The Vatican’s report on ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick revealed the previously unknown contents of six anonymous letters accusing him of pedophilia that were sent to U.S. church leaders in the early 1990s and later forwarded to the Holy See.
New York’s then-archbishop, Cardinal John O’Connor, forwarded them to the Vatican in 1999, shortly before he died, along with a six-page confidential memo in which he recommended McCarrick not be promoted to any important U.S. diocese because of a “scandal of great proportions” that would erupt if the allegations became public.
The 449-page report also included testimony from a woman identified only as “Mother 1” who told Vatican investigators she, too, tried to raise the alarm with anonymous letters in the 1980s when McCarrick was bishop in Metuchen, New Jersey, after she saw McCarrick “massaging (her sons’) inner thighs” at her home.
The woman said she sent the letters to members of the ecclesiastical hierarchy “expressing her distress about McCarrick’s conduct with minors,” and she believed they “may have been thrown aside” because they were anonymous.
Jeff Anderson, an attorney for several of McCarrick’s accusers, said at a news conference Tuesday that he also represents two people in the woman’s family and criticized the church for turning a blind eye to the warning.
There is “no evidence in this report or anyplace else that that account, that warning, that detailed, courageous effort by that mom in approximately 1984 was even investigated,” Anderson said. “Nobody looked. Nobody asked.”
The other anonymous letters, which were sent in 1992-1993, were addressed to top U.S. church leaders, the bishops conference and the Vatican’s ambassador to the U.S., who reported that he had destroyed them upon receipt.
The Vatican has long ignored anonymous reports about abuse, insisting on receiving signed complaints before initiating any investigation. And the U.S. bishops conference had a policy forbidding the use of anonymous allegations as the basis to start abuse investigations, while requiring the information be passed onto the accused prelate.
The Vatican has now changed that policy for the universal church: According to a new manual issued earlier this year, anonymous reports can be used to justify opening a probe.
In late 1992, O’Connor received the anonymous, handwritten letter, postmarked in Newark, New Jersey, and addressed to “NCCB members,” a reference to the bishops conference.
Written in capital letters, it said: “A SCANDAL INVOLVING AN ARCHBISHOP LOOMS! NCCB HAS BEEN RELUCTANT TO ADDRESS THE PROBLEM, THOUGH HIS MISCONDUCT HAS BEEN COMMON KNOWLEDGE IN CLERICAL AND RELIGIOUS CIRCLES FOR YEARS.”
The letter added that “SUBSTANTIAL” charges against McCarrick, including “PEDOPHILIA OR INCEST,” would “SHATTER THE AMERICAN CHURCH.”
The report says O’Connor forwarded it to McCarrick, who thanked him and suggested an investigation to determine its author. McCarrick also told O’Connor he had shared it “with some of our friends in the FBI.”
“I am afraid he is a sick person and someone who has a lot of hate in his heart,” McCarrick said of the unnown sender.
Received by O’Connor in early 1993, it said McCarrick “POSTURES AS A HUMBLE SERVANT” and “ADVOCATE OF FAMILY LIFE AND FAMILY VALUES,” but was in fact “A CUNNING PEDOPHILE.”
The letter added that church officials in Rome and the U.S. had “KNOWN FOR DECADES OF MC CARRICK’S PROCLIVITY FOR YOUNG BOYS.”
McCarrick responded to O’Connor that then-Cardinal Joseph Bernardin “had already been kind enough” to alert him about a letter from “my ‘secret admirer.’”
According to the report, McCarrick wrote on the same date to Archbishop Agostino Cacciavillan, the Vatican’s ambassador to the U.S., advising him of the letters “attacking my reputation” and describing them as “obviously very annoying.”
Sent in early 1993 and signed by a “follower of Christ,” it struck an even more urgent tone.
“WITH THE ROCK OF CLERICAL CREDIBILITY SHATTERED, ALL SORTS OF EVILS ARE CRAWLING OUT INTO THE LIGHT. ARCHBISHOP THEODORE McCARRICK’S SEXUAL MISCONDUCT WILL BE REVEALED,” the letter stated.
O’Connor sent a copy to McCarrick, according to the report, with a handwritten note: “This stuff drives me crazy. I hate to send it to you, but would want you to do the same for me.”
Another church leader who received the letter later told McCarrick he had destroyed his copies.
Also from early 1993, it called McCarrick’s conduct “an abomination” that took place “in cathedral residences in Newark and Metuchen.”
“MC CARRICK USES THE PRIESTHOOD FOR OPPORTUNITY AND ACCESS TO YOUNG BOYS BY INGRATIATING HIMSELF WITH THEIR FAMILIES … SEXUALLY EXPLOITING THEM WHILE THEIR TRUSTING FAMILIES GENUFLECT BEFORE HIM,” the letter read.
It called for an “honest internal investigation.”
Sent later in 1993 to the Vatican envoy, it included a 1992 article published by McCarrick in the Catholic Advocate, the Newark Archdiocese’s newspaper, about its policies on sexual abuse.
It accused him of pedophilia and said his words were full of “deadly deceit.” According to the report, there is no evidence any other church leaders received this note.
Addressed to the Vatican ambassador, O’Connor and other leaders in mid-1993, it asked why McCarrick would allow another priest who committed sexual abuse into the diocese.
“The answer is simple — Bishop McCarrick himself is a pedophile,” it said.
An attorney at the National Council of Catholic Bishops forwarded the letter and it later reached McCarrick.
That was the last of the anonymous letters, according to the Vatican report, and there is no record of other, similar messages at that time. It is not known whether they were written by the same person or by multiple people acting either in concert or independently.
“Given the prior exemplary reports of Archbishop McCarrick’s moral fitness from ecclesiastical sources and the absence of named complaints … the anonymous letters appear to have been viewed as libelous attacks made for improper political or personal motives,” the Vatican report concluded.
Associated Press writers Nicole Winfield in Rome and Sarah Rankin in Richmond, Virginia contributed to this report.
Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through the Religion News Foundation. The AP is solely responsible for this content.