Click here for a lightly edited transcript of the interview with Anne Barrett Doyle of Bishop-Accountability.org
Arun Rath: This is GBH’s All Things Considered. I’m Arun Rath.
Last week, a Massachusetts judge dismissed the criminal charge against Theodore McCarrick, a priest who was once one of the most powerful men in the Catholic Church in America. A former cardinal and bishop, McCarrick had been charged for sexually assaulting a 16-year-old boy in 1974 — one incident in what the victim described as abuse that lasted for years.
McCarrick, now 93, reportedly suffers from dementia, and Judge Paul McCallum of the Dedham District Court found that he was incompetent to stand trial. It seems that in this case, as in so many others, justice is coming very late and sometimes, as in this case, not at all.
Joining us now to talk about this and other cases is Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of Bishop-Accountability.org, which started 20 years ago in Boston. It’s now worldwide and headquartered in Waltham. Anne, thanks for joining us.
Anne Barrett Doyle: Thank you for having me, Arun.
Rath: First off, I can actually read the reaction from the accuser in this case who has been on the record. This is James Grein. He’s a former tennis coach from Northern Virginia and was the victim here. He submitted a statement to the court for that hearing.
He wrote, “I have trouble reconciling the concept that someone who is intelligent and articulate is also not competent to stand trial and answer for his actions. I brought the charges in this matter in the hope of finding justice in this court. Instead, McCarrick walks a free man, and I am left with nothing.”
I know it’s hard to have somebody speak for all of the victims, but what’s, I guess, your reaction to that?
Doyle: It breaks my heart that, yet again, a Catholic bishop who has committed crimes has managed to basically, in a way, outrun the clock — and will not face accountability.
It’s not that I’m saying that he is fit to stand trial. I, of course, am not qualified to judge that, and I trust that the experts for both the prosecution and the defense assessed it accurately. But what we have to be reminded of here is the Catholic hierarchy’s very cynical strategy of cover-up paying off yet again.
Ex-Cardinal McCarrick’s abuses of seminarians were an open secret for decades. Many of his fellow cardinals and bishops knew, and they did nothing. They didn’t report him to law enforcement. They didn’t go public with the information, and they didn’t reach out to his victims.
He might have been prosecuted years ago if even one of his brother bishops had called the police.
Rath: I guess the natural follow-up question to that is then: well, what about that other degree of accountability to all the people who enabled this?
Doyle: That’s right. They, too, are protected by antiquated and very restricted statute of limitations — and, sometimes, the absence of adequate laws in the first place, like child endangerment laws or reporting laws.
So, the Vatican did, in 2020, publish a rather extraordinary report on the hierarchy’s complicity with Cardinal McCarrick. This was supposed to put the matter to rest, but they let living bishops, especially those allied with Pope Francis, off the hook, and they let Pope Francis off the hook. They put a lot of the blame on bishops who have died and some on Pope John Paul II, as well. So there is no accountability there either.
There are bishops in active power right now who also knew about McCarrick and who also did nothing and have faced no sanctions.
Rath: Tell us a bit more about these people. Name names.
Doyle: Well, there is Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who’s the former archbishop of Washington, D.C. We see that he actually signed a settlement agreement with one of McCarrick’s victims. This is after saying that he had heard of no allegations.
Now, Cardinal Wuerl did have to step down as archbishop of Washington, but he did so with a huge public letter from the pope, congratulating him for his nobility and caring so much for the people of God that he was stepping down rather than continue to cause an uproar.
The current bishops in New Jersey were party to agreements, secret settlements, with some of the seminarians who were sexually abused by McCarrick, and they never went public with that information.
It was also, you know, society at large. I mean, we Catholics and the news media back in the 1990s and early 2000s, this was circulating. It was even on the internet; I was reading it in 2004. But they were mostly in kind of fringe publications and blogs, so it just wasn’t getting the attention it needed. Nobody dared publish this information.
Rath: Give us also some context in terms of what’s just happened with McCarrick, because, as I alluded, this isn’t the first instance of justice so long delayed that it’s ultimately denied.
Doyle: That’s right. McCarrick is the first U.S. cardinal and only second U.S. bishop ever to be charged with child sexual abuse, and yet more than 40 U.S. bishops have been publicly accused of child sexual abuse. The rest have never faced prosecution, mostly because of very restrictive statute of limitations.
In fact, McCarrick is really a case study for why statute of limitations for child sex crimes must be reformed in every state. He committed most of his crimes in New York, New Jersey and Washington, D.C.; He never worked in Massachusetts. But there is a quirk in Massachusetts’ statute of limitations that because he was an out-of-state child molester who attacked a child on our soil at one point and then left, he could be prosecuted.
But what if he had decided not to attend the wedding in Wellesley? We never would have seen him face any prosecution. This shouldn’t be the case. Whether sexual assault of a child is prosecutable shouldn’t depend on the predator’s travel plans.
What we really have to keep in mind, despite the huge disappointment, is that this remains an amazing milestone. The world witnessed what was unimaginable 20 years ago when the Catholic abuse crisis first broke here in Boston: a former U.S. cardinal in a courtroom answering to criminal charges of child sexual abuse.
James Grein, McCarrick’s victim, has done everyone a huge service by bringing this case. Also, it’s worth noting that there is a pending criminal case against him still in Wisconsin, but that, too, you know, I think we can predict what will happen there based upon what happened in Massachusetts.
Rath: The wheels obviously were painfully slow to get moving. Do you feel right now we’re at a point where prosecutors are doing all they can on this?
Doyle: Prosecutors are much less deferential towards Catholic bishops and priests than they used to be — at least here in the U.S., that’s true. I’m doing a lot of research into Mexico, and there’s ongoing collaboration and complicity there, sometimes, between civil authorities and the church.
But we’re seeing that less and less here in the United States. We have gotten an enormous education, thanks to the clergy sexual abuse victims who came forward in the early 2000s. We now know that a beloved popular figure can be a vicious sexual abuser.
And I think we’ve seen a very positive shift in society. We’re all more vigilant, and I think we’re all more likely to speak out and say something.
Rath: Anne, we appreciate you taking the time to talk about this.
Doyle: You’re very welcome.
Rath: That’s Anne Barret Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.org. This is All Things Considered.