Cardinal Wuerl Knew of Archbishop McCarrick's Abuse Allegations in 2004

The Jan. 10 disclosure from the Diocese of Pittsburgh is the first confirmation by Church authorities that Cardinal Wuerl was aware of allegations against the disgraced ex-cardinal before June 2018.

(photo: CNA/CBP photography-public domain)

WASHINGTON — An allegation of misconduct against Archbishop Theodore McCarrick was reported to Cardinal Donald Wuerl in 2004, despite Cardinal Wuerl’s insistence he knew nothing about the disgraced ex-cardinal’s alleged sexual misconduct until 2018.

Then-Bishop Wuerl forwarded the report to the apostolic nuncio in Washington, D.C., the Diocese of Pittsburgh said Thursday.

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Washington confirmed to CNA that an allegation against Archbishop McCarrick was presented to Cardinal Wuerl while he served as bishop of Pittsburgh, as part of a complaint made by laicized priest Robert Ciolek.

In a statement, the Diocese of Pittsburgh said Jan. 10 that laicized priest Robert Ciolek appeared in November 2004 before its diocesan review board to discuss an allegation of abuse Ciolek had made against a Pittsburgh priest.

During that meeting, “Mr. Ciolek also spoke of his abuse by then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. This was the first time the Diocese of Pittsburgh learned of this allegation,” the statement said. “A few days later, then-Bishop Donald Wuerl made a report of the allegation to the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States."

The disclosure is the first confirmation by Church authorities that Wuerl was aware of allegations against Archbishop McCarrick before the Archdiocese of New York announced in June 2018 a credible allegation of sexual abuse of a minor made against the archbishop.

The news raises questions about 2018 statements from Cardinal Wuerl that denied he had even heard “rumors” about his predecessor as archbishop of Washington.

Ed McFadden, the spokesman for the Archdiocese of Washington, told CNA that in 2004 Ciolek “asked that his complaint against McCarrick be forwarded to the [apostolic] nuncio. And it was,” McFadden told CNA. “Wuerl forwarded the file and his complaint to the nunciature in 2004.”

“At that time Ciolek asked for complete confidentiality,” McFadden said, “and that his name never be mentioned.”

The statement from the Diocese of Pittsburgh confirmed that Ciolek had originally insisted on confidentiality, but also that he had recently authorized the diocese to speak about the matter.

“Mr. Ciolek asked that the allegation regarding then-Cardinal McCarrick be shared only with ecclesiastical — that is — Church authorities,” the statement said. “In November 2018 Mr. Ciolek authorized the Diocese of Pittsburgh to respond to press inquiries about this matter.”

The diocese confirmed that Ciolek visited Pittsburgh recently to review files related to his complaint, and that diocesan officials were aware that he intended to discuss the matter with the press.

Ciolek reached a settlement agreement with three New Jersey dioceses in 2005 in connection with clerical sexual abuse allegations. The settlement awarded Ciolek some $80,000 in response to allegations that concerned both Archbishop McCarrick and a Catholic school teacher.

The Diocese of Pittsburgh said it was not aware of the settlement until July 2018. Similarly, the Archdiocese of Washington said Cardinal Wuerl was unaware of the 2005 settlement until that time.

Details of Ciolek’s settlement were first reported in September 2018. At that time, The Washington Post reported that the settlement agreement included references to then-Bishop Wuerl and to the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

Neither the Diocese of Pittsburgh nor McFadden offered detail on the specific allegations made against Archbishop McCarrick, but McFadden said they concerned behavior by the archbishop at his New Jersey beach house, where the archbishop is alleged to have shared beds with seminarians, and exchanged backrubs with them.

McFadden said Ciolek “never claimed direct sexual engagement with McCarrick” in his complaint to Bishop Wuerl.

The news that Cardinal Wuerl, who succeeded Archbishop McCarrick as archbishop of Washington in 2006, received a formal complaint against Archbishop McCarrick as early as 2004, and forwarded it to the apostolic nunciature in Washington raises serious questions about the intended meaning of the cardinal’s 2018 statements concerning his predecessor.

Cardinal Wuerl wrote in a June 21 letter that he was “shocked and saddened” by allegations made against Archbishop McCarrick.

In the same letter, Cardinal Wuerl affirmed that “no claim — credible or otherwise — has been made against Cardinal McCarrick during his time here in Washington.”

In a Jan. 10 statement, the Archdiocese of Washington said that “Cardinal Wuerl has attempted to be accurate in addressing questions about Archbishop McCarrick. His statements previously referred to claims of sexual abuse of a minor by Archbishop McCarrick, as well as rumors of such behavior. The Cardinal stands by those statements, which were not intended to be imprecise.”  

“Cardinal Wuerl has said that until the accusation of abuse of a minor by Cardinal McCarrick was made in New York,” the statement continued, “no one from this archdiocese has come forward with an accusation of abuse by Archbishop McCarrick during his time in Washington.”

“It is important to note that Archbishop Theodore McCarrick was appointed to the Archdiocese of Washington in November 2000 and named a cardinal in February 2001, years before Mr. Ciolek made his claims. Then-Bishop Wuerl was not involved in the decision-making process resulting in the appointment and promotion.”

Cardinal Wuerl’s resignation as Archbishop of Washington was accepted Oct. 12, 2018. The cardinal was appointed by Pope Francis as interim administrator of the archdiocese until a successor is appointed.

The cardinal fell under heavy criticism in the second half of last year, after a Pennsylvania grand jury report about clerical sexual abuse released in July raised questions about his leadership while he served as bishop of Pittsburgh.

Despite earning a reputation as an early champion of “zero-tolerance” policies and the use of lay-led diocesan review boards to handle accusations of clerical sexual abuse, Cardinal Wuerl faced questions about his handling of several cases during his time in Pittsburgh after he was named more than 200 times in the grand jury report.

The disclosure also raises further questions about how Archbishop McCarrick was able to remain in office and in apparently unrestricted ministry during retirement. In July 2018, a priest named Father Boniface Ramsey told The New York Times that he expressed to Church authorities concerns about Archbishop McCarrick’s conduct with seminarians as early as 2000, when he was elevated to archbishop of Washington.

Concerned by the appointment, Father Ramsey said that he contacted then-nuncio Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo to report allegations of Archbishop McCarrick’s misconduct with seminarians in his beach house. Father Ramsey said that he had heard accounts of this misconduct from his own seminary students.
Father Ramsey said he put his concerns in writing at the request of Archbishop Montalvo, who promised to forward them to Rome.

Father Ramsey subsequently released a letter from the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, dated 2006 and signed by Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, acknowledging his complaint of 2000, apparently confirming that the U.S. nuncio had sent Father Ramsey’s letter to Rome.

Archbishop Montalvo was still in his position when then-Bishop Wuerl reportedly forwarded Ciolek’s complaint in 2004, and would remain in Washington until August 2006, when he died suddenly.

McFadden told CNA that while he could confirm Cardinal Wuerl sent Ciolek’s complaint to the nuncio as requested, neither he nor the cardinal were aware that any further action was taken on the matter.

“As far as we can tell, the nunciature never acted on that, but we don’t have any more information.”

Archbishop Montalvo’s successor as nuncio in Washington was Archbishop Pietro Sambi. CNA has previously reported that in 2008, acting on explicit instructions from Pope Benedict XVI, Archbishop Sambi ordered Archbishop McCarrick to move out of the archdiocesan seminary in which he was living during his retirement.

That order, and other measures which may have been imposed on Archbishop McCarrick during his retirement, were a central feature of the allegations of Archbishop Sambi’s own successor, Archbishop Carlo Viganò.

In his now-famous “testimony,” released in August last year, Archbishop Viganò insisted that Cardinal Wuerl had been aware of restrictions placed on Archbishop McCarrick during his retirement for several years, and that they directly concerned his interactions with seminarians.

In response to Archbishop Viganò’s claims, Cardinal Wuerl denied “receiving documentation or information from the Holy See specific to Cardinal McCarrick’s behavior or any of the prohibitions on his life and ministry suggested by Archbishop Viganò.”