Joan Frawley Desmond, is the Register’s senior editor. She is an award-winning journalist widely published in Catholic, ecumenical and secular media. A graduate of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies of Marriage and Family, she lives with her family in California..
In 2005, three New Jersey dioceses approved an $80,000 settlement resulting from allegations of sexual misconduct brought by a former priest against three men: a Pittsburgh priest, a New Jersey high school teacher and then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.
This weekend, the Washington Post reported that both the settlement document and the accuser, Robert Ciolek, point to an important, previously undisclosed fact: then-Bishop Donald Wuerl of Pittsburgh was also named in the document.
Bishop Wuerl did not sign the settlement papers, and his diocese did not contribute to it. Further, McCarrick’s name does not appear in the document.
Nevertheless, the involvement of a Pittsburgh area priest in this 2005 settlement increases the likelihood that Wuerl was informed about sexual misconduct allegations against McCarrick more than a decade ago, a direct contradiction of Wuerl’s public stance.
Ciolek said for the first time publicly that the settlement included allegations against a third person, a Pittsburgh priest Ciolek says made unwanted sexual contact with him in seminary, where the priest was a professor,” the Washington Post reported, Sept. 29.
The first page of settlement agreement lists the Diocese of Pittsburgh and Wuerl, who supervised the priest as bishop of Pittsburgh at the time, among the numerous parties to the settlement...
Is it possible that Wuerl was informed about the settlement involving one of his priests, but was not told that McCarrick was also accused by Ciolek?
Ciolek’s remarks and the settlement document underscore the vital importance of launching a formal investigation of the four dioceses where McCarrick served as a priest, bishop or archbishop, and the Church leaders who knew of his misconduct with seminarians and priests but remained silent and imposed confidentiality requirements on accusers.
Ciolek, who broke his silence this summer after being released from one such agreement, told the Post, “there was inappropriate sexual contact toward me" in the 1980s by the [Pittsburgh] priest, who was a faculty member at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, in Emmitsburg, Maryland, when Ciolek was a student there. The priest was not mentioned in the recent grand jury report.”
The Post story made clear that the settlement document “does not mention McCarrick by name, nor does it specify Ciolek’s allegations beyond saying Ciolek was making ‘numerous claims of sexual misconduct by various priests’ in the various dioceses.
“The signatories to the agreement were Ciolek, and officials of the three New Jersey dioceses — Newark, Trenton and Metuchen — who paid into his settlement.”
But there is more to be mined from Ciolek’s recollections and the trail of documents linked to this settlement.
“Ciolek said he met in October 2004 with the Pittsburgh diocese’s review board about his allegation against the priest-professor,” said the Post.
“Ciolek said he was told by Pittsburgh officials shortly after this period — and again this summer — that the priest-professor was removed from ministry as a result.”
When Ciolek asked recently to see the notes from his previous meeting with Pittsburgh church officials, the diocese “told him that was a privileged document.”
Ciolek also told the paper that back in 2005 he was informed by Newark ’s counsel, Charles Carella, that Bishop Paul Bootkoski of Metuchen planned to call Wuerl about the settlement, but the Post was unable to confirm whether that actually happened, or whether Ciolek’s recollection was correct.
“I won’t discuss particulars about any settlement agreement or conversations that might have taken place,” Jim Goodness, Newark’s spokesman, told the Post.
Back in June 2018, when I called Goodness to establish the dates of the two reported settlements involving McCarrick, and to confirm whether the accusers were priests or former seminarians, I got the same response.
Then as now, both Metuchen and Newark sought to contain the damage, and the 2005 settlement document doesn’t identify McCarrick by name.
But, absent additional evidence, this document and Ciolek’s account do not prove Wuerl knew about McCarrick’s alleged misconduct.
And yet, those with firsthand knowledge of Wuerl’s highly methodical, detail-oriented style of management will question how he could fail to know all the facts associated with a settlement involving one of his priests. From all accounts, during his tenure as bishop of Pittsburgh and then as archbishop of Washington, D.C., very little escaped his notice.
In mid-September, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops approved an investigation into the widening scandal sparked by McCarrick’s shocking record. Ciolek’s comments to the Post are timely, and they underscore the importance of reviewing written communications about the 2005 settlement, and, by extension, archived papers associated with a second alleged adult victim who received $100,000 in a 2007 settlement.
Pope Francis encouraged the media to investigate these matters, but up to now it has been very difficult, as the Post story reveals, to get to the bottom of this scandal. This is why we need a comprehensive investigation, with the power to establish who knew what when, involving the McCarrick coverup.