VATICAN CITY - The highest-ranking American at the Vatican insisted Tuesday he never knew or even suspected that his former boss reportedly sexually abused boys and adult seminarians, telling The Associated Press he is livid that he was kept in the dark because he would have done something about it.
Cardinal Kevin Farrell, head of the Vatican's family and laity office, spoke as the U.S. church hierarchy has come under fire from ordinary American Catholics outraged that ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick's misconduct with men was apparently an open secret in some U.S. church circles.
An open letter Tuesday in the conservative Catholic magazine First Things urged Catholics to withhold diocesan donations to the U.S. church until an independent investigation determines which U.S. bishops knew about McCarrick's misdeeds - a “nuclear option” aimed at making the laity's sense of betrayal heard and felt.
Some of that outrage has been directed at Farrell, who was consecrated as a bishop by McCarrick in 2001 and served as his vicar general in the archdiocese of Washington until McCarrick's 2006 retirement. Some Catholic commentators have speculated that Farrell must have at least heard the same rumors that some Catholic laity, students and professors at Catholic University in Washington and even some journalists had heard.
Farrell lived in the same building as McCarrick and other priests and bishops, a converted school building off Dupont Circle, the top floor of which serves as a residence for Washington clergy. But Farrell said he never heard any rumors about his boss' penchant for young men, or suspected anything.
“That might be hard for somebody to believe, but if that's the only thing on your mind, well then you'll focus on that. I was focused on running the archdiocese. What Cardinal McCarrick was doing here, there and everywhere and all over the world, didn't enter into my daily routine of running the archdiocese of Washington,” he said.
“At no time did anyone ever approach me and tell me. And I was approached by over 70 victims of abuse [in different cases] from all over the United States after 2002,” when the U.S. sex abuse scandal first erupted, Farrell told the AP his office's reception room.
“Never once did I even suspect,” he said. “Now, people can say 'Well you must be a right fool that you didn't notice.' I must be a right fool, but I don't think I am. And that's why I feel angry.”
Pope Francis on Saturday accepted McCarrick's resignation as a cardinal and ordered him to live a lifetime of penance and prayer pending the outcome of a canonical trial for the sex abuse.
McCarrick, 88, was initially removed from public ministry in June after U.S. church officials determined that an accusation that he fondled a teenage altar server in New York in the 1970s was “credible and substantiated.”
Since then, another man identified only as James has come forward saying that McCarrick first exposed himself to him when he was 11 and then engaged in a sexually abusive relationship with him for the next 20 years. McCarrick has denied the initial accusation but hasn't responded to James' accusations.
At the time of the June 20 announcement about McCarrick, the New Jersey archdioceses of Newark and Metuchen revealed that they had received three complaints from adults alleging misconduct and harassment by McCarrick and had settled two of them.
It was apparently no secret that McCarrick sometimes invited seminarians to his New Jersey beach house and into his bed, suggesting that some in the U.S. hierarchy knew of his misconduct but turned a blind eye. Certainly the New Jersey bishops who handled the settlements in 2005 and 2007 knew.
In addition, a group of concerned American Catholics reportedly traveled to the Vatican in 2000 to warn Vatican officials of McCarrick's harassment and misconduct, but he was still appointed Washington archbishop and made a cardinal in 2001.
Farrell said he never knew anything about a beach house and seminarians, and that no one ever presented any accusation to the Washington archdiocese, which from 2002 onwards was deluged with claims from victims of sexually abusive priests.
“If there were a complaint, it would have come and I would have discussed it with the [archdiocesan] chancellor, who was a woman at the time, a woman who was in charge of victims and in charge of all the telephone calls we would get,” he said.
The current archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, has said that a review of archdiocesan records showed no complaints about McCarrick.
“There is no record there,” Farrell told the AP. “Because I would know about it.”