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American Cardinal Accused of Sexually Abusing Minor Is Removed From Ministry

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington and a prominent Roman Catholic voice in international and public policy, has been removed from ministry after an investigation found credible allegations that he sexually abused a teenager 47 years ago while serving as a priest in New York.

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American Cardinal Accused of Sexually Abusing Minor Is Removed From Ministry
Laurie Goodstein
Sharon Otterman, New York Times

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington and a prominent Roman Catholic voice in international and public policy, has been removed from ministry after an investigation found credible allegations that he sexually abused a teenager 47 years ago while serving as a priest in New York.

The news comes at a time when Pope Francis has endeavored to overcome criticism that he has turned a blind eye to child sexual abuse by clergy in Chile and elsewhere. The New York Archdiocese said in a statement that the Vatican was informed and involved in the investigation into McCarrick, and that the cardinal has ceased his public ministry “at the direction of Pope Francis.”

McCarrick, 87, said in a statement that he was innocent, but that he cooperated with the process and accepted the Vatican’s decision.

“While I have absolutely no recollection of this reported abuse, and believe in my innocence,” his statement said, “I am sorry for the pain the person who brought the charges has gone through, as well as for the scandal such charges cause our people.”

The man whose allegations led to the downfall of the cardinal is now a 62-year-old businessman who is married and lives in northern New Jersey, his lawyer, Patrick Noaker, said in an interview. The victim wished to remain anonymous, Noaker said.

The abuse, he said, started in 1971, when the young man had just turned 16 and was a student at Cathedral Prep Seminary in Manhattan and planning to become a priest. He was selected to serve at the Christmas Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a great honor, and as part of that, was called in to be measured for a special cassock. In the sacristy at the cathedral, McCarrick, then a monsignor who was the secretary to Cardinal Terence Cooke, personally began to measure him.

The monsignor, “under the guise of measuring his inseam, unzipped his pants, and sexually assaulted him,” Noaker said. “The kid had just turned 16, and kind of pulled back, and McCarrick was a little surprised by that.”

“Let’s not tell anyone about this,” the monsignor told the student, according to Noaker.

Over the following year, McCarrick occasionally saw the teenager and told him how good-looking he was. The young man was again selected in 1972 to be a Christmas Mass altar boy, and vowed to be more cautious this time, his lawyer said. Another man did the measuring, but McCarrick was there and cornered him in a bathroom, Noaker said.

“He just came in, grabbed him, shoved his hand into his pants and tried to get his hand into his underwear, and the kid had to struggle and push him away,” the lawyer said.

“These were significant sexual assaults,” Noaker said. “If someone like that is running an entire archdiocese, what does that mean for predators in the diocese? It probably means that they have secrets that they keep.”

McCarrick is the highest American prelate to be publicly accused of sexually abusing a minor since 1993, when an allegation was made against Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, then archbishop of Chicago, who denied it. The accuser later retracted his allegation, saying it stemmed from an “unreliable” memory recovered under hypnosis. Cardinals from other countries have previously faced public accusations, and one, Cardinal George Pell of Australia, is facing trial there.

Separately, on Wednesday, the Archdiocese of Newark, where McCarrick served as archbishop before he was elevated to his post in Washington, released a statement saying that it and the Diocese of Metuchen in New Jersey had received “three allegations of sexual misconduct with adults decades ago” concerning the cardinal.

The statement said that two of those allegations resulted in settlements, though did not specify when those settlements were made.

Robert Hoatson, a former New Jersey priest who now runs Road to Recovery, an organization that helps victims of abuse by clergy, said that McCarrick’s sexual attraction to young male seminarians and priests was known to officials of the Archdiocese of Newark in the 1990s.

In 1994, as a young religious brother, Hoatson expressed concern about reports that McCarrick was sleeping with seminarians to an official in the Newark archdiocese, he recalled. “Oh no, that ended,” he said the official told him, essentially confirming his suspicion. “He stopped that because Bishop McHugh and the papal nuncio told him to stop.” Bishop James McHugh was then an auxiliary bishop in the diocese, who would have received such reports.

Richard Sipe, a former priest who studies sexual abuse among the clergy, said in an interview that he was a professor at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore in the early 1980s when he first heard reports from young men in the Metuchen diocese in New Jersey, which McCarrick led from 1981 to 1986.

“They were from seminarians who were invited to the bishop to go to his summer place on the Jersey Shore, where he had sex with these priests,” he said. “In his defense, he told them he didn’t like to sleep alone.” Over the years, Sipe said, he collected “dozens” of similar testimonies.

The news amounts to a sudden fall for the retired archbishop. The allegations against McCarrick of sexually abusing a minor are beyond the statute of limitations in New York state, so he cannot be criminally prosecuted. He could face further punishment by the Vatican, including being ordered to spend the rest of his life in prayer and penance, or could be dismissed from the priesthood entirely. For now, in accordance with child protection protocol, he has been barred from contact with young people in the Archdiocese of Washington, where he resides in a retirement home, according to Edward McFadden, secretary of communications for the archdiocese.

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York, said in his statement that the allegation was turned over to law enforcement officials and then “thoroughly investigated by an independent forensic agency.” He said that McCarrick cooperated. The results of the investigation were then given to the sexual abuse review board of the archdiocese, made up of experts on sexual abuse, parents, a priest and a nun.

“The review board found the allegations credible and substantiated,” Dolan said in his statement. “This archdiocese, while saddened and shocked, asks prayers for all involved, and renews its apology to all victims abused by priests.”

Noaker said that his client had testified personally in April before the archdiocesan panel and had earlier this year submitted his allegations to the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program. The program has paid out $55 million to victims since it was set up two years ago to resolve sexual abuse claims and to compensate survivors out of court.

The New York archdiocese said in an additional statement on Wednesday that it had only received one allegation against McCarrick through the compensation program. Noaker said his client had not yet received a formal offer of compensation for the abuse.

McCarrick, who served as archbishop of Washington from 2000 to 2006, was known for his engagement with religious leaders of other faiths on issues often related to human rights and peace. He served on the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom, a bipartisan committee that advises the government on human rights, from 1999 to 2001.

He was ordained a priest to the archdiocese of New York in 1958, and in 1977 he was made an auxiliary bishop there. He advanced to become bishop of Metuchen and then archbishop of Newark, where he served for 14 years. Pope John Paul II made him a cardinal in 2001, and Pope Benedict XVI accepted his resignation as archbishop of Washington when he reached the retirement age of 75.

After his retirement in 2006, McCarrick acted as an unofficial ambassador for the Vatican, traveling the world to countries where the Vatican could not send official ambassadors “whether it was China, or the Middle East,” said the Rev. Thomas Reese, a senior analyst at the Religion News Service. “He was influential, and did very important work,” Reese said.

His downfall, he added, “shows that nobody is above the rules now when it comes to sexual abuse.”

In Washington, D.C., where he has lived since his retirement, McCarrick traveled on the Metro, attended social justice rallies “and was just as comfortable talking with a politician on Capitol Hill as the homeless,” said John Gehring, the Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, a clergy network. “He had a great ability to connect with people, and was a special figure for social justice Catholics in D.C.”

“It’s devastating news, and it’s another profound wound for our church,” Gehring said. “We can’t seem to heal from this sickness of clergy abuse. And for someone of his stature to be accused of this is a real gut punch.”

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