Cardinal Theodore McCarrick (CS Photo by Jaclyn Lippelmann)
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick (CS Photo by Jaclyn Lippelmann)
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the archbishop emeritus of Washington, acknowledged June 20 that he had been informed some time ago “that an allegation of sexual abuse of a teenager from almost 50 years ago had been made against me. At the time, I was a priest of the Archdiocese of New York.”

The retired cardinal in a statement said “while shocked by the report, and while maintaining my innocence,” he fully cooperated in the process, which included reporting the matter to police, having it investigated by an independent agency, and given to the Review Board of the Archdiocese of New York.

“My sadness was deepened when I was informed that the allegations had been determined credible and substantiated,” said Cardinal McCarrick, who added that in obedience he accepted the decision of the Holy See, “that I no longer exercise my public ministry.”

The cardinal, who turns 88 in July and is living in retirement in Washington, added, “I realize this painful development will shock my many friends, family members and people I have been honored to serve in my 60 years as a priest. While I have absolutely no recollection of this reported abuse, and believe in my innocence, 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.”

In a statement, the Archdiocese of Washington noted that after an allegation that falls under the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People was made against Cardinal McCarrick, the Holy See, which has exclusive authority in the oversight of a cardinal, delegated New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York to investigate the allegation, engaging that archdiocese’s review board.

“The Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, at the direction of our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has instructed Cardinal McCarrick that he is to refrain from any public ministry or activity until a definite decision is made. Cardinal McCarrick, while maintaining his innocence, has accepted the decision,” the Archdiocese of Washington statement said.

That statement also said, While saddened and shocked, this archdiocese awaits the final outcome of the canonical process and in the meantime asks for prayers for all involved. At the same time, we renew our commitment to care for the victims who have suffered abuse, to prevent abuse before it occurs, and to identify and report child abuse once it has happened.”

In a letter addressed to the Archdiocese of Washington community that will be shared by pastors over the next few days, Cardinal Wuerl added, “While the Archdiocese of New York investigated this claim, at the same time, I requested that a similar review be made of all Archdiocese of Washington’s records.  Based on that review, I can report that no claim – credible or otherwise – has been made against Cardinal McCarrick during his time here in Washington.”  

Cardinal McCarrick served as the archbishop of Washington from January 2001 until May 2006, when he retired. A New York native, he was ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of New York in 1958. During his years as a priest of New York, he served from 1958-65 as assistant chaplain, dean and director of development at The Catholic University of America, from 1965-69 as president of the Catholic University of Puerto Rico, from 1969-71 as that archdiocese’s associate secretary for education and as a parochial vicar of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Manhattan, as secretary to New York Cardinal Terence Cooke from 1971-77, and as a New York auxiliary bishop from 1977-81.

He was installed as the founding bishop of the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey, in 1982, and served there for four years. Then from 1986-2000, he served as the archbishop of Newark, until his appointment as archbishop of Washington, where he was installed in 2001 and made a cardinal that year.

In a June 20 statement, New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan noted that the allegation against Cardinal McCarrick “was the first such report of the violation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People ever made against him of which the archdiocese was aware.”

Cardinal Dolan said that after the allegation was made, the Archdiocese of New York carefully followed the process detailed by the charter, reporting it to law enforcement officials, and the case was “thoroughly investigated by an independent forensic agency.” He noted that Cardinal McCarrick cooperated in the effort, and the Holy See was notified “and encouraged us to continue the process.”

“Again according to our public protocol, the results of the investigation were then given to the Archdiocesan Review Board, a seasoned group of professionals including jurists, law enforcement experts, parents, psychologists, a priest, and a religious sister. The review board found the allegations credible and substantiated,” Cardinal Dolan said.

New York’s cardinal added, “This archdiocese, while saddened and shocked, asks prayers for all involved, and renews its apology to all victims abused by priests. We also thank the victim for courage in coming forward and participating in our Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program, as we hope this can bring a sense of resolution and fairness.”

On the Archdiocese of New York’s website, that archdiocese noted, “Out of respect for the privacy of the victim, we will not release specific details about the allegation.”

That section of the New York archdiocesan website addressing the case also noted, “This news will certainly be shocking and painful, especially to Catholics, and will cause many to wonder if this tragedy of abuse will ever end. At the same time, however, it should be noted that, fortunately, the policies and procedures put into place by the Church are working. Although this case involves activity from nearly a half-century ago, the allegation was taken seriously, the matter was thoroughly and carefully investigated, and the decision is being publicly announced. No one, not even a cardinal, is above the law or our strict policies. The Church can never be complacent, and must always do all that it can to prevent abuse, and respond with compassion, sensitivity, and respect to victim-survivors who come forward. In this, it can be a model for others who are looking to respond to this sin and crime that affects all segments of society.”

Also on June 20, Newark Cardinal Joseph Tobin issued a statement about the case, noting that people of that archdiocese will react to the news involving their former archbishop with a range of emotions.

“I am thinking particularly of those who have experienced the trauma of sexual abuse by clergy – whose lives have been impacted tragically by abuse,” Cardinal Tobin said. “To those survivors, their families and loved ones, I offer my sincere apologies and my commitment of prayer and action to support you in your healing.”

Cardinal Tobin added, “The Archdiocese of Newark has never received an accusation that Cardinal McCarrick abused a minor. In the past, there have been allegations that he engaged in sexual behavior with adults. This Archdiocese and the Diocese of Metuchen received three allegations of sexual misconduct with adults decades ago; two of these allegations resulted in settlements.”

Newark’s archbishop noted that many in that archdiocese “developed strong relationships with him and appreciate the impact of his service. Those feelings are likely hard to reconcile with the news of a credible and substantiated claim of abuse of a minor. While Cardinal McCarrick maintains his innocence and the canonical process continues, we must put first the serious nature of this matter with respect and support for the process aimed at hearing victims and finding truth.” 

Cardinal Tobin added that his archdiocese remained committed to reporting any allegations of abuse immediately to civil authorities. “The abuse crisis in our Church has been devastating,” he said. “We cannot undo the actions of the past, but we must continue to act with vigilance today. I renew my commitment to seek forgiveness and healing, while ensuring a safe environment for children in this archdiocese."

In another June 20 statement, Metuchen Bishop James Checchio noted, “I was very saddened to be advised by the archbishop of New York that Cardinal Theodore McCarrick – who served as the bishop of Metuchen from 1982 to 1986 – is alleged to have sexually abused a minor 47 years ago when he was a priest in the Archdiocese of New York.”

Metuchen’s bishop said, “This very disturbing report has prompted me to direct that the records of our diocese be re-examined, and I can report to you that there has never been any report or allegation that Cardinal McCarrick ever abused any minor during his time here in Metuchen.” He added, “The abuse of anyone who is vulnerable is both shameful and horrific. The abuse of a minor by a priest – as is being reported in this case from New York – is an abomination and sickens and saddens us all.”

Bishop Checchio said, “The work of building the Kingdom of God in this diocese is much more than its bishops, and I thank you for all of your help here in the Diocese of Metuchen in supporting our common mission. In particular, I am grateful for the substantial work of our training programs, background checks and zero-tolerance policies which are carefully designed both to protect those entrusted to our care and to prevent harm to our children in the future.”

The New Jersey bishop added, “I offer my sincere apologies to anyone who has ever been victimized, and I ask anyone who has been abused by any clergy to report it directly to law enforcement. I want all victims to know that they are always in my prayers, and I ask everyone in the diocese to join with me in praying that the Lord will bring them courage, healing and consolation.”