I just read an article this evening by Elizabeth Bruenig, an opinion columnist at the Washington Post. It’s the story of a young man who went through the same seminary as I did. He was ordained a priest by Theodore McCarrick, and ultimately left the priesthood. He was one of Uncle Ted’s sexual abuse victims.
The story made me incredibly sad and incredibly angry at the same time.
That man, Michael Reading, could have been me or any of my friends. Kudos to Bruenig for getting that story. And kudos to George Neumayr of American Spectator for the incredible work he’s been doing. At times, I feel like he’s a lone voice in the wilderness. He’s doing what we used to call reporting. If you are able, please consider contributing to fund his investigative efforts as I did.
One thing in that article that brought it home to me so immediately was the following line.
“But McCarrick’s demeanor made [Fr. Boniface] Ramsey ill at ease. “He used nicknames,” Ramsey said, “even if he didn’t know you so well. He called me Bonny. It was an almost unconscious exercise of power. . . . It felt condescending.”
Teddy McCarrick sure did like his nicknames. Almost from the first moment I met him in my parish sacristy he addressed me by a nickname and that nickname remained with me until the last time I spoke with him. He was beyond the shadow of a doubt on a power trip. We were told that it was how he remembered everyone’s name. In other words, this was a trick that important people made use of and we were to admire it and even try to emulate it if we were so “gifted”.
To that I say, recalling my Jersey roots: “Fuck off, Teddy.”
Speaking of New Jersey, boy was that man diabolical in going after the victims he chose. I say “speaking of Jersey” because he’s lucky no one ever once let loose on him the way my homies in Newark were famous for. To start with, we were all men. No grown man wants to ever admit that another man has sexually assaulted him. He picked men over whom he had ecclesial power. Most of the men in that situation would go on to say “He had my ordination in his hands. Who could I have told?” I can’t judge them except to say that it’s beyond unfortunate that they didn’t think of the other men he would assault made possible by everyone’s silence.
Then again, remember… I was a smoker. Even though I didn’t know it, he was never coming after me. I can’t repeat this line enough to you. Raping your subordinates is cool but lighting a fag is gross. But as you will see when I tell you how it all ended for me, God granted me courage when I needed it. In the end, I DID stand up to these men and it cost me dearly. It also proved to be the greatest blessing I could have imagined. More on that later.
For now, let me recount another in the string of bizarre incidents I witnessed as a seminarian.
By November of my first year in the major seminary I had settled in. I was doing well in all my classes, had made friends with my classmates, and had truly gotten used to the idea of becoming a priest. This was made easier by the fact that men in major seminaries are required to wear the Roman collar, that is, to dress like priests.
One man with whom I had become friends was a former naval psyche nurse. He had served in the First Gulf War. He was from a diocese on Long Island. I never questioned why he had come all the way over to New Jersey to study. I discovered a few years earlier that, for some men, choosing a diocese was an ongoing game of finding out who had the best offers. For instance, this diocese gave you health insurance and a stipend, that diocese would forgive your student loans. And then again some men just didn’t get along with their own bishop or the priests in their diocese. This particular man was funny, thoughtful, and indeed possessed of a personal holiness. I suspected he was gay but that he didn’t act on it. I also suspected he might just be slightly effeminate. I did not know but I didn’t spend much time wondering. We had been conspicuously taught that it didn’t matter what your orientation was because we were all called to be celibate. Of course, almost no one was living that way as it turns out. In any event, this man and I got along great and I had a high regard for him.
One afternoon I returned from class to find a notice on the board. “All First Theologians are to report to the second floor lounge in full clerics for a meeting with Archbishop McCarrick at 3PM today.”
No one had any clue why.
After lunch and some downtime I headed with my 10 classmates to the lounge. We sat around waiting a few minutes. My friend seemed anxious. And then McCarrick entered the room. We all rose out of respect for his office. Then we took our seats. He proceeded to give us a talk. He spent about five minutes saying that “These things are terrible when they happen to anyone but that they also build strength and especially among a group of men.” I distinctly remember him saying “Still, it’s a hell of a thing to have to go through.”
And then he left.
I looked around and realized that everyone was as confused as I was. “What the hell was he talking about?” I asked. No one knew. Except my friend. I turned to see him with his head down, sobbing. Listen, my mother raised me to be compassionate. It’s in my nature. I don’t care who you are or what you’ve done. If I see you in that kind of state I’m going to do what I did next. I walked over to him, put my hand on his shoulder and said “I don’t know what just happened but it obviously happened to you. I’m so sorry for you. Please let me know if there’s anything I can do.” Then he stood up and we hugged.
He was gone that night.
True to his thoughtful nature, I still received a birthday card from him every year for several years running. I reached out but never heard from him other than those cards. I pray for him still. All I could ever surmise based on some other clues was that this man, perhaps due to his mannerisms and build, had been abused in some sexual way by other seminarians. McCarrick’s answer was to come in like a tornado and quash the hint of scandal, tell us we were all a band of brothers and we’d get through it, and then leave. Whether my friend left on his own or was forced out I can’t say.
And after reading what I just wrote, reliving that meeting for the first time in many years in my mind, the feelings I have for McCarrick now border on hate.
More to come.
Pray for the Church