I must admit. When I read that Theodore McCarrick was charged with three counts of indecent assault and battery upon a minor over 14 years old, my first reaction was really? The Norfolk Massachusetts District Attorney’s Office is bringing charges against a 91 year old man for crimes committed nearly a half century ago?
As a former prosecutor who understands the burden of proof necessary to convict, my first thought was this case was simply political grandstanding. At the prodding of high powered personal injury attorneys, the Wellsley Police Department was encouraged to bring the first case in the United States against a cardinal, and an extremely public one at that, for sexually abusing a minor. As the sister of a victim of clergy sex abuse, I also thought bringing charges like this would do more harm than good for long-time survivors, who have managed to put together good lives despite dealing with the permanent, lingering impact of their dismantled childhoods. Is this now 60-plus year old man, sexually abused at a family wedding in 1974, going to be re-victimized again by a judicial system endowed with a presumption of innocence and a requirement that a jury of one’s peers convict?
So with this discontent, and ready to write a scathing piece on the misuse of the criminal justice system and the usurpation of victim autonomy, I took the time to read again the 461-paged Report on the Holy See’s Institutional Knowledge and Decision Making Related to Former Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick (the Mccarrick Report). Despite the gruesome details of young seminarians and priests being abused and then punished were they to speak out, despite the Church’s decades-long knowledge of McCarrick and its excuses for considering the complaints brought against him as unsubstantiated, I focused upon every McCarrick denial:
To Pope John Paul II (2000):
I have never had sexual relations with any person, male or female young or old, cleric or lay, nor have I ever abused another person or treated them with disrespect.
To Bishop Dziwisz (2000)
In the seventy years of my life, I have never had sexual relations with any person, male or female, young or old, cleric or lay, nor have I ever abused another person or treated them with disrespect.”
In a Connie Chung Interview (2002)
I have never had sexual relations with anybody, man, woman or child in the 71 years that I have been here on this earth.
To the Washington Post (2002)
If there’s any interest with anyone here, I can say I’m 71 years old and I have never had sexual relations with anybody – man, woman or child. And that can go on the record.
To Cardinal Re (2006)
In a letter written to His Holiness Pope John II in 2000, I stated that in seventy years of life, I had never had sexual relations with any person, man, woman or child. In the course of the media concentration on priestly celibacy, I have had occasion to repeat that statement publicly on Television and in the print media. It is still true today. In support of [that] fact I would gladly cooperate with any independent investigation including one which would subject me to a lie detector test…I have never lived a double life, nor have I ever been sexually active in any way.
To Cardinal Bertone (2008):
I have never had sexual relations with anyone, man, woman or child, nor have I ever sought such acts.
To Cardinal George (2009)
I have never had sexual relations with anyone, man, woman or child in my life, nor have ever requested same,…
Unless my summary of the McCarrick report is inaccurate, McCarrick never issued a public denial after June 8, 2017, the date James Grein came forward to the Archdiocese of New York to report McCCarrick molested Grein, the child of a family friend, when he was just a teenager. And, while citing the McCarrick Interview given to the Holy See in preparation for the McCarrick Report nine times, no citation references a McCarrick denial.
After its own investigation, the Archdiocese of New York’s Review Board, examined Grein’s charges, and “based on the accumulated evidence, unanimously found the allegations against McCarrick credible and substantiated” This was enough to move McCarrick from the still retained rank of Cardinal to a defrocked priest living at a treatment center in small town, Missouri.
Let me stop here to say I had the occasion to meet with my brother’s abuser 20 years after the crimes that could not be prosecuted because of Illinois’s then statute of limitations. I traveled to Rome to find him. Though still a priest, he was living in his Order’s religious headquarters, but removed from public ministry. During that meeting, the priest had the gall to ask for the details of what, in fact, he did to my brother. “I remember him getting angry on a couple of occasions,” was all he would offer. This despite seven more boys telling similar stories of the priest’s visits to their bedrooms, following invitations to family dinners, to say good night.
Other than for murdering that priest myself (an act of which I was incapable), my fondest wish was to see that priest sitting at defense counsel in an American courtroom hearing a jury listen, boy after boy, rather man after man, to the range and depth of his crimes. Because of Illinois’s statute of limitations that was an opportunity my brother never had.
So where now is my discontent and my fear that a victim is the pawn of media and national frenzy to make that first ever conviction of a former sitting cardinal? It is gone, gone because of the range of McCarrick denials, gone because of my brother’s abusers continued, not denials, but silence. If there is any place to bring McCarrick to justice, it is in a courtroom. And, it McCarrick wants to truly maintain his innocence, what better place to do so than in a criminal trial?
There, a jury will listen to the accuser. It will also likely hear from child victims and young seminarians with similar stories, to buttress, most likely, modus operandi. Though perhaps with his narcissistic tendencies he might, I doubt McCarrick would be reckless enough to take the stand. But that jury will hear the seven denials quoted above as statements of a party opponent. Due to McCarrick’s desire for public attention and accolades, there are likely many more denials. Perhaps the prosecutor will notice that McCarrick used the words “sexually active” only once, but the majority of times denied “sexual relations” with his victims. So too did Bill Clinton. That prosecutor might also focus on McCarrick’s statement that he never treated any person with disrespect. A man who can say that, let alone believe it, must surely see the world in his own self-absorbed and power-hungry way, the same way that permits individuals in position of power to warn their accusers that they will never be believed. Let McCarrick have that day in court and let the victims have theirs.
One last point. I am still not done. When the Illinois States Attorney told me that too much time had passed to prosecute my brother’s abuser, I focused upon one portion of Illinois law that tolled the statute of limitations. When the priest left Illinois for his next parish (and, yes, with his Provincial’s knowledge of past allegations), he also left behind a then sixteen-year-old victim, a boy, now man, who refused to come forward, despite witnesses, despite other proof. Were that man, who I am guessing is now 50, to change his mind, I am still ready to assist with all that is necessary to bring my brother’s abuser to justice. I still hope that after nearly forty years we don’t have to wait too long.