Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston has issued an apology for not seeing a 2015 letter to his office, which detailed accusations of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s sexual misconduct and abuse of diocesan seminarians.
The apology came after media reports revealed that New York priest Father Boniface Ramsey had tried to warn church officials about McCarrick multiple times, including in the 2015 letter, which he sent to O’Malley because of his role as President of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.
O’Malley said his secretary Father Robert Kickham received the letter and responded to Ramsey himself, saying that the accusations fell outside of the jurisdiction of O’Malley’s office, as they did not involve minors. O’Malley said he only found out about Ramsey’s letter after the recent media reports.
“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,” O’Malley said in his apology, posted on the Archdiocese of Boston’s website.
“I take responsibility for the procedures followed in my office and I also am prepared to modify those procedures in light of this experience.”
O’Malley’s lack of knowledge of the 2015 letter comes as a surprise from someone widely considered to be a “zero-tolerance” bishop on matters of sexual abuse.
As numerous McCarrick allegations continued to surface in late July, O’Malley issued a statement saying that the Church needed “more than apologies” to sexual misconduct cases.
He proposed that future allegations against bishops needed to be handled as a matter of highest priority; that a new system be put in place to handle complaints against bishops; and that these reforms be clearly announced, so there can be no doubt about how such cases should be handled in the future.
Ramsey told CBS News that accusations of sexual misconduct and abuse against McCarrick first came to his attention in 1986, and he was under the impression that “virtually everyone knew” about them, including many bishops.
"Archbishop McCarrick was inviting seminarians to his beach house...There were five beds...and there were six people. Archbishop McCarrick arranged it in such a way that somebody would join him in his bed," Ramsey told CBS.
He said that the 2015 letter contained not just rumors about McCarrick, but first-hand accounts of abuse from seminarians who had encountered McCarrick.
“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,” O’Malley noted. “I also apologize to anyone whose concerns were reflected in Fr. Ramsey’s letter.”
O’Malley said that he recognized that his apology and lack of knowledge of the 2015 letter was probably still insufficient “given the way the Church has eroded the trust of our people.”
However, he said his 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.”
He added that the U.S. bishops are all “anxious to understand” how McCarrick became a bishop, archbishop, and cardinal if there were known allegations against him, given the vetting process that bishops have to go through before they are appointed to such positions.
“That is why the Bishops Conference are requesting an investigation by the Holy See with the participation of lay people,” O’Malley said.
O’Malley closed his apology by quoting an Aug. 20 his own letter of apology to sex abuse victims from Pope Francis: “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.”