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By John DeFilippis, Ph.D.
I will never forget what happened in May of 1993 when the then-archbishop of Newark, Theodore McCarrick, visited my home parish to preside at a special Mass. I had just graduated from college, and given that I was planning to enroll in the seminary later that year, my pastor decided to showcase me by assigning me as lector for the ceremony. The Archbishop arrived, we met, and after Mass we had another brief discussion before he departed.
I asked one of our priests how he thought things went. "I can see that he really liked you," he said. "In fact, I bet you'll be getting a call this summer to visit his shore house. And I'll even bet that you're the seminarian who winds up getting to sleep with the Archbishop."
I was dumbfounded by his statement. However this priest did have an unusual sense of humor, so I dismissed his comment as a bad joke and moved on.
Thankfully, I never got a call that summer. But after entering the seminary in September, I quickly began to learn the ugly truth going on behind the scenes in the archdiocese. Archbishop McCarrick really did have a shore house. He really did invite seminarians to go down on weekends. And he always invited just enough seminarians so that one of them would be forced to sleep with him in his bed.
Over time I came to learn that similar shenanigans were taking place within the walls of the seminary. In fact, Immaculate Conception was derided in other dioceses and given a pejorative moniker: "The Pink Palace." Even the key positions at the archdiocesan chancery were filled by homosexual clergy who were part of the Church's so-called "gay mafia."
One memory that particularly stands out is that of a seminarian who was sexually assaulted. The perpetrator was another seminarian, one involved in a homosexual relationship with an auxiliary bishop. The auxiliary bishop intervened to save his lover and convinced Abp. McCarrick to give the seminarian another chance. So instead of being expelled, the seminarian was assigned to another seminary in order to finish his studies. In 1996, he returned to Newark and was ordained to the priesthood by McCarrick. It was the single greatest travesty I witnessed during my time as a seminarian.
But that travesty would pale in comparison to one that came later, when McCarrick was created a cardinal by Pope John Paul II. It was a virtual magic trick pulled off by a gifted charmer who played the political game as well as anyone.
As bishop of Metuchen, McCarrick earned a reputation for ordaining anyone with "a penis and pulse." He ordained men who had psychological issues, substance abuse issues and a host of other problems. For him it was all about the numbers, and it was the sheer quantity of vocations he brought into the Church that helped catapult him to the seat in Newark.
Once in Newark, McCarrick continued the same strategy. Not only did he ordain men who had issues that made their candidacy for the priesthood questionable at best, he also recruited seminarians from foreign countries who barely spoke English. He even welcomed the Neocatechumenal Way to Newark with open arms and established another seminary just for them. Soon he was ordaining more seminarians to the priesthood than any other diocese in the country.
The rest was accomplished through shameless self-promotion. Wherever the Holy Father went in his travels, McCarrick was there to greet him. He tracked John Paul's movements and had his secretary book plane tickets to meet the Pope in various parts of the world. McCarrick pledged his support and continuously reminded the Pope that he was ordaining more priests than any other bishop in America. Then in 1995, he invited the Holy Father to Newark with the goal of having him preside at a Mass to be held in the Meadowlands. Regrettably, John Paul accepted the invitation.
The Pope's visit to Newark brought McCarrick the exposure he so desperately sought. The Mass at the Meadowlands ― with 83,000 people in attendance ― was a national event that made the front page of The New York Times. McCarrick had now done what no Newark archbishop had done before: convinced the Holy Father himself to visit the Garden State and its population of 3.25 million Catholics.
Shortly after his visit, John Paul designated the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart as a Basilica. This made for another grand ceremony that brought McCarrick even more exposure. Finally, when Cdl. James Hickey retired as archbishop of Washington, D.C. in 2000, the Pope made the decision to appoint his newfound friend to that prestigious seat and created McCarrick a cardinal in 2001.
Obviously Pope John Paul II had no way of knowing what was going on behind the scenes in Newark. Unlike the corporate world, the Church has no real mechanism in place for subordinates to report their superiors for abuse and misconduct. This is what continuously enabled McCarrick to evade just punishment and advance in the hierarchy of the Church.
I wish I could have done something to prevent it all from happening. But I had no evidence to support any claims I might have made. Thus all I could do was wait for a brave soul to come forward and expose McCarrick for the fraud he was.
Thankfully, that brave soul eventually came forward. In fact, at least three of them did. Now their revelations and abuse settlements have become public, and the bell has finally tolled for McCarrick's tainted legacy.
Though my vocation was all but destroyed by the trials and tribulations of "The Pink Palace," I take comfort in knowing that justice has finally been served. Sure, sometimes I wonder what might have been had the "gay mafia" not controlled the archdiocese of Newark. But I have found peace. I only pray that all those who have suffered at the hands of predatory clergy are able to persevere and do the same.