After a long and influential career in the Catholic Church, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick is now a layman. From humble beginnings in New York City, he rose through the ranks of the ecclesiastical hierarchy while at the same time playing a key role in the politics and diplomacy of the United States of America. He was an advisor to popes and presidents, he testified before Vatican committees and in the halls of Congress. He led fellow bishops in meetings at the Vatican and performed often secret shuttle diplomacy for more than one US administration.
Born in New York July 7, 1930, Theodore Edgar McCarrick was the only child of Theodore Egan McCarrick, a sea captain, and Margaret McLaughlin McCarrick. Growing up in the Great Depression, he was 3 when his father died and his grandmother moved in to help raise him while his mother worked.
He was 22 and had studied in Europe for a year-and-a-half, learning to speak French and German, before he entered St. Joseph Seminary in Yonkers, New York. He earned a master’s degree in history there and was ordained a priest of the New York Archdiocese May 31, 1958.
After ordination he was assigned to The Catholic University of America in Washington. He spent seven years there, earning a master’s degree in social sciences and a doctorate in sociology while serving first as an assistant chaplain and later dean of students and director of development.
From 1965 to 1969, he was president of the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico.
He returned to New York in 1969 as archdiocesan associate secretary for education, and the following year he became secretary to New York’s Cardinal Terence Cooke.
On June 29, 1977, he was ordained a bishop, serving as an auxiliary for the Archdiocese of New York.
In 1981, he was the founding bishop of the Diocese of Metuchen which had been carved out of what had been the Diocese of Trenton. As an ordinary, McCarrick was the top official of the fledgling diocese and was quickly promoted to the Archdiocese of Newark in 1986 where he would remain until another promotion in 2000. While the archbishop of Newark, McCarrick also oversaw the Immaculate Conception Seminary in South Orange, New Jersey. As the archbishop of a major See, McCarrick gained more power and influence not only along the Eastern seaboard but across the country as one who could make or break ecclesiastical careers.
In both Metuchen and Newark, allegations of sexual abuse of seminarians had remained rumors for decades until the summer of 2018 when multiple media outlets reported a number of priests and former seminarians under McCarrick had come forward alleging that McCarrick had engaged in inappropriate conduct with seminarians. These included reports that he made sexual advances toward seminarians during his tenure as Bishop of Metuchen and Archbishop of Newark. McCarrick reportedly routinely invited a number of seminarians to a house on the shore with limited sleeping accommodations, resulting in one of them sharing a bed with the bishop. According to former seminarian Desmond Rossi, he and a friend later realized that the archbishop would cancel weekend gatherings “…if there were not enough men going that they would exceed the number of available beds, thus necessitating one guest to share a bed with the archbishop.” Rossi subsequently transferred before ordination from the Archdiocese of Newark to a diocese in New York State.
Pope John Paul II appointed McCarrick Archbishop of Washington, D.C. in November 2000. McCarrick was formally installed as the fifth archbishop of Washington at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle on January 3, 2001. On February 21, 2001, John Paul made him a cardinal, assigning him as cardinal priest to the titular church of SS. Nereo e Achilleo. He was one of the cardinal electors who participated in the 2005 papal conclave that selected Pope Benedict XVI.
As Cardinal Archbishop of Washington, McCarrick continued in his role as ecclesiastical kingmaker and furthered his involvement in US politics. He spent a year from January 2011 to January 2012 as a visiting scholar at the Library of Congress, working out of an office in the library’s historic Thomas Jefferson building.
Cardinal McCarrick’s interest in Islam and involvement with relations between Christians and Muslims went back many years. In the mid-1990s, he served on the State Department’s Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad and was one of the first members of the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom when it was created in 1999.
McCarrick was named a counselor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in 2007.
In 2009, McCarrick presided over the graveside service of U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy at Arlington National Cemetery, where he read from a letter Kennedy had written to Pope Benedict XVI. In 2015, he served as one of the concelebrants at the funeral of Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, the son of then-Vice President Joe Biden, and delivered the closing Mass as well.
Between 1997 and 2005, McCarrick visited Iran on diplomatic missions intended to improve relations between the two countries. During his retirement, McCarrick pressed House Speaker John Boehner to take up immigration reform. McCarrick spent a significant amount of time traveling and engaging in inter-religious dialogue. In April 2014, at the request of the U.S. State Department, McCarrick (along with a Muslim and an Evangelical cleric) made a trip to the Central African Republic, a country suffering from ethnic and interreligious violence. In May 2014, he traveled with Pope Francis to the Holy Land. McCarrick also traveled to Armenia to discuss Syria with Eastern Orthodox clerics, the Philippines to visit typhoon victims, China for discussions on religious freedom, Iran for talks on nuclear proliferation, and served as a Vatican intermediary for the U.S.-Cuba talks.
In addition to wielding enormous political and ecclesiastical influence, McCarrick was able to reward his benefactors and potential enemies with financial gifts. He sent $600,000 donated to the church by wealthy donors to more than 100 Catholic officials, including two popes, according to financial records obtained by the Washington Post. Among the more than 100 recipients were Pope John Paul II, who received $90,000, and Pope Benedict XVI, who received $291,000, the Post reported.
A spokesman for Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, who received $6,500 from McCarrick, told the Post the money “never had any effect on the Cardinal’s decision-making as an official of the Holy See.”
Clerics who received checks characterized the money from McCarrick as Christmas gifts and said it was spent on charity or other services, the Post reported.
Cardinal Agostino Cacciavillan said that during his time as papal nuncio to the United States in 1994, prior to Pope John Paul II’s visit to the United States in 1995, he received a phone call from a woman who was concerned that there would be a “media scandal if the Pope goes to Newark” because of “voices (rumors) about McCarrick’s behavior with seminarians.” Cacciavillan then told Cardinal John O’Connor, Archbishop of New York, about the woman’s call. O’Connor reportedly conducted an “investigation, an inquiry” and eventually told Cacciavillan that “there was no obstacle to the visit of the Pope to Newark.” Cacciavillan stated that he did not attempt to contact the Vatican. According to the 2018 book Il giorno del giudizio (The Day of Judgment), Italian journalists Andrea Tornielli and Gianni Valente state that Cardinal O’Connor, in fact, “objected strongly to John Paul II’s idea of rewarding McCarrick and the diocese of Newark with a stop during his papal visit to the United States in 1995.” But according to Tornielli and Valente, John Paul’s personal secretary, Msgr. Stanisław Dziwisz (later Archbishop of Krakow) was able to intercept these objections before they reached the pope. The authors suggest that this was because as bishop, McCarrick was an efficient fundraiser for the pope’s causes, including anti-Communist efforts in Poland.
Between 2005 and 2007, the Diocese of Metuchen and the Archdiocese of Newark paid financial settlements to two priests who had accused McCarrick of abuse. In 2005, the Archdiocese of Newark and the Dioceses of Trenton and Metuchen paid a total of $80,000 to a former priest, who stated that McCarrick would touch him in bed, but only above the waist, and that they never kissed.
Documents obtained by The New York Times reveal that in 1994 a priest wrote a letter to Bishop Edward T. Hughes, McCarrick’s successor as Bishop of Metuchen, stating that McCarrick had inappropriately touched him. In 2006, $100,000 was paid by the Diocese (where McCarrick had been bishop from 1981 to 1986). The payments were authorized by Metuchen bishop Paul G. Bootkoski, who also reported the offenses to law enforcement. According to Donald Cardinal Wuerl, McCarrick’s successor as Archbishop of Washington, nobody from these dioceses informed him of these settlements, even after the retired McCarrick began living on the grounds of a seminary in the Archdiocese of Washington.
After the allegations of sexual abuse publicly surfaced concerning McCarrick, archbishops and bishops across the country (and the globe) were questioned about what they knew and when they knew it. Cardinal Donald Wuerl who succeeded McCarrick as Archbishop of Washington, was one of the first casualties of the McCarrick saga. When questioned by media about his knowledge of McCarrick’s behavior, Wuerl was not forthcoming. Through a spokesman, Wuerl denied that he was aware of McCarrick’s misconduct prior to his removal from ministry, which took place on June 20, 2018. However, on January 10, 2019, The Washington Post published a story stating that Wuerl, despite his past denials, was aware of allegations against McCarrick in 2004 and reported them to the Vatican. Robert Ciolek, a former priest who reached a settlement in 2005 after accusing several Church officials including McCarrick of sexual misconduct, told the Post that he recently learned that the Diocese of Pittsburgh has a file that shows that Wuerl, who was Bishop of Pittsburgh at the time, was aware of his allegations against McCarrick and shared the information with then-Vatican ambassador Gabriel Montalvo Higuera. Both the Diocese of Pittsburgh and the Archdiocese of Washington acknowledged that Wuerl knew about and had reported Ciolek’s allegation to the Vatican. The Archdiocese of Washington said that Wuerl did not intend to be “imprecise” in his earlier denials, and that they referred only to claims of abuse against minors, not adults. Days later, Wuerl himself apologized, stating that his earlier denials were the result of a “lapse of memory.”
Theodore McCarrick, Uncle Ted as he urged his sexual prey to call him, has left a trail of destruction and human misery behind him. His insatiable thirst for power and influence was only surpassed by his perverted sexual appetite and we still only have part of the story.