I have lived this incredible life God gave me for 40 years and I still have no idea how to tell these stories. I am not referring to the lighthearted tales of what it’s like to be a dad to two awesome kids or the experiences I’ve had with my beautiful and amazing wife. Those are easy to write. The later chapter of my life has brought me such joy, and love is diffusive, and so I write and the words flow freely.
But there was a chapter upon which I still look back with such mixed thoughts and feelings. In fact, for many years I did not really want to talk about that time in my life at all except with the closest of allies because I just knew that no one in his right mind would believe it.
The period of time spanned between 1996 and 2001. During that time I was a seminarian of the Archdiocese of Newark, NJ. My archbishop was Theodore Edgar McCarrick.
That’s probably a good beginning, right? Half of you reading this will immediately think you know where I’m going with this, what with the current crisis in the Catholic Church. However, I may disappoint you in that regard. You see, although I knew McCarrick personally, he never once approached me for anything sexual in nature. No, I recently found out why. According to a published report of about a month ago, McCarrick detested smokers. I smoked. Wow. The few years I may have shortened my life at the back end are surely worth it in that light.
In fact, I never even heard the rumors in my time in both the college seminary or the major seminary. I heard bits and pieces of things that, upon reflection only now make sense to me. Yet in spite of that (and perhaps because of it) I still believe every word of every accusation against the man because, to me, it now all makes sense.
And this is the abuse that so many of us suffered. I would never want to denigrate the experience of anyone who suffered sexual abuse and my heart breaks for them every day. Some of these men were my classmates and friends and a man we looked up to as a father molested and sodomized his sons. But he abused us all and by all I mean every Roman Catholic with a modicum of faith. I’m talking here about the daily mass-goers, the ones on the line for confession every Saturday afternoon, the people who take seriously that this is Christ’s Body and who love and respect that Body.
He abused every one of us.
He lied, he robbed men of their innocence, he killed vocations, he endangered lives. We know all that know. I just had to make sure that all of you, my readers, are on the same page as me. By the way, if you’re not – that is, if you disagree with my premise – close your browser or find some other blog. If you’re still with me here’s what I’d like to do…
Since the five years of my seminary life could not be captured in one post; I want to share snapshots of different memories I have from that time. I do this to give you a more complete picture of what life in the McCarrick system was like. If it seems strange to you, remember it was even more bizarre to me and I lived it. If you stay with me I’d like to walk you right up to the moment when I got kicked out of that seminary and explain to you how the people who love me protected me and helped me back on my feet. And if you’re willing to accept it, keep in mind that when the dust settled in the fall of 2001 I was a young man of 23.
He abused every one of us.
My first story takes place at the Jersey shore. No, I was never at the infamous beach house. As I mentioned, they didn’t have any ashtrays there. Apparently it’s OK to rape your subordinates but smoking is disgusting. And please forgive me if I take a few lines here and there to explain certain things. The structure of the Church is not something with which most people, even Catholics, are familiar.
In the summer of 2000 I was in between what is called First Theology and Second Theology. The third and fourth years of a major seminary are called? Yeah, you got this one. A major seminary, by the way, is the graduate seminary. In other words, it’s akin to med school, the last four to five years of study before ordination. The focus is on the academic study of theology and the final formation of the man in question to be conformed to Christ. Subsequently, our seminary (like most) had two overlapping faculties. There was the academic faculty (the professors) and the formation faculty (those priests responsible for keeping an eye on us to make sure we were developing into good and holy men. The formation faculty would also ultimately decide your fate because they made the recommendation to the rector (the guy in charge) whether to advance you each year. As we learned (and I did witness this firsthand, if the rector rejected a particular candidate and McCarrick “liked” the guy he’d end up in a different seminary and simply be inserted into the line at the cathedral during the ordination mass.
This particular summer my class were instructed to attend a six-week long workshop at a retreat house on the beach in Long Branch, NJ. The head of the formation faculty had started an institute for ongoing clergy formation a few years earlier and we the seminarians, as part of our own “formation” were mandated to attend, living at the retreat center during the week and sitting in on the talks. We were also out to work and on more than one occasion I was given the task of driving speakers from Newark Airport down the shore. There were hundreds of different priests each week in attendance. They came from all over the world. Many of them were pleasant men who appeared to live holy lives. They came to hear the speakers and to spend a little time in the sun. The speakers included luminaries like Avery Dulles. This was a big deal. Every session was recorded (audio) and to accomplish this, a young man was hired from a production company in Pennsylvania. We got to know him because he was fairly young (early 20’s) and was very interested in discussing the Catholic faith with the seminarians as he was not Catholic but had thoughts of entering the Church. He was also a smoker.
But it was also obvious by the second week that there was a not-so-subtle contingent of openly homosexual priests who had come for the cruising. Every night the main conference room became the bar. I have no problem with dinking and I’m not puritanical in my mindset. Having a cocktail hour each evening during a week-long conference is fine. What is not fine is when the men gathered at said cocktail hour are discussing their plans for who they’re going to go back to bed with.
I believe I was supposed to tend bar on some of these nights but I really didn’t care. By this point in the game I was getting tired and something didn’t feel right in my gut about what I was seeing. So I’d step out onto the patio to smoke while watching the familiar Atlantic tide come wash ashore in the distance. Misery loves company and most of the time a small group of my fellow seminarians would join me.
One such man was a bit older. He was in between Third and Fourth Theology. He had been raised in mainland China and had escaped with his family in his teenage years. He still spoke with an accent. Remember the audio guy I mentioned? Seems my Chinese pal might have witnessed some things he shouldn’t have and he was thoroughly disgusted by it. He blurted out the following: “I just don’t get it. Why can’t they just reave the kid arone?” I chuckled a bit at his misplaced “r’s” for “l’s” and then asked what he meant. He was talking about the sound guy and a cadre of old priests who had been assailing him for his good looks. They had followed him around for the week in a leering and disgusting manner, chatting him up. My Chinese friend added “I mean, why don’t they just f*$k each other? Reave the kid arone!”
Now, does THAT give you a glimpse into seminary life at that time? Not what you were thinking, is it? Don’t worry. I’ve got plenty more to tell and hopefully it will all come together for you.
Pray for the Church.