WASHINGTON (ChurchMilitant.com) - New revelations are casting further doubt on Cdl. Donald Wuerl's claims he knew nothing about ex-Cdl. Theodore McCarrick's sexual abuse of seminarians.
The Washington Post reported Saturday that, as bishop of Pittsburgh, Wuerl was named in a 2005 settlement agreement between former priest Robert Ciolek and three New Jersey dioceses.
Ciolek was one of many seminarians groomed and assaulted by McCarrick during his decades-long spree of sexual abuse. In the 1980s, McCarrick, then bishop of Metuchen, invited Ciolek to his infamous beach house, where he pressured the young seminarian into sharing his bed and accosted him.
"Mr. Ciolek, who was in his early 20s at the time, said he felt unable to say no," The New York Times reported in July, "in part because he had been sexually abused by a teacher in his Catholic high school, a trauma he had shared with the bishop."
Ciolek later left the priesthood. In 2004, he filed a complaint with Church authorities and, in June 2005, concluded an $80,000 settlement agreement involving the New Jersey dioceses of Newark, Trenton and Metuchen.
In July, weeks after McCarrick's serial sexual predation was exposed, Ciolek went public with his account of abuse at the hands of the former cardinal, as well as his former Catholic high school teacher.
But there was an additional component to the story: the Wuerl-Pittsburgh connection.
As reported Saturday, "In an interview with The Post ... Ciolek said for the first time publicly that the settlement included allegations against a third person, a Pittsburgh priest Ciolek says made unwanted sexual contact with him" while he was studying at Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland.
Ciolek revealed that both the diocese of Pittsburgh and then-Bp. Wuerl, "who supervised the priest," were parties to the settlement, though they did not contribute to it financially and did not sign it.
The fact that Wuerl's name appears on the settlement agreement casts doubt on the cardinal's assertion that he knew nothing of McCarrick's crimes until they became public in June.
The archdiocese of Washington did not respond to Church Militant's request for comment Monday, but in a statement to The Washington Post last week, Wuerl spokesman Ed McFadden insisted the cardinal was unaware of the settlement.
"As he has stated consistently," McFadden said, "Cardinal Wuerl had no knowledge of the settlements until the existence of the settlements was made public."
Ciolek, though, said it's "inconceivable" that the three New Jersey dioceses would not have notified Wuerl of the $80,000 settlement involving both McCarrick — the leading U.S. cardinal at that time — as well as one of Wuerl's own priests.
The Post also suggested Saturday that Church authorities in Pittsburgh have been less than transparent about the Ciolek affair. When asked about its role in the settlement, the diocese first issued a statement denying any knowledge it was mentioned in the agreement:
The Diocese of Pittsburgh was surprised to learn in early July 2018 that it was named as a release in the settlement agreement with Mr. Ciolek. The Diocese of Pittsburgh was not a party to this agreement and was not a signatory. ... This summer, when Mr. Ciolek asked the Diocese of Pittsburgh to be released from a confidentiality provision, the diocese responded that since we hadn't signed the agreement we had no authority to release him.
Additionally, diocesan spokeswoman Ann Rodgers insisted no one on staff knew of Ciolek's allegations against his three abusers "until early July 2018."
"But Rodgers's statement appears to conflict with the contents of a 2004 letter between officials with the dioceses of Metuchen and Pittsburgh," The Post observed
The newspaper noted that Ciolek disclosed his abuse in an Aug. 11, 2004 letter to officials in the diocese of Metuchen and confirmed that "Metuchen soon contacted Pittsburgh."
On Aug. 17, 2004, Metuchen Vicar General Msgr. William Benwell wrote a letter to Pittsburgh Auxiliary Bp. William Winter warning him of the predator priest.
When pressed about Benwell's correspondence with Winter, "the diocese issued another statement that didn't directly address the question of whether any other abuser — besides the Pittsburgh priest — came up," The Post reported.
The diocese said only, "The letter did not raise the issue of the Diocese of Pittsburgh being involved in any mediation, and certainly did not mention or invite the Diocese of Pittsburgh to participate in any settlement agreement."
The issue of whether McCarrick's name came up was not addressed.
Ciolek recalled that, in October 2004, he met with the diocesan review board to discuss his alleged abuse at the hands of the Pittsburgh priest, but does not remember if he mentioned McCarrick.
Recently, though, he contacted the diocese to review the notes from the session. Pittsburgh refused, telling him they were "privileged" documents. When The Washington Post followed up with its own request, the diocese again refused.
Pittsburgh's refusal flies in the face of Bp. David Zubik's repeated claims that the diocese is a model of transparency and action. In a press conference following the Aug. 14 release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report — in which he and Wuerl were both repeatedly named — Zubik insisted that the diocese was on the right track.