Beach house sequel: Father Boniface Ramsey details his efforts to report 'Uncle Ted' McCarrick

The complex story of scandals linked to the life and sins of ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick rolls on — with the most interesting material being reporting in various forms of Catholic media. In mainstream newsrooms, most of the coverage continues to focus on clergy abuse with children and teens.

As always, “seminaries” is the key search term to use, if you want to research news about the “system” looming over the scandal as a whole — which includes the sexual abuse of children (pedophilia), teens (ephebophilia) and adults (usually seminarians). The McCarrick story includes all three, but his sexual harassment and abuse of seminarians lasted for decades.

This past weekend, I used our regular “think piece” slot to point readers toward a Commonweal essay — “Double Lives” — by retired Newsweek religion pro Kenneth Woodward.

I normally don’t post “think piece” essays on weekdays, but this time I want to make an exception. The Commonweal team has followed that earlier Woodward essay with a first-person account by Father Boniface Ramsey of New York City, focusing on his efforts to convince church authorities to look into what McCarrick was doing, all those years.

The headline is pretty ho-hum, as in “The Case of Theodore McCarrick: A Failure of Fraternal Correction.” The contents? They’re stunning. It’s hard to know what to quote, since journalists working on this story really need to read it all.

The bottom line: Vatican authorities tend to use the word “rumors” to describe reports about McCarrick. Ramsey says that’s the wrong word. This passage is near the top of his piece:

What the seminarians would talk about among themselves and with some members of the faculty were experiences that they themselves had undergone, or that they had heard others had undergone. It may have been gossip, but it was gossip about real events.

Most people who have been following the case of Theodore McCarrick know by now that he had a beach house on the Jersey Shore at his disposal and that he would regularly request seminarians to visit it with him. This is how it went: he or his secretary would contact the seminary and ask for five specific seminarians, or would just contact the seminarians directly. Understandably, a request from one’s archbishop could not easily be refused.

When McCarrick and the five seminarians arrived at the beach house, there were six men and only five beds. McCarrick would send four of his guests to four of the available beds and then tell the fifth seminarian that he would “bunk” with him in a separate room. When bedtime came, McCarrick stripped himself naked, almost always in front of the seminarian, before putting on some bedclothes.

The question faculty members kept asking was this: “Did he touch you?” The consistent response was, “No.” But did seminarians believe that they could tell the truth? After all, the archbishop controlled their futures.

Priests were concerned. The seminary rector said this should stop. But the beach house trips continued.

Reading on, there was a strange case in which McCarrick didn’t like Ramsey’s opposition to the ordination of a specific seminarian. So he removed Ramsey from the voting faculty.

Shortly after this I telephoned the archbishop of Louisville, Thomas Kelly, a friend of mine now deceased, to tell him what had happened. I recall what he said — that “we all know” that McCarrick had “picked up” someone at an airport. From what I understand, McCarrick had met a good-looking flight attendant and invited him to become a seminarian then and there. (I’ve been told this was not the only such spontaneous invitation.) Whether this person shared McCarrick’s bed at the beach house or anywhere else, I don’t know, but he was clearly significant enough in McCarrick’s eyes for McCarrick to fire me when I led the charge to have him expelled. I understood that the “we” of “we all know” meant McCarrick’s fellow bishops. This was my first inkling that knowledge of McCarrick’s behavior was not restricted to the seminary, or to the archdiocese of Newark, but was widespread among the American bishops.

There are letters sent back and forth over the years. It seemed that Catholic leaders were willing to let McCarrick “deal with his conscience” as an old man.

Here is some summary material near the end:

The anger that has arisen among Catholics in response to the cascade of information about McCarrick has been aimed at two things. First, there are the acts that McCarrick was accused of having committed. Second, there is the fact that many of McCarrick’s peers in the hierarchy seem to have been aware of at least some of those acts — specifically, those having to do with seminarians — and said nothing. McCarrick’s brazenness and lack of shame, his indifference to what others who knew of his behavior might have thought of him (and he ought to have known that they knew), are shocking enough. The fact that those who knew about at least some of his misconduct did not shun him — that he was accepted and even fêted by his peers — is every bit as shocking.

There is talk now of a mechanism to address malfeasance in the hierarchy. Would I be naïve if I said that such a mechanism already exists and that its classic name is fraternal correction? There is a warrant for it in the Gospel: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault” (Matthew 18:15).

Read it all.

Here’s the question for journalists: Will any of this be discussed — out in the open — during the Nov. 12-14 meetings of the U.S. Catholic bishops in Baltimore?

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