VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - Father Boniface Ramsey, the first person to formally speak out against Theodore McCarrick's serial sexual predation of seminarians, is slamming the former D.C. cardinal's case as "a failure of fraternal correction."
In an Oct. 29 Commonweal article, Fr. Ramsey recounts the multiple warning signs surrounding McCarrick's behavior — and the number of times they were ignored by Church insiders.
"What I heard in those days about McCarrick's misbehavior with seminarians I used to refer to, until very recently, as rumors. Now I realize that 'rumors' was not the right word, because rumor suggests uncertainty," Ramsey conceded.
"What the seminarians would talk about among themselves and with some members of the faculty were experiences that they themselves had undergone, or that they had heard others had undergone. It may have been gossip, but it was gossip about real events," he noted.
It was widely known that McCarrick often corralled seminarians — five at a time — to spend weekends with him at his Jersey Shore beach house.
Ramsey recalled the typical aftermath: "Whenever a seminarian who had slept in the same bed as McCarrick shared his experience with a faculty member, the common response was 'Did he touch you?'"
"The behavior was not only unusual; it was also wrong," the Dominican priest reflected, adding: "I began to have difficulty accepting it."
Father Ramsey described a certain "silence" — not disapproval, but "just a kind of resignation" surrounding McCarrick's conduct. It troubled him.
In an effort to correct McCarrick, in the late 1980s, he spoke with the rector of Immaculate Conception Seminary in Newark, where he was teaching.
"The rector knew exactly what I was talking about," Ramsey recounted, "and promised to do what he could to stop it."
"Whatever the rector may have done — and I believe he took some sort of action — McCarrick was unperturbed, and the visits to the beach house continued," he added.
Ramsey described an enlightening conversation he had with Abp. Thomas C. Kelly of Louisville shortly after regarding one of McCarrick's recruits to the seminary:
I recall what he said — that "we all know" that McCarrick had "picked up" someone at an airport. From what I understand, McCarrick had met a good-looking flight attendant and invited him to become a seminarian then and there. (I've been told this was not the only such spontaneous invitation.) ... I understood that the "we" of "we all know" meant McCarrick's fellow bishops. This was my first inkling that knowledge of McCarrick's behavior was not restricted to the seminary, or to the archdiocese of Newark, but was widespread among the American bishops.
Father Ramsey noted that he was stunned in November 2000, when McCarrick was named archbishop of Washington, D.C.: "The idea that someone who had shared a bed with his own seminarians would now move from Newark, to the prestigious see of Washington, and inevitably become a cardinal, flabbergasted and enraged me. Didn't people know of McCarrick's reputation?"
He channeled his frustration into a letter to the papal nuncio to the United States, Abp. Gabriel Montalvo, and phoned him to expect a letter detailing his concerns. Montalvo never acknowledged the letter, but years later, Ramsey received proof that it was received:
A sort of acknowledgement, however, did arrive six years later in the form of a request in October 2006 from Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, a high official in the Vatican Secretariat of State. Without mentioning McCarrick's name, Sandri asked me if I knew whether a young priest of the archdiocese of Newark who was being considered for a post in the Vatican had been implicated in the activities I had cited in my letter of November 2000 to Archbishop Montalvo. I replied that, as far as I knew, he had not been involved. Importantly, Sandri's letter proved that the nuncio had indeed received my letter and that it had been forwarded to the Vatican, where its contents were undoubtedly known not only to Sandri but to others as well.
Ramsey described yet another indicator, in July 2004, when "in the course of a conversation with New York's Cardinal Edward Egan, who had welcomed me into his archdiocese as a diocesan priest, I had an occasion to bring up the topic of McCarrick's behavior."
"Cardinal Egan did not want to discuss this, and we went on to other topics," Ramsey said. "But it was perfectly obvious from his immediate reaction that he knew about McCarrick." Egan later claimed he was unaware of sexual abuse by priests during his tenure.
The incident prompted Ramsey to reach out to yet another Church leader in hope of spurring action. He contacted Boston Cdl. Seán O'Malley, head of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.While attending Egan's funeral in March 2015, Fr. Ramsey noticed McCarrick among the concelebrants. The predator's presence incensed him: "I felt anger and bewilderment. What was he doing there? Didn't everyone know about him? Hadn't Egan himself known?"
"If there was anyone who might know how to deal with the sexual harassment of seminarians, surely it was he," Ramsey said. The whistleblower priest was soon informed the information "did not fall under the cardinal's jurisdiction."
Father Ramsey's account illuminates the deeply entrenched pattern of cover-up among members of the hierarchy and is reinforced by the testimony of clerical sex abuse expert Richard Sipe, former papal nuncio Abp. Carlo Maria Viganò and, most recently, by Viganò predecessor, Cdl. Agostino Cacciavillan.
In an interview with Catholic News Service published Tuesday, Cdl. Cacciavillan, apostolic nuncio to the United States from 1990–1998, revealed he was aware of rumors about McCarrick's sexual predation as early as 1994.
"I remember in 1994, during the preparation of the papal visit to New York, Newark and Baltimore," he said. He received a telephone call from a woman expressing concern that a "media scandal" could erupt "if the pope goes to Newark," owing to "voices, voices [rumors] about McCarrick's behavior with seminarians."
"It was not a formal complaint, but the expression of a concern," the cardinal recalled.
Cacciavillan said he notified New York Cdl. John O'Connor of the woman's concerns because O'Connor was "the closest bishop" to McCarrick, then serving as archbishop of Newark.
"No one better than the archbishop of New York would know what was happening in the Archdiocese of Newark," he said.
According to Cacciavillan, Cdl. O'Connor carried out "an investigation, an inquiry," telling him later that "there was no obstacle to the visit of the pope to Newark."