After several weeks, Cardinal Sean O’Malley has taken personal responsibility for the failure to respond to a whistleblower’s June 2015 letter on ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, and his sexual abuse of seminarians. The Cardinal has apologized publicly to whistleblower Dominican Father Boniface Ramsey, and the adult victims of McCarrick, whose concerns were reflected in Father Ramsey’s letter.

Cardinal O’Malley posted Aug. 20 his apology and explanation of what transpired on the archdiocesan website. Here is a key excerpt:

"In June of 2015 Rev. Boniface Ramsey sent a letter that was received at my office at the Archdiocese of Boston’s Pastoral Center. Rev. Robert Kickham, my Priest Secretary, received the letter on my behalf, as he does much of the correspondence that comes to my office at the Pastoral Center. Fr. Ramsey’s letter came to me in my role as President of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors; specifically the letter presented matters concerning Archbishop McCarrick’s behavior with seminarians. Fr. Kickham’s response to Fr. Ramsey noted that individual cases such as he proposed for review fell outside the mandate of the Commission. Consequently, he did not bring the letter to my attention. In retrospect it is now clear to Fr. Kickham and to me that I should have seen that letter precisely because it made assertions about the behavior of an Archbishop in the Church. I take responsibility for the procedures followed in my office and I also am prepared to modify those procedures in light of this experience.”

Cardinal O’Malley has sounded the alarm about the gravity of the Catholic Church’s situation, where the very credibility of the Church to propose anything, let alone the Gospel, is at stake. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has agreed. The Church is in the midst of a global Catholic #MeToo movement and (adult and child) sex abuse crisis. What makes this very different from 2002 is that the spotlight has turned to the bishops themselves for their role in the ongoing scandal.

In his apology, Cardinal O’Malley states, “My hope is that we can repair the trust and faith of all Catholics and the wider community by virtue of our actions and accountability in how we respond to this crisis.”

Cardinal O’Malley’s first test of demonstrating accountability will be in the archdiocese of Boston.

At the very least, it would seem that Cardinal O’Malley should have been informed about the content of Father Ramsey’s June 17, 2015, letter. Especially, when Cardinal O’Malley going to be appearing with then-Cardinal McCarrick in very high-profile events over the next few months. It would have been the right thing to do regardless: Father Ramsey’s letter indicated rightly that seminarians cannot freely consent to sex with a man who has spiritual power and authority over their lives.

Instead, McCarrick was allowed to appear with Cardinal O’Malley at the “Celebration of the Priesthood” fundraising dinner for the archdiocese in South Boston, and have a photo taken together. And both Cardinal O’Malley and McCarrick delivered talks together in Cuba, as part of Pope Francis’s visit. One can infer from Cardinal O’Malley’s explanation that Father Kickham not only kept him in the dark — he allowed the archbishop of Boston, whose reputation is built on fighting sex abuse in the Catholic Church, to make public appearances with an alleged sexual predator, and blog about it, completely unaware of the truth.

In an Aug. 14 email predating this release, the Register asked the Archdiocese of Boston if there would be any consequences for the failure of Father Robert Kickham, as the Cardinal’s chief secretary, to bring this letter to Cardinal O’Malley’s attention, or ask who in the Vatican it should be forwarded to. On that matter, the Archdiocese has remained silent.

The Register also asked if the Cardinal would be looking into “whether other allegations of adult sexual abuse were concealed from him by his subordinates.”

Terrence Donilon, director of communications, replied via email on Aug. 14: “In response to your question about looking into if subordinates have ‘concealed’ allegations of abuse, the archdiocese has implemented an established and comprehensive system of review, investigation and reporting allegations within the Archdiocese of Boston. To imply subordinates might conceal allegations is to not fully understand the scope and commitment undertaken in the Archdiocese.”

The Archdiocese may end up re-evaluating the degree of confidence in which it has placed its reporting system. Ex-seminarian Andrew Solkshinitz said in a then-public Facebook post that the archdiocese’s vocations director at St. John’s seminary did not act on his 2014 complaints of being sexually harassed with “creepy texts,” and the vice-rector’s actions were “just as surprising.”

He said their failures destroyed his trust in the Church and put him in a serious depression for the next four years.

The Register has independently learned and confirmed that St. John’s seminarians in 2014 were being sexted — sexually propositioned over text message — by someone who knew the seminary intimately.

Solkshinitz has declined media interviews and is working with the Archdiocese of Boston’s investigative team. The team includes Bishop Mark O’Connell, who was at St. John’s seminary when these events transpired.

 

Here is the Cardinal’s full Aug. 20 statement:


"In June of 2015 Rev. Boniface Ramsey sent a letter that was received at my office at the Archdiocese of Boston’s Pastoral Center. Rev. Robert Kickham, my Priest Secretary, received the letter on my behalf, as he does much of the correspondence that comes to my office at the Pastoral Center. Fr. Ramsey’s letter came to me in my role as President of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors; specifically the letter presented matters concerning Archbishop McCarrick’s behavior with seminarians. Fr. Kickham’s response to Fr. Ramsey noted that individual cases such as he proposed for review fell outside the mandate of the Commission. Consequently, he did not bring the letter to my attention. In retrospect it is now clear to Fr. Kickham and to me that I should have seen that letter precisely because it made assertions about the behavior of an Archbishop in the Church. I take responsibility for the procedures followed in my office and I also am prepared to modify those procedures in light of this experience.

My first knowledge of Fr. Ramsey’s letter occurred when media reports of the letter were published last month. I apologize to Fr. Ramsey for not having responded to him in an appropriate way and appreciate the effort that he undertook in seeking to bring his concerns about Archbishop McCarrick’s behavior to my attention. I also apologize to anyone whose concerns were reflected in Fr. Ramsey’s letter.

Allegations regarding Archbishop McCarrick’s sexual crimes were unknown to me until the recent media reports. I understand not everyone will accept this answer given the way the Church has eroded the trust of our people. My hope is that we can repair the trust and faith of all Catholics and the wider community by virtue of our actions and accountability in how we respond to this crisis.

What makes all this so difficult to understand is that it has been my experience that when a priest is being vetted to be named a bishop, any doubt or question concerning his faithfulness to his promise of celibacy would result in removing his name from consideration to be named Bishop. The Bishops Conference is anxious to understand how Theodore McCarrick could have been named Bishop, Archbishop and Cardinal. We must be certain that this never happens again. That is why the Bishops Conference are requesting an investigation by the Holy See with the participation of lay people.

Let me close with the words of Pope Francis who yesterday wrote: “Let us beg forgiveness for our own sins and the sins of others. An awareness of sins helps us to acknowledge the errors, the crimes and the wounds caused in the past and allows us, in the present, to be more open and committed along a journey of renewed conversion.”