The second shoe dropped Saturday when the Washington Post came out with the on-the-record account of another priest who’d been sexually abused by former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.
By “shoes,” I mean the three former New Jersey priests who filed lawsuits against the Catholic Church or one of its dioceses regarding McCarrick. The first ‘shoe’ was Robert Ciolek, who went public early on in this saga. The other two were refusing to talk until now.
When reading this story, let’s keep the big picture in mind. The key questions remain: Who moved McCarrick higher and higher in the church, while reports circulated about his private affairs? Who protected him later? Who benefited from his favors?
Now, back to the new chapter in this story:
Less than a week after Theodore McCarrick became the first cardinal ever defrocked, a New Jersey priest has for the first time agreed to be interviewed about his accusations that McCarrick sexually abused him in the 1990s and the effect the alleged abuse has had on his life and career.
In exclusive interviews with the Post, the Rev. Lauro Sedlmayer said the interactions with McCarrick, who was then his archbishop, in Newark, set off a downward spiral that severely damaged his psyche and career. Now 61, the priest says he told three bishops but nothing was done.
Note the crucial detail: Bishops were informed about this and nothing happened.
The Post folks have known about this guy since last summer. I wrote about that here, but it’s taken eight months for this guy to go on the record. Better late than never.
The Brazilian-born Sedlmayer has been in a tense stand-off with his superiors for a decade, with both sides filing lawsuits and accusations of sexual and financial impropriety on each side.
Sedlmayer says much of his troubles began with what he recently described in written testimony to Vatican officials investigating McCarrick as “sexual battery.” In that testimony, in litigation and in interviews with the Post, he said the incidents with McCarrick happened over several occasions around 1991, and that church officials in New Jersey later retaliated against him for accusing top clerics – McCarrick and others -- of sexual impropriety. A 2012 lawsuit by Metuchen officials against Sedlmayer says the priest is the one who is trying to distract from his own inappropriate and possibly illegal behavior.
What the man shares is dynamite and it’s the contents of a 2011 lawsuit filed by Sedlmayer against his own diocese.
In his 2011 lawsuit, Sedlmayer said he told Metuchen Bishop Edward Hughes soon after at least three interactions with McCarrick around 1991. Hughes, who died in 2012, advised him “to forget about the sexual incidents conducted by Cardinal McCarrick and to forgive him for the good of the Roman Catholic Church," the suit says.
“The sexual incidents with the Bishop [McCarrick] were certainly traumatic for him. In spite of his adult age, there was a significant power and authority imbalance in this situation,” a social worker wrote in 2010 of Sedlmayer after a weeklong psychological analysis at a church-run facility. “He depicted himself as a naive young man forced into a homosexual experience by his superior, who exposed him to a malicious world that he did not know before.”
The story goes on to tell how Sedlmayer worked in the Metuchen diocese for two decades without incident until 2009, when a parish employee accused the priest of misappropriating parish funds and dressing in a sexually suggestive style.
The diocese sent him away for counseling and it was around 2010 that Sedlmayer began spilling the beans about McCarrick who had been retired four years by this point. Then:
He was shifted to an English-speaking parish, where he felt unable to communicate well and struggled. Sedlmayer said in the lawsuit, the letter to Vigano, the Vatican testimony and in the mental health records he shared that he believes the move away from his Portuguese-speaking, longtime parish was punishment for telling more people about McCarrick. He was temporarily put on leave and then filed his lawsuit in 2011. According to the church’s 2012 suit, Sedlmayer was seen putting leaflets on cars outside of parishes, alleging (Metuchen Bishop Paul) Bootkoski and other top clerics were involved in gay relationships. The church’s suit denied Bootkoski was in a gay relationship and alleges defamation.
His story is hauntingly like that of the third “shoe” or priest who has not talked yet.
This was Gregory Littleton, a former priest in the Metuchen diocese who was sexually assaulted in 1987 by McCarrick. Littleton’s story appears here as he is the narrator in the boldface print. His statement was part of a lawsuit he eventually filed against the Metuchen diocese that resulted in a $100,000 settlement in 2006. Ciolek, who had also sued, got a $80,000 settlement in 2004. The New York Times broke the story of the pay-outs last July.
Where Littleton and Sedlmayer’s stories are similar is that each was accused of sexually acting out during their post-McCarrick phases. Both were sent to special centers for mental health counseling and those professionals signed off on them returning to the priesthood. If either were thinking of exposing McCarrick, they were in a bind because their own church was accusing them of being the problem.
In Littleton’s case, he had been caught fondling two teen-aged boys. His defense was that McCarrick’s abuse had left him an emotional and spiritual mess. After several years of counseling, he was sent to the Diocese of Charlotte, N.C., in 1997 where he was performing just fine until the sex abuse crisis hit the U.S. Catholic Church in 2002.
Then, a new bishop of the Metuchen diocese reviewed Littleton’s file and sent his information south. By this time, no diocese could afford to have a priest on staff who had abused anyone for any reason, so in 2004, Littleton was removed. (All this came out in a press release from the Charlotte officials.) “My own life was left in psychological, emotional and financial ruins,” he wrote in a plaintive note to McCarrick (by then a cardinal in Washington, D.C.) in 2005. “I was made a promise by the Diocese of Metuchen that I would be cared for.”
As always, the key theme is SECRECY.
One wonders how many other sexually compromised priests there are out there who have real stories to tell, but who have been blackmailed into silence. Sedlmayer is just the latest to tell his story and the Post concludes its piece by saying Sedlmayer hopes to get “compensation” from the Newark and Metuchen dioceses. Which is a veiled way of telling church officials to pay up unless they want a messy public lawsuit.
In the high-stakes game of McCarrick coverage, the Times and the Post are now 1 for 1. Both have gotten one of the three priests to talk. Who will land the Littleton interview? Lay your bets now.