The US Church faces its worst scandal since the days of Cardinal Law

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has been removed from public ministry following a “credible and substantiated” accusation of fondling a 16-year-old male. This was followed by reports that the 87-year-old Archbishop Emeritus of Washington was, for many years, a chronic violator of the law of clerical celibacy – inviting young men to his beachfront property and asking them to call him “Uncle Ted” before he seduced them. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, as the Archbishop of New York (where some of the abuse is alleged to have taken place), has been charged by Pope Francis with leading the investigation. If the allegations are confirmed, it will be the worst sex scandal the American Church has faced since the days of Boston’s Cardinal Bernard Law, who covered up terrible crimes but was not himself accused of abuse.

The scandal is unlikely to be confined to McCarrick. These dramatic developments raise questions about senior colleagues of a prelate – some of them still in high office – whose activities were apparently an open secret. How much did they know?

According to Richard Sipe, an expert on clerical sex abuse who interviewed the cardinal’s alleged victims, McCarrick began seducing young priests and even seminarians in the 1970s and 1980s when he served as an auxiliary bishop in New York. Twelve men told Sipe that the cardinal “propositioned, harassed, or had sex with them”. The sexual harassment apparently continued while McCarrick was Archbishop of Newark.

The archdiocese has now revealed that it reached financial settlements with two adult complainants. McCarrick served in Newark from 1986 to 2000 when Pope John Paul II made him Archbishop of Washington.

Disturbingly, several reports suggest that priests and lay people flew to Rome to warn the Vatican about McCarrick’s behaviour, both before and after he was ensconced in the nation’s capital. These warnings were evidently ignored.

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