Oh my: Catholic archdioceses admit Wuerl knew of McCarrick abuse allegation in 2004

And so did the Vatican. Both the Washington and Pittsburgh archdioceses of the Catholic Church now acknowledge that — despite a string of denials — Cardinal Donald Wuerl knew of an abuse allegation involving ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick as early as 2004. Wuerl had not only known of it but presided over the process in which the information was disclosed:

An allegation of misconduct against Archbishop Theodore McCarrick was reported to Cardinal Donald Wuerl in 2004, despite Cardinal Wuerl’s insistence he knew nothing about the disgraced ex-cardinal’s alleged sexual misconduct until 2018.

Then-Bishop Wuerl forwarded the report to the apostolic nuncio in Washington, D.C., the Diocese of Pittsburgh said Thursday.

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Washington confirmed to CNA that an allegation against Archbishop McCarrick was presented to Cardinal Wuerl while he served as bishop of Pittsburgh, as part of a complaint made by laicized priest Robert Ciolek. …

During that meeting, “Mr. Ciolek also spoke of his abuse by then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. This was the first time the Diocese of Pittsburgh learned of this allegation,” the statement said. “A few days later, then-Bishop Donald Wuerl made a report of the allegation to the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States.”

At that time, the nuncio or ambassador was Cardinal Gabriel Montalvo Higuera. Cardinal Carlo Maria Vigano would not take over for another seven years, but he apparently knew about McCarrick as well. In his now-famous demand for the resignation of Pope Francis, Vigano alleged that talk of McCarrick’s abuse went back even further to 2000, and that the Vatican had been notified at that time as well:

To dispel suspicions insinuated in several recent articles, I will immediately say that the Apostolic Nuncios in the United States, Gabriel Montalvo and Pietro Sambi, both prematurely deceased, did not fail to inform the Holy See immediately, as soon as they learned of Archbishop McCarrick’s gravely immoral behavior with seminarians and priests. Indeed, according to what Nuncio Pietro Sambi wrote, Father Boniface Ramsey, O.P.’s letter, dated November 22, 2000, was written at the request of the late Nuncio Montalvo. In the letter, FatherRamsey, who had been a professor at the diocesan seminary in Newark from the end of the ’80s until 1996, affirms that there was a recurring rumor in the seminary that the Archbishop “shared his bed with seminarians,” inviting five at a time to spend the weekend with him at his beach house. And he added that he knew a certain number of seminarians, some of whom were later ordained priests for the Archdiocese of Newark, who had been invited to this beach house and had shared a bed with the Archbishop.

The office that I held at the time was not informed of any measure taken by the Holy See after those charges were brought by Nuncio Montalvo at the end of 2000, when CardinalAngelo Sodano was Secretary of State.

The latest revelation provides a significant — if indirect — corroboration of Vigano’s accusations, although long before Francis’ pontificate. It also provides even more room for criticism of Francis’ decision in October to keep Wuerl on as “apostolic administrator” while praising his “nobility” after accepting Wuerl’s resignation as archbishop of Washington DC. The Washington Post offers a brief record of Wuerl’s public denials of knowledge:

In June, he said, “I can report that no claim — credible or otherwise — has been made against Cardinal McCarrick during his time here in Washington.” He denied in that statement and in others knowing about the settlements, and said after the first youth allegation only that he was “shocked and saddened.”

In a July 31 interview in the archdiocesan paper Catholic Standard, Wuerl was asked about “numerous stories or blog posts that repeated long-standing rumors or innuendos that may be out there regarding Archbishop McCarrick.” Wuerl responded, “In the past month, I have seen some of those new public reports. But in my years here in Washington and even before that, I had not heard them. With rumors — especially old rumors going back 30, 40, even 50 years — there is not much we can do unless people come forward to share what they know or what they experienced.”

The first statement carried a curious modifier — “during his time here in Washington” — that looks suspiciously like weasel wording in retrospect. The second statement was comprehensive, however, and now exposed as an outright lie. The Washington archdiocese claims that Wuerl was trying to preserve the confidentiality of Ciolek, but Ciolek himself says it was the lying that made him go public:

In a Jan. 8 email to Fiorentino, Ciolek said he was frustrated that a meeting with Wuerl was put off and then canceled. He told her he had hoped in a face-to-face meeting to thank Wuerl for taking the McCarrick issue to the Vatican’s ambassador in 2004. But he said he also hoped to tell him how hurtful it is — as the victim who brought the sensitive details of the complaint forward 14 years ago — to hear Wuerl publicly deny knowing about McCarrick’s involvement.

“It’s belittling to me as a victim of abuse to have him as a priest and leader of the church to overlook, ignore or lie about what he knows I shared. It’s just beyond disrespectful in terms of what he signals to me when he says those things,” Ciolek said to The Post of Wuerl’s public comments.

“It’s as if I don’t exist. It belittles the significance of the events themselves,” Ciolek said, adding that nothing will change “unless people come forward.”

Once again, the Catholic Church faces a crisis of honesty and trust, and once again it’s of its own making. This episode continues to show that the episcopate cannot be trusted on its own to provide transparency and operational reform, and it bodes ill for the upcoming congress at the Vatican on dealing with abuse. It’s time to clean house — and to impose oversight by the laity on episcopal operations.