Abuse settlement from 2005 with Cardinal Wuerl’s name raises questions
WASHINGTON – Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who has said repeatedly that he didn’t know about years of sexual misconduct complaints involving his predecessor in the District of Columbia, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, was named in a 2005 settlement agreement that included allegations against McCarrick, according to the accuser in the case and documents obtained by The Washington Post.
Robert Ciolek, who left the priesthood and later became an attorney, spoke for the first time publicly this summer about the $80,000 settlement he reached in June 2005 with three New Jersey dioceses over his allegations against McCarrick and a teacher at his Catholic high school. McCarrick led the church in Newark and Metuchen before coming to the District in 2001; Ciolek’s high school was in New Jersey as well.
In an interview with The Post this month, Ciolek said for the first time publicly that the settlement included allegations against a third person, a Pittsburgh priest Ciolek says made unwanted sexual contact with him in seminary, where the priest was a professor. The first page of the settlement agreement lists the Diocese of Pittsburgh and Wuerl, who supervised the priest as bishop of Pittsburgh at the time, among the numerous parties to the settlement. The agreement was signed by Ciolek and the three New Jersey dioceses.
Ciolek shared a copy of the settlement with The Post.
The presence of Wuerl’s name on Ciolek’s settlement agreement raises questions about the cardinal’s assertion that he did not know about any allegations against McCarrick before they became a topic of public discussion this summer.
Wuerl’s D.C. spokesman, Ed McFadden, said this week that Wuerl had been unaware of the legal agreement.
“As he has stated consistently … Cardinal Wuerl had no knowledge of the settlements until the existence of the settlements was made public” this summer, McFadden said.
Pope Francis in June suspended McCarrick, a hugely popular cleric known as a prolific fundraiser for the church, after he was accused of groping an altar boy. Since his suspension, another alleged young victim has surfaced, as have years of rumors about McCarrick’s alleged inappropriate treatment of seminarians and young priests.
McCarrick has made no comment about the various allegations against him since the first allegation. At the time, he said he had no memory of the incident and maintained his innocence, but accepted the pope’s decision.
An increasingly vocal segment of Catholics in D.C. have expressed skepticism about Wuerl’s claim that he didn’t know about either the rumors about McCarrick’s alleged behavior or the settlements, and they have demanded more transparency. A bombshell letter in August from former Vatican ambassador Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, alleging Wuerl knew about sexual misconduct accusations against McCarrick has intensified the skepticism. The letter, which offered no proof, came shortly after a detailed grand jury report by Pennsylvania prosecutors described rampant cover-up in the Catholic church of clergy sex abuse – including mishandling of cases by Wuerl, when he was bishop for the Diocese of Pittsburgh from 1988 to 2006.
Wuerl issued a statement right after the letter from Vigano, denying the allegations in the letter – including that Vigano himself had communicated about McCarrick’s misconduct to Wuerl. The statement suggested the Vatican investigate Vigano, along with McCarrick.
Ciolek said he waited to publicly discuss the Pittsburgh connection in his settlement until after he sought legal permission from the Diocese of Pittsburgh to speak about it. He spoke to various media earlier this summer about the other two alleged abusers – McCarrick and his high school teacher – after his name spread and the New Jersey dioceses released him from the document’s confidentiality clause.
He spoke to The Post about the Pittsburgh priest on the condition the priest not be named because Ciolek said he considers the details of that encounter too personal. He said “there was inappropriate sexual contact toward me” in the 1980s by the priest, who was a faculty member at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, when Ciolek was a student there. The priest was not mentioned in the recent grand jury report.
The settlement document does not mention McCarrick by name, nor does it specify Ciolek’s allegations beyond saying Ciolek was making “numerous claims of sexual misconduct by various priests” in the various dioceses. The signatories to the agreement were Ciolek, and officials of the three New Jersey dioceses – Newark, Trenton and Metuchen – who paid into his settlement.
Pittsburgh and Wuerl are mentioned along with the archdiocese of Baltimore and its then-archbishop, Cardinal William Keeler, because Mt. St. Mary’s is under Baltimore’s purview.
They are all listed with the New Jersey dioceses as “released” parties, meaning Ciolek promised to release them from future liability. They did not pay into the settlement and did not sign it.
Asked what Pittsburgh knew about the Ciolek settlement, the diocese initially put out a statement saying it was unaware that it was mentioned on the document.
“The Diocese of Pittsburgh was surprised to learn in early July 2018 that it was named as a release in the settlement agreement with Mr. Ciolek. The Diocese of Pittsburgh was not a party to this agreement and was not a signatory,” the diocese said in a statement. “This summer, when Mr. Ciolek asked the Diocese of Pittsburgh to be released from a confidentiality provision, the diocese responded that since we hadn’t signed the agreement we had no authority to release him.”
The Post also asked whether anyone on the Pittsburgh staff was told about Ciolek’s allegations against his alleged abusers, which included McCarrick. Ann Rodgers, a spokeswoman for the Pittsburgh diocese, answered that the staff did not know, then or now “about the settlement until early July 2018.”
But Rodgers’ statement appears to conflict with the contents of a 2004 letter between officials with the dioceses of Metuchen and Pittsburgh.
On Aug. 11, 2004, letter to Metuchen officials, Ciolek laid out all of his allegations, and Metuchen soon contacted Pittsburgh. In a letter dated Aug. 17, 2004, Metuchen’s then-Vicar General Monsignor William Benwell alerted then-auxiliary Pittsburgh Bishop William Winter about the Pittsburgh priest, who Ciolek says was still in ministry at the time. Ciolek shared both letters with The Post.
The letter notes that, at the time, Metuchen “is currently engaged in mediation” with Ciolek about alleged abuse by his high school teacher, and in that process, Ciolek had told church officials in New Jersey about the Pittsburgh priest. McCarrick is not mentioned.
Asked about the 2004 letter, the diocese issued another statement that didn’t directly address the question of whether any other abuser – besides the Pittsburgh priest – came up.
“The letter did not raise the issue of the Diocese of Pittsburgh being involved in any mediation, and certainly did not mention or invite the Diocese of Pittsburgh to participate in any settlement agreement,” the statement read, in part.
Ciolek said he met in October 2004 with the Pittsburgh diocese’s review board about his allegation against the priest-professor. Ciolek said he was told by Pittsburgh officials shortly after this period – and again this summer – that the priest-professor was removed from ministry as a result. He does not recall if in that meeting he mentioned the two other abusers – McCarrick and the high school teacher — and says when he asked recently to see the notes from that session, Pittsburgh told him that was a privileged document, Ciolek says. Pittsburgh also declined to share details of the session with The Post.
In asking this summer to be released from the confidentiality clause, Ciolek says he spoke with Charles Carella, counsel for Newark now and in 2005 when the settlement was signed. Ciolek says that Carella recalled to him that in 2005 then-Metuchen Bishop Paul Bootkoski was going to call Wuerl in Pittsburgh about the settlement. Ciolek says Carella told him that he – Carella – was unaware if Bootkoski did so.
Carella did not return a call or email from The Post.
Asked what communications happened between the Newark and Pittsburgh dioceses about Ciolek’s case, and if Wuerl had been called, Newark spokesman Jim Goodness declined to comment.
“I won’t discuss particulars about any settlement agreement or conversations that might have taken place,” he wrote.
Erin Friedlander, spokeswoman for Metuchen, denied that Pittsburgh and Baltimore were part of the settlement and did not respond to a follow-up question about whether Bootkoski called Wuerl.
Bootkoski did not return request for comment.
Ciolek said he finds it “inconceivable” that none of the three dioceses in New Jersey would have mentioned to Wuerl that they’d just reached an $80,000 settlement involving both McCarrick and Wuerl’s own priest.
The release of Ciolek’s settlement follows other news that has led many Catholics to question whether Wuerl has been fully transparent about what he knew and when he knew it. Their anger led to Wuerl’s announcement earlier this month that he would ask Francis to accept his resignation.
In an unprecedented public letter released in August, former Vatican ambassador Vigano alleged without offering evidence that many high-ups in the Vatican – including popes Francis and Benedict – knew about McCarrick.
Vigano alleges Benedict in fact had put a kind of secret series of restrictions on McCarrick, who had retired and was living in D.C., in Wuerl’s jurisdiction.
Vigano’s letter argued that there was no way Wuerl didn’t know, and pointed to incidents including Wuerl’s decision to cancel a public appearance by McCarrick at an event around 2010, in front of a group of seminarians. The letter also alleged that McCarrick’s housing was moved, inexplicably, out of a seminary around the same period. Putting space between McCarrick and seminarians was part of the restrictions, Vigano’s letter alleges.
“The Cardinal lies shamelessly,” Vigano wrote about Wuerl. Vigano has refused to answer questions about his controversial letter since, but on Thursday published another public letter reiterating his claims.