McCarrick Mystery at Xavier High School

News: Commentary
by William Underwood  •  •  August 3, 2021   

Academics not why he left?

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Robert Johnson made the connection while reading a 2004 Washingtonian article about Cdl. Theodore E. McCarrick that noted the archbishop of Washington, D.C., "was thrown out of Xavier High School in his junior year."

"I think I felt the obligation of going daily to school was too strict an obligation," McCarrick told the magazine. "They said, 'You've had it, you're out more days than we'd like you to be.'" The article added that "McCarrick has little more to say about why he didn't go to classes, and his communications director, Susan Gibbs, says she has always wondered why he was expelled."


McCarrick with freshman class

(front row, fifth from left, next to teacher)

Johnson (not his real name) had graduated from New York City's Xavier High and realized he was the same age as McCarrick — they're both now 91. That sent the semi-retired attorney out to his northern Virginia garage to retrieve the dusty high school yearbooks for 1945 and 1946. Johnson had no memories of McCarrick, but was surprised to see himself together with the future cardinal in a photo of the school's newspaper staff.

Xavier billed itself as "Manhattan's Jesuit Military High School," and the school yearbook was called Evening Parade. World War II was still going strong when McCarrick entered as a freshman in 1944, and if not for his supposed expulsion for truancy he would have graduated with the senior class of 1948. Military uniforms and participation in the school's junior ROTC program were mandatory. Students, faculty and staff were all male.

The 1945 yearbook includes a photo of a skinny 14-year-old Theodore McCarrick, one of four class officers. A photo of the entire class on the same page shows McCarrick sitting in the front row directly beside the teacher, Fr. Matthews, S.J. Another photo features McCarrick, wearing an honor cord for good grades over his left shoulder, as president of freshman debate.

Significantly, considering McCarrick would later become one of the most powerful prelates in the Catholic Church, he is also shown solemnly holding cruets of water and wine, with white-gloved hands, in a simulated scene from the Mass. The caption states that McCarrick and Fr. Daily, S.J. "pose for the Mass photographs used throughout the book." Xavier authorities would not have granted this privilege to a chronically truant slacker.

The 1946 yearbook confirms McCarrick did not suddenly become a bad apple during his sophomore year. He is identified as one of two editors-in-chief of the Review, the twice-monthly student newspaper, and a staff writer for The Xavier, the school's quarterly literary periodical. He also appears as one of three officers of sophomore debate.

The 1946 yearbook confirms McCarrick did not suddenly become a bad apple during his sophomore year.

Issues of the Review newspaper and The Xavier magazine from this period paint a similar portrait of a striving, high-achieving young man. The magazine featured his Christmas 1944 reflection, "A Child Shall Lead Them," on its back cover in his freshman year. He contributed a fiction piece, "A Present for Her Grandson," to The Xavier's Christmas 1945 issue. He also won the magazine's editorial contest that year.


McCarrick (far left) as president of freshman debate

(honor cord on left shoulder indicates good grades)

Despite his hard work and success, McCarrick left Xavier in the fall of 1946 and sat out the remainder of the 1946–47 academic year. He re-enrolled as a junior at a different Jesuit high school, Fordham Preparatory School in the Bronx, in the fall of 1947 and graduated from Fordham in 1949.

The Washingtonian article, relying on McCarrick's own account, depicted the transition as a dramatic break from past failure: "Something in his attitude changed, and he excelled at Fordham. 'I guess I realized how unhappy I had made my mother and my family,' he says. He was elected student council president and was even an outstanding student in Air Force ROTC."

Johnson was one year ahead of McCarrick at Xavier High, graduating in 1947, because he had skipped first grade in elementary school. While he did not remember McCarrick, he noticed the mismatch between the yearbooks and his explanation for the change of schools.

"The idea that McCarrick only blossomed in high school after he went to Fordham Prep is absurd," Johnson said. He also observed McCarrick's tendency to put himself front and center in the photographs, in some cases outmaneuvering upperclassmen for a prominent position. "It seems very aggressive and narcissistic," Johnson noted.

Johnson said it was "beyond rare" for students to leave Xavier High in the middle of the school year: "Students were definitely not coming and going." Except for a single classmate who was expelled for poor grades, "I never heard of anybody else getting kicked out in my whole four years. I think my entering class almost entirely graduated."

Xavier sent Johnson a fundraising letter not long after the 2004 magazine article appeared, prompting the alumnus to ask school administrators for details about McCarrick's exit. "They did not even extend the courtesy of acknowledging receipt of my email," he said. 

That was well before the 2018 Summer of Shame, when McCarrick was removed from the College of Cardinals after his decades of sexual abuse of male minors and adult seminarians finally became publicly known. He was defrocked the following year.

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Oddly, Xavier High's director of communications stated in response to an inquiry for this article that McCarrick was never actually "expelled" at all. Shawna Gallagher Vega said McCarrick voluntarily left Xavier after his sophomore year but before his junior year because he took a trip, "possibly to Europe," that "would have extended into his junior year and caused him to miss too many days." Against the advice of school authorities, "he chose to take that trip and leave Xavier."


Staff of Review student newspaper,
sophomore McCarrick in front row, third from right

This timeline is plainly false. McCarrick is still listed as an editor-in-chief of the Review in the Oct. 18, 1946, issue — well into his junior year. Moreover, in a 2008 book called Being Catholic Now, McCarrick told author Kerry Kennedy that he "went to Xavier High School in New York, but I didn't take it as seriously as I should have and was expelled."

Johnson suggested Gallagher Vega was "reading from a script. They probably fiddled with the records long before the present communications director arrived. Why would McCarrick refer to his departure as an expulsion if there were another facile reason?"

So why did McCarrick really leave Xavier High School? "In light of what happened later," Johnson said, "it's not uncharitable to speculate that McCarrick may have been kicked out for homosexual activity. This is truly a vile man. When you get right down to it, he should be in prison."

That's no longer beyond the realm of possibility. On July 28, McCarrick became the highest-ranking clergyman in the United States ever to be criminally charged with a sexual crime against a minor, when three counts of indecent assault and battery on a person over 14 were filed in Massachusetts. McCarrick will be required to appear in person for his arraignment at Dedham District Court in September.

Johnson recalled that Xavier did not emphasize diversity or political correctness in the 1940s. For minor infractions there was "jug" punishment on Saturday mornings — either writing Latin or marching with rifles in the quadrangle. Faculty consisted primarily of Jesuit priests and seminarians but also included U.S. Army officers, and the school's strong rifle team competed with university teams from West Point.

Membership in the Xavier Regiment, the junior ROTC program, remained mandatory until the Vietnam War, when Johnson said "the Jesuits went peacenik." He pointed to Antonin Scalia, the late conservative U.S. Supreme Court justice who graduated first in the class of 1953, as representing the Xavier values of his own era.

Ironically, considering the possible reason McCarrick left Xavier High, the historic St. Francis Xavier Church next door today actively welcomes homosexuals.

McCarrick has never publicly expressed any remorse or contrition for his long-running sexual abuse of minors and adults over whom he had authority.

"We are a beacon to gay women, who discover that there is no dichotomy, no conflict, in being Catholic and lesbian," the Catholic Lesbian ministry states on the parish website. "We challenge the use of male-centric language and images of God. We advocate for female diaconates and priests. We yearn to one day be allowed to openly marry our beloved in our church."

"There is a Hell," said McCarrick in the Kennedy book. "I hope there aren't too many people going there. I hope that the God who loves us will find a moment for each one of us to say 'I did wrong' and 'I'm sorry.'"

McCarrick has never publicly expressed any remorse or contrition for his long-running sexual abuse of minors and adults over whom he had authority. Ideally, he will repent soon — he does not have many moments left.

Editor's note: All included images taken from Xavier High School yearbook, 1944–1946.

William Underwood, Ph.D., is currently writing a book with James Grein, the most prominent victim of sexual abuse by former cardinal Theodore McCarrick.
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