A former Catholic priest who has previously alleged that ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick sexually abused him when he was a seminarian has filed a lawsuit against McCarrick and the Newark archdiocese.
“I’m only doing the lawsuit mainly because three years ago when I did that, I also wrote a letter to Cardinal (Joseph) Tobin, and the Archdiocese of Newark and I never heard anything back,” plaintiff Michael Reading said in a video message posted to his attorneys’ website. “The whole thing is disappointing, but I’m just very disappointed that I never heard anything and got no response from the Church.”
When he sees media coverage of McCarrick’s court appearances, he said, “it all comes back again.”
“Today is actually the anniversary of the day I was ordained by him, 35 years ago today,” he said in the Nov. 22 video, adding that he “felt like telling my story could be helpful.”
Reading, who now lives near Seattle, is represented by Jeff Anderson of the Minnesota-based firm Jeff Anderson & Associates.
“When he was in formation, in preparation for becoming a priest, in the Archdiocese of Newark, it was then-Archbishop Ted McCarrick who was mentoring him and ultimately had the power over him to become a priest,” Anderson said at a Nov. 23 press conference. “McCarrick used his position as the archbishop, over him, to assault and coerce and exploit him.”
McCarrick’s civil attorney, Barry Coburn of the Washington, D.C. firm Coburn & Greenbaum, declined to comment to CNA. For its part, the Newark archdiocese said it takes all allegations seriously and has programs in place to prevent abuse and work with survivors.
“Although we are limited in what information we can share given pending litigation, it is important to note that the Archdiocese of Newark takes seriously all allegations of abuse,” Maria Margiotta, communications director for the Newark archdiocese, told CNA Nov. 23.
“We remain fully committed to our comprehensive programs and protocols to protect the faithful and to working with survivors of abuse, their legal representatives and law enforcement authorities in an ongoing effort to resolve allegations of past abuse,” she said.
At the Tuesday press conference with Anderson’s law firm, Reading said he initially wanted to remain anonymous because he was worried about others’ perceptions. However, he decided to use his real name to encourage other victims in New Jersey to come forward.
“I feel a sense of relief, and of a burden being lifted,” he said. “It’s a long way to go with that, but it’s a start.”
The New Jersey legislature created a special window for victims who suffered sex abuse as adults or children to file lawsuits, but this legal window closes on Nov. 30.
Reading’s lawsuit is the eighth lawsuit that Anderson’s law firm has filed against McCarrick.
Anderson has filed abuse lawsuits against the Catholic Church for decades. While some say he has been an advocate for victims, critics characterize him as a self-promoter who has sensationalized and embellished claims in order to attract media attention to litigation.
In statements about other lawsuits he has claimed papal power is to blame for abuse, and has blamed Pope Francis himself. He has cited unproven claims by the controversial Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano about the Holy See’s response to McCarrick.
Anderson’s lawsuit on behalf of Reading also cites the Vatican’s 2020 report on its investigation into what church officials knew about McCarrick.
Reading, known as Doe 308 in the lawsuit, was ordained a priest on Nov. 22, 1986. He served as a priest for only seven years.
The lawsuit accuses McCarrick of committing “harmful and offensive bodily sexual contact” on Reading. The former priest has told his story elsewhere, including in a Sept. 12, 2018 Washington Post story.
Reading told the Washington Post that in 1986 he was invited to a barbeque and overnight stay for seminarians at McCarrick’s beach house in Sea Girt, N.J. According to Reading, McCarrick lingered in the bedroom when the twentysomething seminarian was changing into a swimsuit. McCarrick later approached the seminarian after the barbeque and put his hand down his swimsuit.
The seminarian was shocked by the incident and didn’t report it or tell family members until allegations against McCarrick became public in 2018.
He said that the incident affected him throughout the rest of his time as a priest.
“I feel like the priesthood was taken away from me,” he told the Washington Post. “And I loved what I did.”
The lawsuit also alleges that Father Edward J. Eilert engaged in “unpermitted sexual contact” with Reading in 1978. At the time, the plaintiff was a parishioner at St. John the Apostle Church in Linden, N.J., a city on the state border across from the New York City borough of Staten Island.
Eilert is on the Newark archdiocese’s February 2019 list of credibly accused clergy for “multiple” allegations. He is listed as permanently removed from ministry. The website of Anderson’s law firm lists him at a retirement home for priests as early as 2005.
In 2002 Eilert was among three priests accused of sexually abusing a teenage girl in the 1980s. Though the Union County Prosecutor’s Office said the accusations were credible, charges were not allowed under the statute of limitations, NJ.com reported in 2013.
Anderson’s law firm has recently filed three separate actions against other priests who allegedly committed abuse, including one priest who is still active in ministry.
In September, McCarrick pleaded “not guilty” to several charges of sexual assault in Massachusetts regarding incidents which allegedly took place in the 1970s.
McCarrick was once a high-ranking and influential U.S. prelate with an impressive international resume. He resigned from the College of Cardinals in July 2018 following a past allegation of sex abuse against a teenager that the New York archdiocese deemed credible. In February 2019, Pope Francis laicized McCarrick after a canonical investigation found him guilty of “solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession, and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power.”
The exposure of McCarrick prompted many questions about how he rose in the Church despite long-rumored claims of corruption. Various individuals came forward saying they had sought to report his misconduct.
In 2018, Cardinal Joseph Tobin told a journalist that shortly after his 2017 arrival as head of the Newark archdiocese, he had heard rumors about McCarrick’s sexual misconduct. He said he did not investigate those rumors because he found them unbelievable.
The Archdiocese of Newark and the Diocese of Metuchen in June 2018 acknowledged that they had reached legal settlements with some alleged victims of McCarrick in 2005 and 2007. Tobin said he did not learn about those settlements until June 2018, shortly before they were publicly announced.
Image caption: Theodore McCarrick outside Dedham District Court, Friday, Sept. 4, 2021. | Joe Bukuras/CNA
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