Disgraced former cardinal McCarrick gave more than $600,000 in church funds to powerful clerics, records show
McCarrick, who was defrocked this year, sent the checks as the Vatican failed to act over two decades on claims he had sexually harassed young men.
Former cardinal Theodore McCarrick gave hundreds of thousands of dollars in church money to powerful Catholic clerics over nearly two decades, according to financial records obtained by The Washington Post, while the Vatican failed to act on claims he had sexually harassed young men.
Starting in 2001, McCarrick sent checks totaling more than $600,000 to clerics in Rome and elsewhere, including Vatican bureaucrats, papal advisers and two popes, according to church ledgers and former church officials.
Several of the more than 100 recipients were directly involved in assessing misconduct claims against McCarrick, documents and interviews show. It was not until 2018 that McCarrick was removed from public ministry amid allegations of misconduct decades earlier with a 16-year-old altar boy, and this year he became the first cardinal known to be defrocked for sexual abuse.
The checks were drawn from a little-known account at the Archdiocese of Washington, where McCarrick began serving as archbishop in 2001. The "Archbishop's Special Fund" enabled him to raise money from wealthy Catholic donors and to spend it as he chose, with little oversight, according to the former officials.
McCarrick sent Pope John Paul II $90,000 from 2001 to 2005. Pope Benedict XVI received $291,000, most of it a single check for $250,000 in May 2005, a month after he was elevated to succeed the late John Paul.
Representatives of the former popes declined to comment or said they had no information about those specific checks. A former personal secretary to John Paul said donations to the pope were forwarded to the secretary of state, the second most powerful post at the Vatican. Experts cautioned that such gifts may also have been directed to papal charities.
A Vatican spokesman declined to comment. In statements, Vatican clerics who received checks described them as customary gifts among Catholic leaders during the Christmas season or as a gesture of appreciation for their service. They said the gifts from McCarrick were directed to charity or used for other proper purposes.
The gifts "never had any effect on the Cardinal's decision-making as an official of the Holy See," said a spokesman for Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, a high-ranking cleric who received $6,500 from McCarrick in the 2000s, the ledgers show.
The checks from McCarrick's fund add a new dimension to a scandal over how he rose to the highest levels of the U.S. Catholic Church and remained there despite complaints of misconduct that reached the Vatican as early as 2000. A Post investigation earlier this year found that another cleric, a McCarrick ally who was a bishop in West Virginia, also gave cash gifts to influential clergy in the United States and at the Vatican while facing allegations of sexual misconduct and financial abuses.
McCarrick, a legendary fundraiser for the church, was defrocked in February after Vatican officials found him guilty of two charges: soliciting sex during confession and committing "sins" with minors and adults "with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power."
The Vatican plans to release a report about its handling of the allegations against McCarrick in the coming months, church officials have said. The financial records from the Archbishop's Special Fund are among the documents church officials in Washington sent to Rome for that examination, according to one former archdiocese official. The former officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.
An attorney for McCarrick did not respond to requests for comment for this story. In his only public statements about the misconduct allegations, McCarrick recently told a reporter, "I do not believe that I did the things that they accuse me of."
In a statement to The Post, the Archdiocese of Washington said McCarrick had sole control of the tax-exempt fund.
"The funds in the account came from donations sent personally to Mr. McCarrick to direct in his sole discretion," the archdiocese said. "During his tenure in Washington, Mr. McCarrick made contributions to many charitable and religious organizations and members of leadership in the Church."
The ledgers obtained by The Post show names of beneficiaries, check numbers, amounts and dates of disbursement. The ledgers also contain the names of donors for the years 2010 to 2016.
McCarrick's fund took in more than $6 million over 17 years. Among the biggest contributors was Maryanne Trump Barry, the sister of President Trump and a former federal appellate judge. She gave him at least $450,000 over four years, the records show. She declined to comment.
McCarrick directed millions of dollars from the fund to Catholic charities in the United States and in Rome, as well as organizations in countries stricken by poverty and conflict, the ledgers show.
Yet nearly 200 checks were sent to fellow clerics, including more than 60 archbishops and cardinals.
The leader of a foundation that made substantial contributions to McCarrick's fund said he was surprised to learn that checks went to clerics. Tom Riley, president of the Connelly Foundation, based outside Philadelphia, said in a statement that his group's contributions were meant to help "the poor, the needy, refugees, and the mission of the Catholic Church."
"Everything about the current situation is a source of terrible sadness for us," he said.
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McCarrick, 89, became one of the most recognizable church figures in America during a career spanning a half-century. He traveled the world for the Vatican and became the U.S. Catholic Church's de facto spokesman nearly two decades ago as it reeled from a sex-abuse crisis that began in Boston. In Washington, he presided over funerals of the city's political elite, including Edward M. Kennedy, the Democratic senator from Massachusetts, and hosted dinners for president George W. Bush and other dignitaries.
Behind the scenes, McCarrick's alleged conduct so alarmed some of his fellow clerics that they reported it to superiors, according to documents that have been posted online in recent years and interviews with some of those involved.
One of those who came forward was the Rev. Boniface Ramsey, a teacher in the late 1980s and early 1990s at the Immaculate Conception Seminary in the Archdiocese of Newark. McCarrick was leader of the archdiocese for more than a decade.
Ramsey said publicly last year that he called the Vatican's U.S. diplomat, known as the apostolic nuncio, in 2000 to sound the alarm when McCarrick was announced as the next archbishop in Washington.
"I was just shocked," Ramsey said in a recent interview with The Washington Post.
Ramsey said he told the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, that McCarrick routinely took students from the seminary to his New Jersey beach house and pressured them to sleep with him in his bed. Ramsey told Montalvo he was not aware of any sexual contact but considered McCarrick's behavior inappropriate.
Montalvo instructed Ramsey to put his claims in writing so they could be forwarded to the Vatican, and Ramsey did so, he said. Ramsey heard nothing back until 2006, when he received a letter from Sandri, then an archbishop in the Vatican secretary of state's office. The letter briefly acknowledged his warning from several years earlier, according to a copy he posted online.
The ledgers obtained by The Post show that McCarrick was writing checks in those years to Montalvo, Sandri and other senior prelates responsible for managing clerics or handling sex-abuse allegations.
Montalvo accepted three checks from McCarrick worth a total of $5,000 before his death in 2006, the ledgers show, while Sandri received the $6,500 from 2002 to 2008.
Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who until 2006 served as secretary of state, received $19,000 from 2002 to 2016, the records show.
Sodano did not respond to messages seeking comment.
The Rev. J. Augustine Di Noia, an American who in 2001 started working in the Vatican office that assessed sex-abuse claims, accepted six checks worth a total of $9,500 from 2001 to 2009, the records show.
In a statement, a spokesman for Di Noia, now an archbishop, said the first check was for expenses related to his move to the Vatican. Others were "Christmas-time offerings" or were given to support him as he transferred to another Vatican post in 2009.
"Archbishop Di Noia affirms categorically that Theodore McCarrick never attempted to influence him in his work for the Holy See," he said. "Whatever were Theodore McCarrick's tragic personal failures, it is nevertheless a sad day when improper motives are reflexively assigned to assistance given and received in good faith."
Told by The Post of McCarrick's checks, Ramsey said he was not surprised.
"I assumed something like this was going on," he said. "But I didn't know checks were going to individual clerics."
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A retired bishop of the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey, said recently that in December 2005 he contacted Montalvo with new allegations about McCarrick. In a statement this year, Archbishop Emeritus Paul Bootkoski said he called the apostolic nuncio and then followed up in writing to relay two former seminarians' claims of sexual misconduct by McCarrick.
Officials in the Metuchen Diocese deemed one claim so significant that they had already secretly paid an $80,000 settlement, according to recent news accounts. They would pay $100,000 to the second seminarian a short time later.
While leaders in Rome considered how to proceed, McCarrick reached retirement age. In May 2006, he stepped down from his post in Washington, his public reputation untarnished. He remained prominent in church affairs and in his capacity as archbishop emeritus was allowed to maintain control of the special fund.
At least one Vatican official has said he was infuriated by the lack of action against McCarrick. Late in 2006, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò wrote a memo urging Sandri and Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, then the secretary of state, to sanction McCarrick, according to a public letter Viganò released through Catholic publications in 2018.
Viganò wrote that his superiors never responded to the memo he sent in 2006. He accused Vatican officials of protecting McCarrick and asserted that McCarrick "had the financial means to influence decisions" at the time. He did not elaborate in the letter and did not respond to a message seeking comment.
Viganò's August 2018 letter was published soon after the church announced that McCarrick was being removed from public ministry.
Critics of Viganò have accused him of using the letter to undermine progressive adversaries within the church. In public statements, some top Vatican officials have disputed details of Viganò's account, including his claim that Pope Francis was aware of detailed allegations against McCarrick years ago but ignored them. Francis does not appear among the list of check recipients, according to the ledgers obtained by The Post.
At the same time Viganò says he was urging sanctions, McCarrick continued sending checks to key church figures. The checks were often clustered around Christmas, with just over half recorded in the ledgers in December or January, according to a Post analysis. In some cases, McCarrick started giving clerics money when they took on new jobs with more authority.
In 2007, among the new beneficiaries was Bertone, who had recently been named secretary of state. Records show that Bertone received seven checks worth a total of $7,000 before he stepped down in 2013.
Cardinal Fernando Filoni began receiving checks in 2008, soon after he was elevated to be a top aide to Bertone. Filoni received $3,500 through 2013, the records show.
Viganò said in his public letter that he shared his concerns about McCarrick with Filoni in 2008. Once again, nothing came of it, Viganò said.
"I was greatly dismayed at my superiors for the inconceivable absence of any measure against the Cardinal," Viganò wrote.
Bertone and Filoni did not respond to messages seeking comment.
McCarrick also gave to lower-level officials in Rome.
American Archbishop Peter Wells started receiving checks in 2010, the year after he took a key Vatican job under Filoni. Wells had received $2,500 by the time the checks stopped in 2016, the year he left the post for an assignment outside the Vatican.
Other recipients included the longtime head of the papal household, Cardinal James Harvey, and at least two priests working as personal assistants to Benedict and John Paul.
Wells did not respond to messages seeking comment.
In an interview, Harvey said numerous bishops from big cities in the United States sent him monetary gifts to show appreciation for his office's help, including in making arrangements for visits to the pope.
"It never occurred to me that this would be in some way improper," he said.
"It wasn't about currying favor," Harvey said. "It wasn't some parallel system of nefarious activity."
A spokesman for Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican's secretary of state, called such gifts common and said they do not influence how Parolin exercises his official responsibilities. He received $1,000 from McCarrick shortly after becoming secretary of state in 2013.
"To send and receive such gifts is customary during the Christmas season, including between Bishops, as a sign of appreciation for work carried out in the service of the universal Church and for the Holy Father," the spokesman said in a statement.
Some experts, told of The Post's findings, said that cash gifts can create the appearance of a conflict.
"It raises questions about whether McCarrick was buying access or protection," said the Rev. Thomas Reese, a columnist at Religion News Service and author of a book about Vatican politics and operations. "This doesn't pass the smell test."
Former West Virginia bishop Michael J. Bransfield gave $350,000 in cash gifts to clerics in the United States and at the Vatican from 2005 to 2018, The Post reported in June. He used church money that was routed through his personal account.
The church began investigating Bransfield last year after one of his top aides wrote in a confidential letter to church leaders that the gifts, many of them sent around the Christmas season, were an attempt to "purchase influence." The investigation later faulted Bransfield for the gifts and found that he inappropriately spent millions of dollars in church money on personal extravagances and engaged in sexual misconduct with seminarians and young priests. Bransfield, who was removed from public ministry in July, has denied wrongdoing.
More than a dozen recipients of Bransfield's gifts pledged to return the money after The Post reported that it was drawn from church accounts.
At least 17 clerics who received cash gifts from Bransfield also received checks from McCarrick, records show.
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The donors to the Archbishop's Special Fund include wealthy and well-known figures.
Among them are novelist Mary Higgins Clark; John Hess, chief executive of oil giant Hess Corp.; and a foundation run by Rep. Francis Rooney, R-Fla., who previously served as U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, the ledgers show.
"For many years I have supported a long list of Catholic charities and causes because I believe in the work they do," Clark said in a statement. "If the money I donated to Cardinal McCarrick was misused in any way, it was without my knowledge, and I am shocked and saddened."
Hess and Rooney did not respond to requests for comment.
Another donor was William McIntosh, a former Wall Street executive. McIntosh said he got to know McCarrick in the 1990s when both served on the board of the Papal Foundation, a Philadelphia-based charity that has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for initiatives favored by the pope. McCarrick was a founder of the charity and its first president.
McIntosh said he began sending contributions to McCarrick when he was archbishop in Newark for a discretionary charitable account he controlled at the time. McIntosh said he trusted McCarrick's judgment and was unaware that money he sent him over the years went to other clerics.
"Based on my work with him at the Papal Foundation, I considered him excellent at what he did and tried to be helpful," McIntosh said. "I had no idea what he was doing with it. I assumed he was doing good things."
A spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Newark, Maria Margiotta, declined to answer questions about the fund McCarrick controlled there. "Since matters involving former Cardinal McCarrick are under review by law enforcement and/or involve litigation, it would be inappropriate for us to discuss publicly," she said.
The current archbishop of Newark, Joseph Tobin, received a $1,000 check from McCarrick in 2016, the ledgers show. Margiotta said that the check was a gift marking Tobin's elevation as a cardinal and that he believes he deposited it "in a personal account, where it was used to defray the expenses incurred by his new responsibilities or for charitable purposes."
Some of the money that flowed into McCarrick's fund came from a foundation that he advised as a board member.
McCarrick directed at least $250,000 to his fund from the Loyola Foundation between 2011 and 2016, as he sat on the foundation's board, said Executive Director Gregory McCarthy. Each foundation board member was allowed to designate an annual allotment to a favored charity, McCarthy said.
"In this case, the funds went to the Archbishop's Fund, which was overseen by the Archdiocese of Washington," McCarthy said. "Frankly I did not know where the funds would go from there."
Officials from the foundation called the Archdiocese of Washington, which vouched for McCarrick's fund, McCarthy said.
According to two former archdiocese officials, the fund was reviewed yearly to account for expenditures and deposits but otherwise received minimal oversight.
Meanwhile, the number of people claiming to have been abused by McCarrick continues to expand. Early this year, U.S. church officials sent the Vatican allegations involving at least seven boys and dating from 1970 to 1990, The Post has reported.
Amid the fallout, the Catholic Church has been under pressure to explain how it ignored or missed years of warnings. The Vatican report addressing those issues is expected to be released as early as January. In announcing the review in 2018, the Vatican said in a statement that "both abuse and its cover-up can no longer be tolerated."
This article was written by Shawn Boburg, Robert O'Harrow Jr. and Chico Harlan, reporters for The Washington Post. Harlan reported from Rome. Stefano Pitrelli in Rome and Andrew Ba Tran and Alice Crites in Washington contributed to this report.