Boston Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley apologized Monday for the way his office handled a 2015 letter containing allegations against Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington who was removed from the ministry in June and resigned in July after reports that he had sexually assaulted minors and abused seminarians.
O’Malley’s statement was released Monday evening, more than a month after news outlets reported that Rev. Boniface Ramsey, a priest in New York, penned the letter that raised questions on McCarrick.
The statement tackles the issue of the Catholic Church’s credibility and strikes a more apologetic tone than his first one released in July, which explained the practice that led to Ramsey’s letter going unseen.
Noting that “not everyone” will accept that he did not know about the allegations “given the way the church has eroded the trust of our people,” O’Malley said he hopes the church “can repair the trust and faith of all Catholics and the wider community by virtue of our actions and accountability in how we respond to this crisis.”
McCarrick’s behavior was an open secret among the church hierarchy, according to media reports, but O’Malley said he only learned of the alleged sexual abuse after the stories were published.
“My first knowledge of Fr. Ramsey’s letter occurred when media reports of the letter were published last month,” O’Malley said.
The cardinal said he never saw Ramsey’s letter and it was handled by a staff member, who told Ramsey that individual cases like McCarrick’s were not handled by the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which O’Malley leads.
O’Malley “has the responsibility for evaluating child protection policies and procedures,” Rev. Robert Kickham, O’Malley’s priest secretary, wrote in 2015 in response to Ramsey, adding that the commission does “not review individual complaints and cases, historical or current, which fall under the oversight of the local church authorities.”
Kickham never brought the letter to O’Malley’s attention, the cardinal said, but “[i]n retrospect it is now clear to Fr. Kickham and to me that I should have seen that letter precisely because it made assertions about the behavior of an archbishop in the church.”
O’Malley said he takes responsibility “for the procedures followed in my office, and I also am prepared to modify those procedures in light of this experience.” He directly apologized to Ramsey “for not having responded to him in an appropriate way” and to “anyone whose concerns were reflected in Fr. Ramsey’s letter.”
Priests are thoroughly reviewed before they are named bishops, O’Malley said, and in his experience “when a priest is being vetted to be named a bishop, any doubt or question concerning his faithfulness to his promise of celibacy would result in removing his name from consideration to be named bishop.”
“The Bishops Conference is anxious to understand how Theodore McCarrick could have been named bishop, archbishop, and cardinal,” he said, adding that the Bishops Conference is requesting an investigation by the Vatican “with the participation of lay people.”
“We must be certain that this never happens again,” he wrote.
Martin Finucane of the Globe staff contributed to this report.