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Abuse letter to Cardinal O'Malley was second priest sent officials

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In a June 2015 letter to Boston's Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley obtained by Catholic News Service, a New York priest tells the prelate about "sexual abuse/harassment/intimidation" allegations he had heard concerning then-Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick and asks that if the matter doesn't fall under his purview, to forward it to the "proper agency in the Vatican."

The letter "has taken me years to write and send," writes Father Boniface Ramsey, pastor of St. Joseph's Church Yorkville in New York City, who made the letter available to CNS in early August. But it was the second time he had attempted to tell church officials in writing.

In it, he describes for Cardinal O'Malley conversations with the rector of a seminary in New Jersey about trips then-Archbishop McCarrick, as head of the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, would take with seminarians to a beach house.

During the time period he mentions in the letter, 1986 to 1996, he says he was teaching at Immaculate Conception Seminary at Seton Hall University in New Jersey. He writes of the accounts he'd heard of Archbishop McCarrick's repeated trips to a New Jersey beach house where, after too many seminarians were invited for too few beds, "the extra seminarian was then told that he could share the archbishop's bed."

"Some of these stories were not presented to me as mere rumors but were told me by persons directly involved," he wrote.

In an Aug. 13 phone interview with CNS, Father Ramsey said he didn't know any sexual acts were taking place, "but I thought his (McCarrick's) behavior was extremely inappropriate at the least." He said he was careful about what he wrote in the letter to Cardinal O'Malley because he didn't want to be spreading rumors he'd heard, but he had concerns about the bed-sharing after hearing that it weighed on one of his friends who was tasked with finding seminarians for the archbishop's beach visits.

"I'd never heard of any adult who had sex with McCarrick," he said, but felt the constant bed sharing he'd often heard about was "something he shouldn't have been doing."

The letter dated June 17, 2015, was sent just shortly after the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, headed by Cardinal O'Malley, received its statutes in May 2015. Father Ramsey said he sent it then because he had heard of the formation of the commission and had recently been at the funeral for New York Cardinal Edward M. Egan, who died in March 2015, and saw Cardinal McCarrick there. At that point the prelate was archbishop of Washington.

"I was angry," Father Ramsey told Catholic News Service. "I said 'this guy is still out and about.'"

Father Ramsey said it made him "upset" to see that Cardinal McCarrick, after "this long history which so many people knew about, he could continue to show his face."

He had written a letter about his concerns more than a decade before, in 2000, and it didn't seem to go anywhere, but his new motivation came about when he saw Cardinal McCarrick and "wanted this stuff to stop with the seminarians," he said in the interview. So, he sat down to write a letter - again.

"The matter does not have to do with the abuse of minors, but it does have to do with a form of sexual abuse/harassment/intimidation or maybe simply high-jinks as practiced by Theodore Cardinal McCarrick with his seminarians and perhaps other young men when he was the Archbishop of Newark," writes Father Ramsey to Cardinal O'Malley.

In a July statement, Cardinal O'Malley said he did not "personally" receive the letter but the statement said "at the staff level the letter was reviewed and determined that the matters presented did not fall under the purview of the Commission or the Archdiocese of Boston..." However, the response from the cardinal's office did not say whether it had been forwarded to the proper agency, as Father Ramsey had requested.

In the letter to Cardinal O'Malley, Father Ramsey says that he had in the past told Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly of Louisville, who died in December 2011, about his concerns. Archbishop Kelly told him that "stories about Archbishop McCarrick had been circulating among the American bishops," the letter says, and that Archbishop Kelly mentioned to him a story involving a flight attendant.

In the interview with CNS, Father Ramsey said the story was about a male flight attendant whom Archbishop McCarrick "picked up" on a flight, telling him that perhaps he had a vocation, and ended up enrolling him in a seminary, but there seemed to be reasons other than religious for wanting him there. The flight-attendant-turned seminarian was later kicked out of the seminary.  

Father Ramsey writes in the letter that after Archbishop McCarrick was appointed to the Archdiocese of Washington in 2000, he tried to speak to the apostolic nuncio in Washington, who was then Gabriel Montalvo Higuera, about what he knew. The nuncio told him to write him a letter, which Father Ramsey said he sent. He told a priest friend about the letter and that friend tried to dissuade him from sending it, telling him it could hurt him.

"I never received any acknowledgement, although I have certain knowledge that the letter was received, and that the information was forwarded to somewhere in the Vatican," he wrote Cardinal O'Malley.

The writing of the letter didn't seem to hurt Father Ramsey, as his friend had feared. But its revelations also didn't seem to hurt Archbishop McCarrick.

"I found it shocking at the time that Archbishop McCarrick was ever advanced to the Archdiocese of Washington, since I have little doubt that many persons in the Vatican were aware of his proclivities before he was named," he wrote in the letter to Cardinal O'Malley. "And then, of course, on to the cardinalate, which was to be expected for the Archbishop of Washington, but still distressing."

Mentioning cases of high-ranking officials disgraced because of sexual misbehavior, he said in the letter that "it seems bizarre to me that Cardinal McCarrick is out and about, a conspicuous presence at religious (including papal) events, being interviewed, giving speeches, serving on committees and the like. Was not what he did at the very least highly questionable? Was it not taking advantage of young men who did not know how to say no to their archbishop? Has it not, for the many laity and clergy who were aware of his actions, contributed to cynicism about the church and the hierarchy?"

Father Ramsey said he did not keep a letter of the one sent in 2000 to the nuncio, but in between the first and the second letter he sent, he said tried to speak with others, including Cardinal Egan, about stopping then- Archbishop McCarrick.

"He (Cardinal Egan) didn't want to hear about it," Father Ramsey said to CNS.

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Paul Haring, senior photographer at the CNS bureau in Rome, contributed to this story.

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Abuse letter to Cardinal O'Malley was second priest sent officials

In a June 2015 letter to Boston's Cardinal Sean O'Malley obtained by Catholic News Service, a New York priest tells the prelate about allegations he had heard concerning then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and asks that if the matter doesn't fall under his purview, to forward it to the Vatican.

Discalced Carmelites use time-honored skills to construct new monastery

IMAGE: CNS photo/Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness

By Jen Reed

FAIRFIELD, Pa. (CNS) -- The grinding sounds of an excavation and construction site yielded to the intonation of a solemn pontifical Mass and prayers for the future on a vista in Fairfield July 25, where construction is underway for a second monastery for the Discalced Carmelite nuns in the Harrisburg Diocese.

A little more than two years ago -- on June 13, 2016 -- Mother Stella-Marie, prioress, stood at this same site gazing at the grassy and tree-lined farmland overlooking southern Adams County, and expressed her trust in the Lord that "one day we will see here a beautiful monastery that is dedicated to the glory of God."

While the building materials for the cloistered monastery are still being prepared for construction -- namely, the excavation of stone from the land on which it will stand -- the early development of its farmstead can already be seen.

True to Carmelite tradition and architecture in the footsteps of their foundress, St. Teresa of Avila, the nuns are creating a type of settlement that will include a chapel, a novitiate, a building for the professed, an infirmary, a guest cottage chaplain's quarters, walkways, gardens and a small farm.

Harrisburg Bishop Ronald W. Gainer celebrated the July 25 Mass in the carmel's newly constructed barn that will serve as a temporary chapel until the permanent stone chapel is built. The new barn also includes a kitchen, refectory, choir, an area where people can leave prayer requests, donations and food, and a speak room that allows the nuns to receive limited visits from behind a grille.

Nine Discalced Carmelites, including Mother Stella-Marie, moved from the at-capacity Carmel of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in Elysburg to the Fairfield site July 20. They will sleep in their individual cells in a temporary mobile home until the monastery is built.

This community of Discalced Carmelites first came to the Diocese of Harrisburg from Lincoln, Nebraska, in 2009, due to their growing numbers. Initially 11 arrived at the Carmel of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in Elysburg, after the previous Carmelites moved to their current location in Danville.

Since their arrival in Elysburg, their numbers have more than doubled, with the monastery there filling to capacity with 28 nuns. Among them was Sister Mary Magdalene of the Divine Heart (formerly Channing Dale of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Lancaster), who entered in 2013, and is currently enclosed in the Discalced Carmelite community in Philadelphia.

The Carmelites continue to attract young women to the congregation, and so the available farmland in Fairfield -- owned by the parents of Mother Therese -- offered an opportunity for expansion from Elysburg.

Like St. Teresa of Avila and St. Therese of Lisieux, the Discalced Carmelites practice the traditional aspects of Carmelite and monastic life -- prayer, fasting, enclosure and union with God.

Entering the cloister from locations throughout the world -- including Australia and Ghana -- they dedicate their lives to prayer and sacrifice to give themselves totally to God for the world. 

Enclosed in the monastery, and leaving behind family and friends, they spend their days in scheduled times of silent prayer, the Divine Office, holy Mass, recitation of the rosary and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. They also have time for work in making clothes, baking bread, and tending to the garden and farm; and recreational time for sewing, artwork and storytelling.

"I think young women are drawn to what is authentic," Mother Stella-Marie said of the growing number of vocations to the community. "They are looking to live in our day and age exactly as St. Teresa of Avila did. They want to be enclosed because they want to give everything. Most of the women tell us that if they are going to dedicate their life to God, they want to go all the way and give absolutely everything to him."

For this reason, it is critical that the new monastery in Fairfield be built in the Carmelite tradition, said Mother Therese.

Watching as excavators wrenched stone from the land for construction, she told The Catholic Witness, Harrisburg's diocesan newspaper, earlier this summer, "People expect us to be real nuns, all the way through. They don't want to see a nice veneer on the outside, but then something different inside.

"We have a lot of young vocations coming. We need to be able to teach them not just one or two hours a day about tradition. They need to learn 24/7 from these stone walls, which are authentic all the way through," she said.

The blueprints for the monastery farmstead illustrate buildings designed to stand the test of time: a chapel, a refectory, a novitiate, a building for the professed, a caretaker's home, chaplain's quarters and a guest cottage.

Their construction requires authentic materials and craftsmanship as the Carmelites build for future generations of their congregation.

Throughout the project's development, the nuns have continued to be the beneficiaries of generous donors and volunteers who have offered their time, talent and treasure.

They include stonemasons and timber framers, among them a mason from Scotland who instructed local volunteers in the craft, notably a "dry build" of the all-stone woodshed.

Benefactors have donated barn wood and stone that will be used to construct the buildings. Volunteers have spent time deep-cleaning the donated wooden beams. Others have been providing meals for the workers. Still others have helped with the build, including men of the local Amish community.

"It has been a beautiful way for us to evangelize and to connect with people we otherwise would not have contact with," said Mother Therese. "We are hoping to continue to build on these connections and find ways to channel them into lasting relationships."

As Mother Stella-Marie and Mother Therese walked the new grounds in Fairfield, they also spoke of long-fostered relationships with family and within the community, and how they change with time.

The nuns are experiencing a degree of separation in their community as this new chapter begins. Nine of the total 28 from the monastery in Elysburg are now forging a new foundation in Fairfield, and parted ways from their counterparts who remain enclosed some two hours to the north.

"It is a sacrifice to break away from each other, but it is a sacrifice that we make for the future of the congregation," said Mother Stella-Marie. "We will stay united. Even though we won't see each other any longer, we will remain close in prayer."

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Editor's Note: Information about the Discalced Carmelite nuns, the progress of the monastery in Fairfield and volunteer efforts can be found at www.fairfieldcarmelites.org.

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Reed is the managing editor of The Catholic Witness, newspaper of the Diocese of Harrisburg.

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

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