Letter suggests Vatican knew of allegations before elevating McCarrick to cardinal

A letter from a top Vatican official appears to acknowledge that the Holy See knew about sexual abuse allegations against former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick for at least several months before he was elevated to cardinal in 2001.

The document, obtained by CNN, was first published Friday by Catholic News Service.

The October 2006 letter was sent by then-Archbishop Leonardo Sandri at the Vatican secretariat of state during the papacy of Benedict XVI. It was written to a New York priest who told CNN that church leaders in Rome failed to act after he alerted them to McCarrick’s alleged misconduct with seminarians.

“I ask with particular reference to the serious matters involving some of the students of the Immaculate Conception Seminary, which in November 2000 you were good enough to bring confidentially to the attention of the then-Apostolic Nuncio in the United States, the late Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo,” Sandri wrote.

The New York priest, the Rev. James Boniface Ramsey, has said he wrote to the Vatican in 2000 — when the late John Paul II headed the church — about McCarrick’s alleged misconduct with seminarians from Seton Hall University’s Immaculate Conception Seminary in New Jersey. Ramsey, who was on the seminary faculty at the time, said he doesn’t have a copy of the earlier letter.

‘The missing piece’

The newly surfaced letter from Sandri appears to support recent allegations by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, a former Vatican ambassador to the United States, that the Holy See knew about the sexual abuse accusations against McCarrick for years and did nothing about it.

In a lengthy statement on the allegations against McCarrick, dated August 22, Vigano cited Ramsey’s 2000 letter as evidence of a Vatican cover-up.

Ramsey’s letter, according to Vigano’s statement, referred to a “recurring rumor in the seminary that the Archbishop ‘shared his bed with seminarians,’ inviting five at a time to spend the weekend with him at his beach house.”

In a brief interview Friday with CNN, Ramsey called Sandri’s 2006 letter to him an acknowledgment the Vatican had received his information about McCarrick years earlier.

“In a way, it was the missing piece,” Ramsey said.

The Vatican declined comment, according to spokesman Greg Burke.

Once a force in American politics

McCarrick, 88, who once led the Archdiocese of Washington and was a force in American politics, resigned as cardinal in July after a decades-old allegation of sexual abuse involving a teenage altar boy resurfaced.

Pope Francis also ordered McCarrick’s suspension from public ministry. He maintains his innocence.

In June, when the Pope ordered McCarrick to cease his priestly ministry in public, the cardinal said he had been informed months earlier that the Archdiocese of New York was investigating an allegation of abuse from a teenager “from almost fifty years ago.” He was ordained in the New York Archdiocese in 1958.

The Archdiocese of New York had said it would not release details about the allegation to protect the victim’s privacy. It said a review board had found the allegations to be “credible and substantiated.”

The accusation was also turned over to law enforcement in New York, according to the archdiocese.

In the weeks since the allegations became public, others came forward to accuse McCarrick of sexually abusing them, according to published reports.

The cardinal said in his June statement that he was “shocked” by the initial allegation.

“While I have absolutely no recollection of this reported abuse, and believe in my innocence, I am sorry for the pain the person who brought the charges has gone through, as well as for the scandal such charges cause our people,” he said.

Among highest-ranked church leaders removed from ministry

McCarrick was also accused three times of sexual misconduct with adults “decades ago” while he was a bishop in Metuchen and Newark, New Jersey, the current bishops of those cities said in June.

Two of those allegations resulted in settlements, the bishops said.

McCarrick did not comment on those allegations at the time they were made public.

Once a cardinal, McCarrick is one of the highest-ranking American leaders in the Catholic Church to be removed from ministry because of sex abuse allegations.

McCarrick led the Archdiocese of Washington from 2001 to 2006. He was known as a friendly and effective advocate for the Catholic Church’s political priorities, particularly focusing on the plight of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East. John Paul II elevated him to cardinal in 2001.