VATICAN CITY — The highest-ranking American at the Vatican insisted Tuesday he never knew or even suspected that his former boss, disgraced ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, allegedly sexually abused boys and adult seminarians, telling the Associated Press he is livid that he was kept in the dark because he would have done something about it.
Cardinal Kevin Farrell, head of the Vatican’s family and laity office, spoke as the US church hierarchy has come under fire from American Catholics outraged that McCarrick’s misconduct with men was apparently an open secret in some US church circles.
Pope Francis accepted McCarrick’s resignation as cardinal on Saturday and ordered him to live a lifetime of penance and prayer pending the outcome of a canonical trial.
In an open letter Tuesday, a contributor to the conservative Catholic magazine First Things urged Catholics to withhold diocesan donations to the US church until an independent investigation determines which US bishops knew about McCarrick’s misdeeds — a ‘‘nuclear option’’ aimed at making the laity’s sense of betrayal heard and felt.
Some of that outrage has been directed at Farrell, who was consecrated as a bishop by McCarrick in 2001 and served as his vicar general in the archdiocese of Washington until McCarrick’s 2006 retirement. Some Catholic commentators have speculated that Farrell must have at least heard the rumors that Catholic laity, students and professors at Catholic University in Washington and some journalists had heard.
Farrell lived with McCarrick and other priests and bishops in a converted school building off Dupont Circle that serves as a residence for Washington clergy. But Farrell said he never heard any rumors about his boss’ penchant for young men, or suspected anything, and was not McCarrick’s roommate, as some bloggers have claimed.
‘‘That might be hard for somebody to believe, but if that’s the only thing on your mind, well then you’ll focus on that. I was focused on running the archdiocese,’’ he said.
‘‘At no time did anyone ever approach me and tell me. And I was approached by over 70 victims of abuse from all over the United States after 2002,’’ when the US sex abuse scandal first erupted, Farrell said.
‘‘Never once did I even suspect,’’ he said. ‘‘Now, people can say ‘Well you must be a right fool that you didn’t notice.’ I must be a right fool, but I don’t think I am. And that’s why I feel angry.’’