“I HAVE blown the whistle for 30 years without getting anywhere.” Fr Boniface Ramsey, whose remark this was, was told by seminarians in New Jersey that they had been subjected to sexual abuse by “Uncle Ted”, more formally known as the Archbishop of Newark, Theodore McCarrick. In 2000, when McCarrick was appointed Archbishop of Washington, Fr Ramsey warned the US papal nuncio of the allegations. A year later, McCarrick was elevated to cardinal, working till retirement age in 2006. Fr Ramsey was not the first to sound the alarm: a complaint was made as early as 1994. Nor the last: in 2005 the diocese of Metuchen paid a complainant $100,000; in 2007 the archdiocese of Newark paid another, Robert Ciolek, $80,000. One condition of the payments was that neither could speak to the media about the abuse. Further complaints followed, but it was only on 20 June this year that McCarrick announced his enforced resignation from public office and from the College of Cardinals in the face of “credible” evidence that he had abused an altar boy 50 years ago. The statute of limitations means that, like most of the abusers in Pennsylvania, McCarrick will face no state prosecution. The Vatican has ordered him to observe a life of prayer and penance pending a canonical trial.
Another of those who informed on McCarrick was Richard Sipe, the psychotherapist and former Benedictine priest whose phone conversation with reporters on The Boston Globe was reproduced in the film Spotlight. He told them that six per cent of RC priests abused children. Sipe died on 8 August, still fighting the battle to convince the Church that clerical celibacy, observed, he maintained, by only 50 per cent of priests, led to an atmosphere of hypocrisy and secrecy which nurtured and protected paedophiles. He helped to prepare and present 223 actions against clerical abuse.
This is the context for Pope Francis’s apology on Monday — not just the scale of the abuse uncovered in Pennsylvania and suspected elsewhere, but the breathtaking disregard shown by the hierarchy for victims, and the corresponding protection offered to their abusers, even to this day. Pope Francis’s application of words from the Magnificat — “He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted the humble and poor; He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he hath sent empty away” — suggest that, at long last, he has grasped the severity of the problem in his Church. “We feel shame when we realise that our style of life has denied, and continues to deny, the words we recite.” His visit this week to Ireland, where the abuse scandal has decimated congregations and more or less destroyed the Church’s standing, will reinforce this further. As with the Church of England, it has taken the attention of the secular authorities to shock the Church into a realisation of how badly it has got things wrong.