I’d heard that at least one major newspaper was at work on l’affaire McCarrick. On Tuesday, there it was: A double-bylined piece in the New York Times.
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the now-retired head of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., was famous in his prime for being a mover, shaker and chief fundraiser in the church. He was also a sexual molester of young, handsome male seminarians; something several of us reporters knew at the time. But, as I explained here, none of us could prove it, and the victims who could have helped us refused to go on the record.
Then in June, two dioceses released the shocking news that McCarrick had been credibly accused of sexually molesting a 16-year-old altar boy 47 years ago.
Now, the Times, via its Sunday magazine, already had this story in 2012 when a freelancer managed to document a number of the important details.
But that story never ran. Six years later -– and with McCarrick in his dotage, and out of power -– one of the nation's most powerful newspapers has finally published this 3,054-word piece.
Better late than never, I suppose. But there are some odd holes in this narrative.
As a young man studying to be a priest in the 1980s, Robert Ciolek was flattered when his brilliant, charismatic bishop in Metuchen, N.J., Theodore E. McCarrick, told him he was a shining star, cut out to study in Rome and rise high in the church.
Bishop McCarrick began inviting him on overnight trips, sometimes alone and sometimes with other young men training to be priests. There, the bishop would often assign Mr. Ciolek to share his room, which had only one bed. The two men would sometimes say night prayers together, before Bishop McCarrick would make a request — “come over here and rub my shoulders a little”— that extended into unwanted touching in bed.
Mr. Ciolek, who was in his early 20s at the time, said he felt unable to say no, in part because he had been sexually abused by a teacher in his Catholic high school, a trauma he had shared with the bishop.
“I trusted him, I confided in him, I admired him,” Mr. Ciolek said in an interview this month, the first time he has spoken publicly about the abuse, which lasted for several years while Mr. Ciolek was a seminarian and later a priest. “I couldn’t imagine that he would have anything other than my best interests in mind.”
I’m glad the Times finally got Ciolek to fess up. I called him nine years ago and he refused to comment. Other reporters had called him, too.
The Times story later says he was paid an $80,000 settlement by the Church in 2005 that insured his silence on what McCarrick had done to him. Seriously? This guy is a lawyer and he felt bound by that agreement?
George Archibald, my former co-worker at the Washington Times, reported in his 2009 book “Journalism is War” that Ciolek threatened a lawsuit because Archibald was researching a tell-all story about McCarrick that mentioned Ciolek’s name. The story never ran but Archibald alleged that Ciolek had gotten someone pregnant; he needed out of the priesthood and McCarrick went to Rome to get a papal dispensation for his young friend.
Did the Times not ask Ciolek about these rumors? Did the price of Ciolek's silence include extra favors? I called Ciolek in 2009 because I had heard about him and was curious as to whether the church had paid for his law school tuition. By this time, Ciolek was married, had a legal job in the pharmaceutical industry and had several kids. He told me he wanted to be left alone.
Between 1994 and 2008, multiple reports about the cardinal’s transgressions with adult seminary students were made to American bishops, the pope’s representative in Washington and, finally, Pope Benedict XVI. Two New Jersey dioceses secretly paid settlements, in 2005 and 2007, to two men, one of whom was Mr. Ciolek, for allegations against the archbishop. All the while, Cardinal McCarrick played a prominent role publicizing the church’s new zero-tolerance policy against abusing children.
The article then tells the story of a second former priest, also the receiver of a settlement from the Catholic Church, whose story of priestly sex play at a New York state fish camp involving then-Bishop McCarrick has been making the rounds on the internet for a decade. The Times team says it was not allowed to mention the name of this second priest, but I have the same documents the newspaper cites and the writer was one Gregory Littleton. He was a seminarian at the time and his description of the sexual goings-on at the fish camp involving McCarrick, Ciolek and a third priest identified as Robert Lynan sure make it sound like Ciolek was a willing participant.
Littleton had some misspellings in his narrative and commentators to my previous column suggest the real name was Robert Lynam, now heading up a parish in Kendall Park, N.J
Why didn’t the Times mention Ciolek’s name in the now-famous fishing camp incident? Did the reporters ask him about his presence at this gathering?
Look, I know it’s tough to write these stories and most newspapers have lawyers picking through the text before the story runs. But many who have read additional background material would ask if Ciolek is a hero in this narrative. The story may be more complex than it appears.
What comes next is a bit odd:
In 2000, Pope John Paul II promoted Archbishop McCarrick to lead the Archdiocese of Washington D.C., one of the most prestigious posts in the Catholic Church in America. He was elevated to cardinal three months later.
At least one priest warned the Vatican against the appointment. The Rev. Boniface Ramsey said that when he was on the faculty at the Immaculate Conception Seminary at Seton Hall University in New Jersey from 1986 to 1996, he was told by seminarians about Archbishop McCarrick’s sexual abuse at the beach house. When Archbishop McCarrick was appointed to Washington, Father Ramsey spoke by phone with the pope’s representative in the nation’s capital, Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, the papal nuncio, and at his encouragement sent a letter to the Vatican about Archbishop McCarrick’s history.
Father Ramsey, now a priest in New York City, said he never got a response.
More dramatically, there was a group of people who traveled to Rome to beg officials there not to elevate McCarrick to the Washington see. I’ve talked with a priest who was very close to that group and their unsuccessful journey to the Vatican was an open secret. Why did the Times not mention these people?
The story does break some new ground and obviously much hard work was involved. But for other reporters who are still tracking this story, there’s a lot more stuff out there to dig up. Someone needs to find Littleton wherever he is in Hickory, N.C. (which is where he was when I was researching this story) or wherever he’s hiding out these days. If the church has released Ciolek from his vow of silence, Littleton too can come forward.
Also, has anyone approached the aforementioned Robert Lynam? And where are other priests who might have been sexually compromised by McCarrick? Surely there are more. Look for people whose careers McCarrick, now 88, boosted throughout the years. These could be priests or bishops whose stars were hitched to McCarrick’s wagon. I’m not alleging all such men were pursued by this cardinal, but there has to be more.
Who did McCarrick live with? Who did he work with in Puerto Rico, New York, New Jersey and Washington, D.C.? I heard rumors of goings-on in the Washington archdiocese that weren’t sexual, but illegal. And the people who told me were scared witless that they’d be made to disappear -– as in ending up at the bottom of the Potomac -- if they talked. If someone is messing around sexually, you can bet there’s compromise elsewhere.
I am also waiting for an explanation from the Times as to why their magazine didn't run this story back in 2012. I've a feeling it will be a long wait.
Update: On July 19, the Times ran yet another McCarrick story; this time the story of a man who says he was sexually abused by the cardinal starting when he was 11. I tell you: Once you start reporting on this stuff, more sources -- and stories -- start coming out of the woodwork.
Photos from a special edition of the Catholic Standard, the newspaper for the Archdiocese of Washington, upon Cardinal McCarrick's 2006 retirement.