VATICAN CITY — The Vatican has taken testimony from a man who says ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick sexually abused him for years starting when he was 11, evidence that the initial case against the retired archbishop has expanded to include serious allegations of sexual misconduct, including in the confessional.
James Grein testified Thursday in New York before the judicial vicar for the New York City archdiocese, who was asked by the Holy See to take his statement, said Grein’s civil attorney Patrick Noaker.
The testimony, which lasted about an hour, was difficult and stressful but Grein was proud to have done it, Noaker said.
“He wants his church back. He felt that in order to accomplish that end, he had to go in and testify here and tell them what happened, and give the church itself the chance to do the right thing,” Noaker said in a telephone interview Friday.
Grein initially came forward in July after the New York archdiocese announced that a church investigation determined that an allegation that McCarrick had groped another teenage altar boy in the 1970s was credible.
Grein’s claims, first reported by The New York Times, are more serious. He has alleged that McCarrick, a family friend, first exposed himself to Grein when he was 11 and then sexually molested him for years thereafter.
Noaker said in his testimony Thursday, Grein also gave “chilling” details about alleged repeated incidents of groping during confession — a serious canonical crime on top of the original offense of sexually abusing a minor.
Noaker said combining sexual abuse with confession haunts Grein today.
“People are vulnerable in the confessional. Very vulnerable,” he said. “If you manipulate that, and try to sexualize that, it’s extremely emotionally damaging.”
McCarrick denied the initial groping allegation of the altar boy and has said through his lawyer that he looks forward to his right to due process. It wasn’t clear when his testimony would be given.
The McCarrick scandal has sparked a crisis in credibility in the U.S. and Vatican hierarchies, since it was apparently an open secret in some church circles that “Uncle Ted” slept with adult seminarians. Yet McCarrick still rose to the heights of church power, and even acted as the spokesman for U.S. bishops when they enacted a “zero tolerance” policy against sexually abusive priests in 2002.
Pope Francis initially ordered McCarrick removed from public ministry in June after he was accused of groping the teenage altar boy — the first known allegation against him involving a teen. A month later, after former seminarians and Grein came forward, Francis removed McCarrick as a cardinal and ordered him to live a lifetime of penance and prayer while the canonical process ran its course.
Now 88, the former archbishop of Washington is living at a Kansas religious residence.
The Vatican is under pressure to finalize its case against McCarrick before Francis hosts church leaders at a February sex abuse prevention summit, since Francis himself has been implicated in the yearslong cover-up of McCarrick’s misconduct with adults.
While victims have long complained about the way they have been treated during canonical proceedings, Noaker praised the judicial vicar, the Rev. Richard Welch, saying he was compassionate, respectful and patient during Grein’s testimony.
Noaker said Welch gave Grein time to compose himself when he testified about an incident in which McCarrick allegedly masturbated Grein in a car. When McCarrick dropped Grein back at home, he allegedly told Grein’s parents that the mess was caused by a spilled soda, so Grein’s mother went to clean up the car seat.
“That was a really psychologically damaging moment,” Noaker said, adding that Grein had to relive it during his testimony. “He closed his eyes. He was sitting in that car with McCarrick, and you could see it. It was moving and terrifying.”
The Associated Press does not identify people who say they have been victims of sexual assault unless they grant permission. Grein has gone public with his full name.
In addition to the canonical case against McCarrick, Noaker filed a police report against McCarrick in July.