As a sexual abuse survivor, I wasn’t looking forward to reading the Vatican’s report on former U.S. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick — especially since the document was released on the eve of my own abuser’s birthday, an anniversary I normally try to forget.
But read it I did, all 461 pages, including footnotes that at points took up more space than the actual narrative. “Why are you doing this to yourself?” a friend asked, suggesting that I rely on news summaries of the report, or ignore it altogether.
I posed the same question more than a few times as I scrolled through the file on my tablet, poring over the text with both evening tea and morning coffee. I was grateful for the introduction’s warning that the specific offenses detailed “could prove traumatizing” for an abuse survivor and “should be approached with caution.” And those passages did indeed provoke flashbacks from my own experiences of being molested by a family member. Yet I was determined to leave no sentence of the report unread, even though, to be honest, I’m still not completely sure why.
“It’s just one more horrible report on clerical sex abuse,” another friend said. “I hope you’re not expecting any new revelations.”
Actually, I wasn’t; instead, what I found were confirmations.
I knew all too well the paralyzing fear felt by a cleric McCarrick groped during a private dinner at a Newark catering hall, a brazen assault witnessed by two bishops and a monsignor. Although they could clearly see the young man’s “terrified” expression, they themselves were too stunned to confront an apparently intoxicated McCarrick, who moments earlier had pounded the table and declared that he “deserved” to be made cardinal of New York.
I felt the sickened shock of “Mother 1” when she discovered McCarrick (who had eagerly befriended her family) doing the same to her sons as they sat on either side of “Uncle Ted” in her living room. She told the report investigators she’d nearly fainted; the boys’ father, unable to fathom that a priest could harm a child, had said nothing.
My own flesh crawled at the thought of seminarians being manipulated to share a bed with McCarrick on any number of his now infamous seaside vacations and fishing trips.
And while his victims were left to wrestle with shame, self-doubt, anger and betrayal, McCarrick rose to prominence — serving on countless committees, traveling the world, conferring with international leaders, speaking to the press, publishing commentaries and writing to Rome and to everyone in between about his humble and devoted service to the Catholic Church and to humanity itself.
Despite long-running rumors of his own admitted “imprudence” with seminarians, he was sought after for his multilingual skills, intense work ethic and boundless energy. According to the report, he resisted efforts to curtail his jet-setting schedule, claiming more than once he was simply too needed and too important for a host of projects that spanned the globe.
But sexual abuse has a way of stopping time: for both victim and perpetrator, there is a reckoning. In the end (as one wise archbishop has often said), God will do what he will do.
Even though Mother 1’s anonymous, handwritten letters to church officials were ignored.
Even though the hierarchy struggled, stumbled and at times stonewalled in handling complaints about McCarrick.
Even though too many of the former cardinal’s victims kept silent for decades out of fear they would face disbelief or retaliation, or both.
And even though to this day McCarrick himself denies any sexual impropriety — there is nonetheless a reckoning.
Now it has come.
And it’s our mission, as the Body of Christ on earth, to make sure that another is never needed again.
Gina Christian is a senior content producer at CatholicPhilly.com, host of the Inside CatholicPhilly.com podcast and author of the forthcoming book “Stations of the Cross for Sexual Abuse Survivors.” Follow her on Twitter at @GinaJesseReina.
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