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Priest Who Says He Was Victim Of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick Reacts To Resignation


Theodore McCarrick, one of the leading voices of the Catholic Church, has resigned from the College of Cardinals, the first such resignation in more than 90 years. Pope Francis has also suspended him from exercising any public ministry. McCarrick will be tried in a Vatican court after allegations he sexually abused minors and young men on the path to priesthood. The church has called one decades-old allegation involving a teenage altar boy credible and substantiated. We spoke with Desmond Rossi, currently a priest in the Diocese of Albany. He says McCarrick sexually harassed him. Father Rossi, thanks for joining us.

DESMOND ROSSI: Thank you, Renee, for having me.

MONTAGNE: First, I think we would like to start with your reaction to what has happened to McCarrick. He's being ordered to what the pope calls, quote, "a life of prayer and penance" before a Vatican trial.

ROSSI: Yeah, which is actually very unusual. Usually, that would happen after the trial. So it seems that Pope Francis is being proactive in terms of trying to make sure that Cardinal McCarrick is not putting anybody else at risk.

MONTAGNE: What was your emotional reaction to this?

ROSSI: Well, I was relieved, greatly relieved because I had tried to get the attention of various people for quite a while. And he was a very powerful man in the institution. And as we know with most institutions - not only the church but even in the secular world - wherever there's power, there is an opportunity for the abuse of power.

MONTAGNE: You spoke with reporter Michael O'Loughlin of the Jesuit magazine America about your experiences in the 1980s with then-Archbishop McCarrick. Describe for us what you said to him.

ROSSI: Well, the archbishop was a very engaging, charismatic, gregarious person. And he never genitally made any advance on me. I mean, the difficulty was that when you would first see him, he would immediately comment on how you looked. When he would speak to you, he would touch you. He was very tactile. He would, at one point, put his hand on my knee and kind of just leave it there when I was alone with him in an office.

MONTAGNE: You at the time were in a seminary. You were seminarian.

ROSSI: Correct. Correct. I mean, I became frightened of him. And then I had a couple of other situations with the archbishop that I just felt that it confirmed that I had to leave the Archdiocese of Newark if I was going to continue. In my own reflection and prayer about it, in situations like that, it isn't only so much as what this person has done in that moment. It's what they can do because they have this power. What are they going to do next? And that's what can be traumatizing.

MONTAGNE: Does Theodore McCarrick deny - or has he - your characterization of his actions towards you?

ROSSI: There's been no comment about me particularly.

MONTAGNE: OK. There's a school of thought about how slowly the Catholic Church has reacted to this whole sexual abuse scandal from the very beginning. And that idea is along the lines of ancient church, built for eternity, must be maybe protected from one generation's failings. What does that mean to you?

ROSSI: I think the church has not really integrated the whole human sexuality of the person with its theology. And we're seeing the more that you push down kind of sexual awareness, this is what happens. It comes out sideways. I think we have turned a corner in terms of Pope Francis' desire to begin the open discussion of what's actually happening. I know when I spoke with my own people last week here in the parish when I said that this would be coming forward - and you can hear that, you know, they're basically saying, we've had enough. We've had enough.

MONTAGNE: Father Desmond Rossi, thank you very much for speaking with us.

ROSSI: Thank you, Renee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.