Theodore McCarrick, one of the U.S. Catholic Church’s most influential clerics until he was accused a year ago of abusing boys and young men, denied in an interview published Tuesday that he abused someone in the confessional — a charge for which the Vatican defrocked him.
McCarrick spoke briefly to Ruth Graham of Slate for the piece, which profiles the life of the toppled church leader now that he’s been relegated to living in a friary in the small town of Victoria in western Kansas.
McCarrick served as archbishop of Washington until 2006, then became a globe-trotting fundraiser and diplomat. He has been almost silent publicly since the Vatican made global, shocking news in June 2018 by announcing he’d been suspended for a credible charge of fondling an altar boy decades ago. McCarrick that summer issued a simple denial but said he accepted the punishment — which became final in February this year when he was defrocked, the first cardinal laicized for alleged sexual misconduct.
In addition to the altar boy, he was accused of sexual abuse by family friend James Grein, who alleged that McCarrick began molesting him when Grein was 11, and that sexual contact continued into Grein’s adulthood. Several seminarians and young priests also accused McCarrick of inappropriate touching.
McCarrick unexpectedly came to the friary door to speak to Graham, Slate reported, invited her into a small room and denied several of the allegations made against him.
“There was only one accusation he wanted to discuss specifically: James Grein’s allegation that McCarrick had groped him while hearing Grein’s confession,” Slate wrote. “ ‘The thing about the confession, it’s a horrible thing,’ ” he said, sounding suddenly more urgent. ‘I was a priest for 60 years, and I would never have done anything like that. … That was horrible, to take the holy sacrament and to make it a sinful thing.’ ”
Grein’s lawyer, Mitchell Garabedian, alleged in Slate that McCarrick’s denial about the confessional “rings hollow given that McCarrick has shown himself to be a child molester without a conscience.”
The same August day Slate interviewed McCarrick, Grein announced he is suing the archdiocese of New York under a new state law that expands the ability of child sex abuse victims to file lawsuits.
McCarrick also issued a general denial when Slate asked about the cluster of allegations against him.
“I’m not as bad as they paint me,” he said. “I do not believe that I did the things that they accused me of,” he said. The reporter asked how it could be that multiple seminarians described similar stories, about harassing and groping, while at McCarrick’s beach home.
“I think that they were encouraged to do that,” McCarrick told Slate, noting that many other seminarians and clerics visited the home and “never had any problems like that.”
“As for who would have orchestrated such a campaign,” Slate said, McCarrick “declined to name names, but referred vaguely to ‘enemies.’ ”
McCarrick told Graham that he never leaves the friary, not even to enter the basilica next door. He participates in the daily routine, she wrote: “Mass at 7 a.m., a communal breakfast, evening prayers. He spends much of his time in the chapel, he said, and in the library.” He goes to confession once a week.
He told Graham he knows his 60 years as a priest will be remembered not primarily for his work as a shepherd. He happened to be holding mail when she arrived, and he showed her a fundraising appeal he’d received from a Catholic charity.
“The vast majority of the mail I get is looking for some help,” he said. “I don’t have a lot of money, but I try to be helpful. It’s what you’re supposed to do.”