NEW YORK CITY — The Archdiocese of New York has said it had only recently learned of an allegation that the deeply influential Cardinal Francis Spellman groped a visiting West Point cadet in the 1960s, but says it will take the accusation seriously and has invited the accuser to contact the archdiocese.
“This is the first time we have learned of this allegation and take what the writer says seriously, as we do all allegations of abuse or inappropriate conduct,” Joseph Zwilling, director of communications for the Archdiocese of New York, told CNA Feb. 11. “We have never had a substantiated allegation of abuse against Cardinal Spellman, who died in 1967.”
Lucian K. Truscott IV, a longtime journalist and writer, made the claim about the former archbishop of New York in a Feb. 9 essay at Salon.
According to Truscott, the alleged incident took place in 1967 in Spellman’s private quarters behind St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Truscott said he was a junior at West Point who had sought to interview Spellman for the cadet magazine, The Pointer.
In Truscott’s account, apparently written decades after the fact, he was in a sitting room with the 77-year-old Spellman, his monsignor assistant and two other West Point cadets, including the magazine’s photographer. Even before the interview began, Spellman placed his hand on the cadet’s thigh and attempted to grope him, Truscott said.
According to Truscott, the monsignor intervened, chastised the cardinal and placed the cardinal’s hand back in the lap. Truscott said this happened several times during the interview.
Truscott wrote that the cardinal gave him a small gift after each attempted incident of groping. “He did it over and over again, and I just kept asking questions and recording his answers like nothing happened. I left the cardinal’s residence that day carrying a couple of tie clasps, three key chains and a couple of gold-plated tie tacks,” the essay claimed.
Truscott said he was shocked the incident happened in front of others and was sure he would not be believed if reported. He claimed the photographer had taken photos of the incidents and he and the other two cadets treated it as a joke after it was over.
Truscott said he now wishes he hadn’t laughed off the experience and wishes he had reported it instead, given revelations about sex abuse in the Church.
“I wasn’t an innocent victim. I was an adult, a cadet at West Point, and I knew better,” said Truscott.
Zwilling said the archdiocese encourages reports about alleged misconduct.
“We would welcome Mr. Truscott in contacting the archdiocese, and reporting his allegation to our safe-environment director and/or the victim-assistance coordinator, so that we might offer whatever assistance might be needed,” Zwilling said.
While Truscott was not a minor at the time of the alleged incident, the New York Legislature recently passed legislation extending the period for child victims of sex abuse to bring civil charges until the age of 55. Criminal prosecutions can be brought before the victim turns 28.
The legislation also creates a one-year window for victims of any age to come forward.
Cardinal Spellman was one of the most influential Churchmen of the United States.
Originally a priest in the Archdiocese of Boston, he worked in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State in the 1920s and 1930s and smuggled Pope Pius XI’s anti-fascist encyclical Non Abbiamo Bisogno to Paris for its 1931 release. He served as an auxiliary bishop of Boston from 1932 to 1939 and was named archbishop of New York by Pope Pius XII, a role that included oversight of the military vicariate of the armed forces during the Second World War and beyond.
He was a staunch anti-communist close to controversial FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. He has been the subject of rumors about sexual misconduct, though not necessarily abuse.
The cardinal’s lengthy FBI file, as published in a somewhat redacted and possibly incomplete form at the FBI website, includes many interactions with the bureau and with Hoover; his public statements and speeches; and information about Vietnam War protests targeting the cardinal. At one point a Jan. 20, 1954, memorandum to Hoover described Cardinal Spellman as an FBI contact who “can be of assistance in furnishing information concerning prominent Catholic priests and laymen” and who has “on several occasions made available information in connection with research matters.”
The released files include a December 1954 request from Cardinal Spellman’s office to the FBI to investigate an anonymous tip that a communist-linked publisher aimed to print a book vilifying the cardinal and the Catholic Church, apparently claiming the cardinal had a scandalous relationship with a woman.
FBI agents found no proof that such a book was forthcoming.
The publisher of a Spellman biography released in 1984 removed a passage citing several people who claimed he had a homosexual relationship; none of them had direct proof, The New York Times reported.