Fr. Gerald E. Murray: An Open Letter to Theodore McCarrick

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*Image: The Kiss of Judas by Lodovico Carracci, c. 1600 [Princeton University Art Museum]

By Fr. Gerald E. Murray, First Things, Sept. 19, 2018

Fr. Gerald E. Murray

Excellency, You stand at the center of a devastating and spiraling crisis in the Church triggered in large measure by your past and present behavior. In your statement published by the Archdiocese of Washington on June 20th, you incredibly maintained your innocence of the two charges of sexual molestation brought by a former minor seminarian of the Archdiocese of New York, claiming you had “absolutely no recollection of this reported abuse, and believe in [your] innocence.”

An innocent man does not “believe” he’s innocent. He knows he’s innocent, and no one would expect him to have a recollection of something he didn’t do. You stated that you were “sorry for the pain the person who brought the charges has gone through, as well as for the scandal such charges cause our people.”

If you did not molest this teenager, then your accuser could not have experienced pain caused by you. Your sorrow should only have been for yourself at having to suffer a false accusation of criminal turpitude by someone you had never molested.

You further stated that, when Cardinal Dolan informed you of the charges, you “fully cooperated in the process.” If you mean that you told the whole truth, then I suggest that it’s time that you come forward to explain yourself to the People of God. Your truthful public testimony now is absolutely necessary for the good of the Church – and your own soul.

I say this because, as reported in a New York Times article, you were also accused of the repeated sexual molestation of the son of a personal friend. You baptized this boy, James, shortly after you were ordained in 1958. The molestation began when he was eleven, and went on for twenty years, according to your accuser. What was your response to this new accusation? Did you issue another statement denying the charges? No, you resigned from the College of Cardinals. Pope Francis accepted your resignation shortly after.

Your resignation is an admission of guilt. No innocent man would have written the pope asking him to accept his resignation from the College of Cardinals. But this act of partial self-punishment isn’t enough. It isn’t sufficient to repair the damage you have done, or to vindicate the truthfulness of the victims you have gravely harmed.

Pope Francis informed you that you must live “a life of prayer and penance until the accusations made against [you] are examined in a regular canonical trial.” When this trial will take place is unknown.

Why put the Church through the continued agony caused by your refusal to come clean publicly and admit your crimes? Why have you not seen fit, in the sight of God, to go before the world and beg pardon from your many victims, apologize for the scandal to the faithful and to stunned non-Catholics who assumed you were a true servant of Christ, and ask Pope Francis that you be removed from the priesthood?

The Church entrusted to you the dignity of being priest and bishop, and you used them to prey sexually upon innocent young men. You accepted the high honor of becoming a cardinal knowing full well that at any moment your history of homosexual molestation and abuse of authority could be revealed, thus bringing disgrace upon you and upon anyone in authority who, whether believing or doubting reports of such evil behavior, protected you over the years.

You misused your priestly status to gain access to, and then coerce, Catholic boys, seminarians, and priests to participate in immoral acts that caused them serious harm. You left victims all along the way.

Now that you have been exposed, you have retreated into a silence that is only a further instance of your lifelong pattern of deception and deceit.

For the good of your soul and the Church, you must end your cowardly silence and step before the world and tell the truth about your crimes, and about your misuse of your high position.

You need to answer Archbishop Viganò’s charges. You alone can confirm or deny many things that he has alleged: Did Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the nuncio in Washington, tell you that Pope Benedict had directed you to leave the seminary where you were living in retirement; that you were forbidden to celebrate Mass in public, to participate in public meetings, to give lectures, to travel, and were under the obligation of dedicating yourself to a life of prayer and penance?

Did the next nuncio, Archbishop Viganò, repeat these papal commands to you? Did these conversations happen or not? If they did not happen, why then did you move out of the seminary and into a parish rectory?

If they did not happen, then why did you tell Archbishop Viganò, whom you met by chance at the pope’s residence, that Pope Francis was sending you to China? Why would he care about your travel plans, unless he had told you that you were forbidden to travel, and now you wanted him to know this was no longer case?

If Archbishop Viganò is telling the truth, why did you disregard Pope Benedict’s directions? When you met with Pope Francis after his election, did you speak to him about these restrictions? Did Pope Francis himself indicate any prior knowledge of or release you from these restrictions?

Excellency, the good of the Church and your own true good are inseparable in the current situation. Your complete and truthful public mea culpa is the best thing to do if you want to promote the welfare of the Church and help to resolve this crisis.

As a priest ordained for the same archdiocese as you were, I ask you to remember the priestly mission you received on the day of your ordination at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. You have one last opportunity to make up in part for decades of perfidious behavior, and to act now to advance that mission by truthfully serving Christ and the Church.


*Image: The Kiss of Judas by Lodovico Carracci, c. 1600 [Princeton University Art Museum]

Fr. Gerald E. Murray

Fr. Gerald E. MurrayThe Rev. Gerald E. Murray, J.C.D. is a canon lawyer and the pastor of Holy Family Church in New York City.