Men who have come forward with allegations of abuse by former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick expressed disgust, frustration and outrage after an internal Vatican report outlined what was known about the clergyman’s behavior — and what was ignored.
“It was very emotional to read. It was very emotional because there were so many opportunities to stop him. So many opportunities to stop him. And maybe my life would be different, maybe I wouldn’t be a victim if someone had,” said John Bellocchio, a New Jersey man who has sued both McCarrick and the Holy See, alleging the prelate abused him in the 1990s when he was a teenager.
In interviews with The Associated Press, Bellocchio and others demanded that the Vatican institute changes to ensure nothing like what was described in Tuesday’s extraordinary report can happen again.
Spanning 449 pages, the internal investigation found that bishops, cardinals and popes downplayed or dismissed multiple reports of sexual misconduct by the now-90-year-old McCarrick, who as one of the highest-ranking, most visible Roman Catholic officials in the U.S. traveled the world and hobnobbed with presidents.
‘You’re almost like a small nut and bolt in this giant machine of predatory behavior’
McCarrick was defrocked by Pope Francis in 2019 after a separate Vatican investigation determined he sexually abused minors as well as adults. An attorney for McCarrick, who now lives as a layman in a residence for priests, declined to comment on the report.
The report detailed the alarm bells that were ignored, excused or dismissed in 1992-93 when six anonymous letters were sent to U.S. church officials and the Vatican’s ambassador to the U.S., alleging McCarrick was a “pedophile” who would sleep in the same bed with young men and boys.
The report contained heartbreaking testimony about McCarrick’s inappropriate behavior, including from a woman identified only as “Mother 1” who told Vatican investigators she also sent anonymous letters in the 1980s when McCarrick was bishop in Metuchen, New Jersey, after she saw McCarrick “massaging (her two sons’) inner thighs” at her home.
“It’s crushing,” said Geoffrey Downs, who in a lawsuit filed in New Jersey accused McCarrick of abusing him when he was a teenager and serving as an altar boy. “It’s just crushing to those of us who went through it because you realize how small and incidental you are to these creatures, predators. You’re almost like a small nut and bolt in this giant machine of predatory behavior.”
Both Bellocchio and Downs suggested the church create lay review boards as a way to give parishoners an actionable role in holding priests accountable.
Bellocchio, who formerly worked as an administrator in Catholic school systems and went on to found a company that trains service dogs, said Francis should consider removing former Pope John Paul II, who took most of the blame in the report, from the calendar of saints. As pontiff, John Paul appointed McCarrick archbishop of Washington, D.C., in 2000, despite having commissioned an inquiry that confirmed he slept with seminarians, according to the report.
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SOURCE: USA Today; The Associated Press, Sarah Rankin