCarrick. However, he alleges that these were ignored by Francis and that the Argentinian pontiff had turned to McCarrick often for counsel and advice, particularly on matters related to the U.S. Church.
Reports that McCarrick had sexually abused a minor weren’t revealed until this summer, when the Archdiocese of New York announced that allegations that McCarrick had abused a 16-year-old altar boy in 1971 were deemed “credible and substantiated” following an investigation by an archdiocesan review board.
After the revelations, McCarrick was ordered to withdraw from public ministry. Francis accepted his resignation from the College of Cardinals in July.