I told the Congregation of Bishops about Theodore McCarrick’s disturbing behaviors and some of my account appears in The McCarrick Report. But there is more to be said.
By Richard Fitzgibbons, M.D. Features, Opinion, November 11, 2020
On June 5, 2019, I spoke to JL, who was working on the McCarrick Report, and who was referred to me by a priest friend.
Father told him that I had made a report to the Congregation of Bishops in roughly 1996 on the inappropriate grooming behaviors of Theodore McCarrick toward a seminarian whom I was treating.
The history on my former seminarian patient, given for the McCarrick Report
McCarrick had, in the mid-1990s, invited this seminarian out to dinner in Manhattan at a restaurant, where they met several other men. The seminarian felt very anxious at the table because he suspected these individuals might have criminal connections. “Why,” he wondered, “is an Archbishop meeting with these men?”
After dinner, he was informed that they would not return to the seminary but would instead stay in Manhattan in McCarrick’s apartment. When he discovered that it was a one bedroom apartment, he became very anxious. McCarrick gave him pajamas to wear that night. Although nothing happened sexually, the seminarian had a restless night because he thought he was being groomed for later sexual activity.
Not long after that night, the seminarian received a note from McCarrick, who identified himself, in which he stated that one of men they had dinner with had been shot and killed shortly thereafter. McCarrick wrote, “Thank God we didn’t go to dinner on Saturday night! We’d have been in the middle of a gangland rub-out.”
In a subsequent note, McCarrick wrote, “You stick with your uncle and you’ll really meet exciting people.” In a final note, he wrote, “We have an almost full house (at McCarrick’s shore home), and by tomorrow the couches and maybe the floor will be taken — but we would have made room even for a big guy like you…” In a sign of possible desperation, he added: “P.S. Do you even get my letters?”
As a psychiatrist with an extensive background in working with priests and seminarians and a desire to protect my patients and the Church, I was profoundly troubled by McCarrick’s behavior. I shared with the seminarian my thoughts of reporting McCarrick’s for boundary violations to the Congregation for Bishops even though I would not reveal his name because of his intense fears of McCarrick. He gave me permission to speak with this Congregation and to maintain patient confidentiality.
Msgr. James Cassidy, a psychologist colleague in New York, recommended that I meet with then-Msgr. Daniel Thomas, now Bishop Daniel Thomas of Toledo, with whom he had spoken. After listening to McCarrick’s behaviors, Msgr. Thomas asked me to submit a report to the Congregation, which I gave to him before I left Rome.
To the best of my recollection, this seminarian was the only patient whom I have ever treated who reported boundary crossing or abuse by McCarrick. While I do not have perfect memory, I have no recollection of treating a priest who reported sexual abuse by McCarrick and who then went on to abuse adolescent males. JL refused to give me the name of another priest whom he alleges that I saw, nor did he allow me to see the editing that I did on our phone conversation. He wanted me to trust him without seeing the final editing, which I refused to do because of numerous things he wrote that were untrue.
This history of McCarrick’s extremely aggressive grooming behaviors associated with the story of someone they met being murdered may not have been true, but rather used to frighten the seminarian into silence. I was disappointed that my description of McCarrick’s grooming behaviors was not in the final Report (see pages 82 and 177ff).
The author also ignored my request to put into the history I gave him a citation of an August 2019 Associated Press news article by Vatican reporter Nicole Winfield. The article included photos of some of the ex-cardinal’s hand written letters to a seminarian—letters that were almost identical to the McCarrick communication that I presented to the Office of Bishops more than 30 years previously.
The present Report’s references to my work as a psychiatrist contain falsehoods and fabrications that I will address in an upcoming CWR essay. (I mention some of this in a November 10, 2020 interview with Al Kresta, beginning at the 22 minute mark.)
My opinion, based on over forty years of experience working with priests and religious (experience affirmed by an appointment as a consultant to the Congregation for the Clergy at the Vatican, 2008-2013), is that the massive cover-up of the homosexual abuse of minors, seminarians, and priests by those in authority positions in the Church, such as Theodore McCarrick, is present in a major way in the McCarrick Report.
Contrary to the Executive Summary, significant credible evidence has been presented in this Report from laity, seminarians, priests and members of the hierarchy that Theodore McCarrick engaged regularly and repeatedly in intense grooming behaviors and physical boundary crossing of adolescent males and seminarians.
Such behaviors are most often the result of an earlier lack of secure attachment in male friendships. In my professional opinion, McCarrick has significant but unconscious psychological wounds due to the lack of a secure father relationship (resulting from the death of his father when McCarrick was three), the lack of a secure mother relationship (because of her need to go back to work to support the family), the lack of a secure sibling relationship (not having a brother or sister), and questionable secure attachments in male friendships. These should have been identified when McCarrick was young—uncovered and treated, both psychologically and spiritually.
The need for a new protocol to prevent further abuse
When the numerous accusations began to come into the Apostolic Nuncio early in McCarrick’s episcopal ministry—such as from mother one who described serious homosexual grooming and physical boundary crossing of her teenage sons by McCarrick—he should have been referred to an independent Catholic mental health professional who was not in the employment of the treatment centers. This is because the staff and directors of treatment centers would have been afraid of him because of his influence.
The Report should have clearly criticized this psychological negligence and emphasized the need for new protocols whereby an Apostolic Nuncio could order a bishop to undergo a mental health evaluation when found to be engaging in grooming, serious boundary crossing or sexual behaviors, or excessive anger against loyal priests.
The constant and compulsive need to share a bed with seminarians and younger men was an indicator of severe inner loneliness and a lack of a secure attachment with male friendships and male insecurity as a youth. “Uncle Teddy” wanted to share a bed with young men, in part, because he was lonely for male friendships. After all, he did not share a bed (or attempt to do so) with female friends. He was crying out for help unconsciously and no one responded. The healthy aspect of his personality wanted treatment; the unhealthy and sinful aspect is now becoming well-known.
Had Bishop Theodore McCarrick been properly evaluated while in Metuchen, the recommendation would have been a leave of absence from his episcopal ministry and several years of psychological and spiritual treatment. This treatment would have addressed his lack of secure attachment with his father, mother, siblings and male friendships, as well as his compulsive sexual behavior of grooming and sleeping with young men. With his notable intellectual gifts, he might have been able to live a life of prayer and penance in or out of prison, and no longer been an abusive, scandalous, and deviant model for other seminarians, priests, and bishops. Too many clergy, unfortunately, have followed a similar and corrupting path by holding back from upholding the truth on sexual morality while deeply harming the authentic teaching of Christ and His Church on chastity and sanctity.
Rick Fitzgibbons, M.D. is the director of the Institute for Marital Healing outside Philadelphia, has worked with hundreds of couples over the past 40 years and authored Habits for a Healthy Marriage: A Handbook for Catholic Couples (Ignatius Press, 2019). With Fr. John Harvey, O.S.F.S., the founder of Courage, he gave many conferences to priests, religious, and seminarians on spiritual and psychological approaches to their leading chaste lives and to overcoming sexual temptations and behaviors. In 2019, Forgiveness Therapy: An Empirical Guide for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope (APA Books, 2014), which he co-authored with Robert Enright, Ph.D., received the Benedict XVI Award for Expanded Reason in Research. He has written a number of articles on the crisis in the Church.