SALINA, Kan. — In an interview last month with Slate staff writer Ruth Graham, Theodore McCarrick said he doesn’t believe he committed the acts of which he has been accused.
McCarrick, 89, has been in public disgrace since June 2018, when credible allegations of sexual abuse of a minor were made known. He was dismissed from the clerical state in February 2019, after an administrative penal process by which the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith found him guilty of solicitation in the confessional, and sexual abuse of minors and adults, aggravated by abuse of power.
“I’m not as bad as they paint me,” McCarrick told Graham Aug. 14 at the St. Fidelis Friary in Victoria, Kansas, about 90 miles west of Salina, where he resides. “I do not believe that I did the things that they accused me of.”
Graham wrote in an article published Sept. 3 that when she challenged McCarrick saying he “makes it sound as if he’s leaving it an open question,” and that it sounded as though he thought it was possible he had committed the acts, he responded no.
McCarrick was the archbishop of Washington from 2000 until 2006.
He resigned from the College of Cardinals in July 2018, and took up residence in the friary that September.
Graham spent at least several days in Victoria, interviewing locals as well as friars who live with McCarrick.
She said McCarrick spoke with her briefly before lunch at the friary. He told her he doesn’t leave the friary, even to enter the adjoining Basilica of St. Fidelis; a condition of his residence is that he remain on the grounds of the friary. He indicated that he spends much of his time in the chapel and the library.
McCarrick discussed in particular the accusations by James Grein that he had solicited him during confession: “The thing about the confession, it’s a horrible thing. I was a priest for 60 years, and I would never have done anything like that. … That was horrible, to take the holy sacrament and to make it a sinful thing.”
The former cleric told Graham that he thinks men who said he abused them while they were seminarians during weekend trips to his New Jersey beach house “were encouraged” to develop similar stories, attributing this encouragement to unnamed “enemies.”
“There were many who were in that situation who never had any problems like that,” he said.
McCarrick also addressed the claims of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, emeritus apostolic nuncio to the United States, who said McCarrick’s alleged sexual misconduct had been known to some Vatican officials for years, eventually leading to a restriction on the archbishop’s ministry by Pope Benedict XVI and a subsequent restoration of McCarrick’s place as a papal adviser by Pope Francis.
The now-layman said Archbishop Viganò “was talking as a representative of the far right, I think,” adding, “I don’t want to say he’s a liar, but I think some of the bishops have said that he was not telling the truth.”
Father Christopher Popravak, the former provincial of the Capuchin’s St. Conrad Province, told Graham that McCarrick will likely remain at St. Fidelis Friary, saying: “It’s become impossible for him to move because no one will have him.”
According to Graham, McCarrick had hoped to return to the east coast, but told her, “I don’t know how many years are in my calendar. One tries one’s best to accept where one is.”
The former cardinal said he receives little mail, and “the vast majority of the mail I get is looking for some help. I don’t have a lot of money, but I try to be helpful. It’s what you’re supposed to do.”
Once he was dismissed from the clerical state, McCarrick’s room and board of about $500 a month were no longer paid for by the Archdiocese of Washington, and he offered to pay out of pocket.
According to Graham, Father John Schmeidler, pastor of the Basilica of St. Fidelis, declined McCarrick’s offer.
Father Popravak said: “I know that itself could be construed as problematic, like the church is continuing to cover for him or harbor him. But we’re not attempting to profit from this. This is simply an attempt for us to show mercy.”
Graham wrote that McCarrick participates in the friary’s daily routine, including Mass, breakfast, and evening prayers, as well as weekly confession.