My Time in the Seminary of a Disgraced, Vile, and Evil Former Cardinal, Part 2

I really have to come up with a better title than this.  The problem is that I do not want to use that man’s name if I don’t have to.  I had thought of “The McCarrick Mess” or something like that.  Give me your suggestions.

Following up on the last account I shared…

I received a comment on my Facebook page from a priest I know who was a few years ahead of me in the same seminary.  He was surprised to hear of these things having taken place at that clergy institute.  My supposition is that the priest who ran that institute was in declining health and the diocesan powers-that-be were attempting a takeover.  That institute was his and they knew it.  And this brings me to a story I want to share about something else that happened there that summer.

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West tower of the Cathedral Basilica in Newark

I mentioned that it was a six week program.  Toward the end of my first week I developed a toothache that got worse as we headed into the weekend.  Motrin wasn’t cutting it for the pain.  I mentioned to the priest who ran the place.  Not wanting to use names I’m going to refer to him as Msgr. Cotton.  Some readers will immediately know why.  His advice to me was to get the problem taken care of and take whatever time I needed before returning.  As I recall I saw my dentist that Friday afternoon and was told I needed a root canal.  He referred me to an endodontist and by that evening I thought the problem was fixed.  However, the doctor had missed something and wound up drilling into the wrong tooth.  By Saturday afternoon the pain was back only now it was compounded because a second tooth had been drilled.

In the interest of time I will say that I did not return to the institute that Sunday night.  I phoned Cotton and told him I would be going back to the dentist Monday morning.  He was fine with this.  Told me he knew where I was and that all was fine from his end.  As it turns out, that one mistake by the dentist created a nightmare that last all week.  When I went back he performed a root canal on the correct tooth but by now an infection had set in.  Three more times that week I was in the chair having teeth drilled, trying to get to the root of the excruciating pain.  Finally by Friday night the dentist (through his 24 hour service line) figured it out and called in an antibiotic.  Within minutes the pain was gone.  I returned to the institute that Sunday night.  Keep in mind that I had been in contact throughout the week with Cotton.  It is also important to note that most people did not have cell phones yet – this was 2000 – and that the other priests from the seminary could not be reached.  I had called them as well during the week but none of them saw fit to return my messages.

“What do I do then,” I asked him.

Then came the most comical and yet chilling words I have ever heard from a person in a position of authority.

“Can you pass out?”

On the Monday morning of my first week back at the institute Cotton approached me and asked me to take a walk with him.  This man was phenomenal.  I always saw him as a solid priest and a good man.  A priest of a diocese in Connecticut, he had headed up the formation faculty at my seminary for a number of years.  He had a background in psychology and understood human nature.  He was kind, considerate, and very spiritual.  He was also, as we would come to find out, in the final years of his earthly life.

“You know,” he said as we stepped out on the patio and walked toward the beach, “they’re coming for you.”  I was confused.  “Who’s coming for me?” I asked him.  “The rector and his men,” came his reply.

He explained that they had determined that I was simply absent without permission for a week and needed to be disciplined for this.  He told me that he had tried to set them straight, that he himself knew where I was and had effectively granted me permission to be absent.  But this was not good enough for them.  In my heart I believe that was the moment I began to realize that I had simply run afoul of the rector for God knows what and that I was to be shown a lesson and put in my place.

Cotton told me that he didn’t know when they’d arrive but that he would try his best to be present with me and to set them straight again.  He said that he would advocate for me.  “Unfortunately,” he added, “they know I have a meeting up in Newark that I can’t miss and I suspect they will wait to speak to you until I’m gone.”

“What do I do then,” I asked him.

Then came the most comical and yet chilling words I have ever heard from a person in a position of authority.

“Can you pass out?”

“I’m sorry?” I said, beyond puzzled.

“Can you faint?  On command?  Can you pass out?  They can’t do anything to you if you’re unconscious,” he said with the straightest face.

I could hardly believe that I was being given the advice to pretend to faint so that I wouldn’t have to listen to whatever nonsense they were going to pull.  I was so confused.

Well, exactly as he had predicted, they waited for him to leave before trapping me in a room – four priests and me – and reading me the riot act for having being absent without leave.  I tried my best to defend myself.  Told them they had their “facts wrong”.  I even brought up that I had left messages that had gone unreturned.  But what really set the rector over the edge was when I said this: “So you were so concerned for my safety during a seven day period of time that you never actually investigated where I was?  You didn’t call my parents, didn’t notify anyone.  In your eyes I simply vanished without a trace yet you didn’t file a report with the State Police?”  Oh, he didn’t like that.  Of course he didn’t.  It proved my point that they knew exactly where I was the whole time.  I was told that the matter needed to end right there and that I was not to speak again (either about the incident or to speak anymore in this particular meeting).  Cosa nostra, anyone?

I look back on that night and realize that was the beginning of the end for me in that seminary.  I saw Cotton the next day and told him what had happened.  “I know,” he said, “I asked around.”  He apologized to me and asked me not to let it color my judgment.  I think he was trying to safeguard my vocation and didn’t want this to be the thing that sent me packing.

Believe me.  It was going to get a lot worse.

Pray for the Church.

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