Attention all Catholic readers and other news consumers who want to keep up with news reporting about the life and times of ex-cardinal Theodore “Uncle Teddy” McCarrick: It appears that you are going to need to read the opinion pages of The Washington Post.
Yes, the opinion pages.
McCarrick is, of course, the man at the center of this latest earthquake in the decades-old Roman Catholic crisis linked to the sexual abuse of children, teens (almost always males) and adults, mostly seminarians. While headlines linked to Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano’s blast at the Vatican (text here) have centered on his call for Pope Francis to resign, the heart of the document centers on McCarrick and a network of cardinals and bishops who have protected, promoted or depended on him.
This brings us back to the work of Post editorial-page columnist Elizabeth Bruenig.
The last time we heard from her — in terms of the Catholic crisis — she was committing this act of journalism, seeking an actual interview with McCarrick:
… A little before 9:30 on Monday evening — likely a little later than is fair to an elderly man, I admit — I knocked on his door. I was dismissed by another person, via a muted conversation through a windowpane, but left a note and a business card. Hearing no word, I returned Tuesday afternoon and found my card still on the windowsill where I had left it. I suspected my efforts to contact the former cardinal might not be getting through, and so resolved to try a little more persistence this time, waiting on his doorstep for roughly an hour, with a letter I had brought.
But it seems my contact information had made it to authorities: After I left, a representative from the Washington archdiocese called my editor to complain about my presence. I was surprised to learn I had caused sincere alarm — I don’t present an imposing figure, and nobody ever so much as opened the door to ask me to go away — but my insistence, the ringing and knocking, had clearly inspired fear.
Have the D.C. Catholic powers that be called any other editors? At this point, it’s impossible to know. However, it was very journalistic of Bruenig to seek an answer to this basic question: Are the accusations true?
Now, Bruenig is back with another opinion-page piece with this headline: “He wanted to be a priest. He says Archbishop McCarrick used that to abuse him.” It’s must reading for, well, people looking for news on this topic. Here is the overture:
By the summer of 1986, 26-year-old Michael Reading had heard the stories about Newark Archbishop Theodore McCarrick and his beach house in Sea Girt, N.J. So when he was invited for a barbecue and overnight stay at the beach house with McCarrick and a handful of fellow students from Seton Hall’s Immaculate Conception Seminary, he began to strategize. He would accept the invitation — he couldn’t afford not to — but he would be smart about it.
Reading recounted his experience to me last week, after we were connected by another former seminarian from Immaculate Conception, the Rev. Desmond Rossi, who says McCarrick inappropriately touched him as well. McCarrick stands accused of sexual abuse and harassment by several former seminarians, two of whom have received settlements from the church, and others, including Reading, who are telling their stories publicly for the first time. Rossi, like Reading, recalled a culture of fear and avoidance surrounding McCarrick that forced the seminarians and young priests to choose between their vocations and their safety. McCarrick has not commented on the allegations by the seminarians; representatives for McCarrick declined to comment on this article.
It’s a calculation nobody should have to make. Already, the outcry stirred by recent allegations that Pope Francis ignored long-standing complaints about former cardinal McCarrick seems to be fading, perhaps because the majority of claims about McCarrick’s alleged sexual misconduct involve adults, not children.
Now, other than the brief first-person reference, this does not read like an opinion piece to me. It may be analysis work, at times, but the key is that we have another on-the-record seminarian telling his story about harassment.
But did you catch the key statement there at the end? The McCarrick outcry is fading, it would appear, because his victims are adult men. Apparently sexual abuse of young men by an older man who is their ecclesiastical superior isn’t that big a deal. Why is that?
Let’s read on:
Around the same time Reading was formulating an evasion plan for a day at the beach with the archbishop, the Rev. Boniface Ramsey was settling into his first year as a faculty member at Immaculate Conception. Ramsey, then 41, said he was instantly wary of the avuncular, warmly familiar McCarrick. McCarrick “visited the seminary often,” Ramsey told me, “which was normal. There were a lot of seminarians, and he was proud of it.” But McCarrick’s demeanor made Ramsey ill at ease. “He used nicknames,” Ramsey said, “even if he didn’t know you so well. He called me Bonny. It was an almost unconscious exercise of power. … It felt condescending.”
But knowing McCarrick — or at least, being known to him — was critical at Immaculate Conception, where the archbishop could choose who was ordained and who was not, and how their careers would unfold.
Here is a key statement from McCarrick: “I’m not going to ordain anyone I don’t know well.”
Reading ends up going to one of the beach-house sleepovers, but arranged a reason not to stay overnight. This leads to a genuinely creepy episode in which McCarrick follows him into the master bedroom and watches him change into his swimsuit.
Then there is this:
It was cool and overcast, not ideal for swimming. Reading lay facedown on his beach towel, hoping to catch a little sun. Eventually, Reading says, McCarrick appeared, dressed in shorts and a polo shirt. He sat near Reading as the young men began to joke about going for a swim, teasing the archbishop that he ought to take a dip.
McCarrick laughed along with them, Reading recalls. “Then he slid his hand down the back of my swimsuit, and said, ‘You’re dry.’ ” McCarrick’s hand rested there, on the bare skin of his buttocks, under the fabric of his swimsuit, Reading told me. “I was dumbfounded. I was frozen. I didn’t know what to do or say,” Reading told me. And then, sounding defeated: “I let it go.”
The story of how Reading enters the priesthood and then leaves leads to this statement at the end of the article, one linked to the important point raised earlier about McCarrick’s victims being adult men.
This is a #MeToo situation. If an archbishop sticks his hand under a women’s bathing suit, is that a form of sexual abuse? Is this part of the overall Catholic crisis newsworthy?
Adult men make less instantly sympathetic victims than children, and the alleged incidents involving McCarrick are less headline-grabbingly horrifying than the episodes revealed by Pennsylvania’s recent grand jury report. But the church has more than a duty to ensure that minors aren’t victimized and should be sensitive to the fact that, where religious authority is exploited, the effects of sexual abuse can be especially devastating, as in Reading’s case.
Read it all. This is news.
FIRST IMAGE: Washington Post opinion columnist Elizabeth Bruenig.