U.S. cardinals needed someone who was willing, in the spring of 2002, to face waves of microphones and cameras and answer questions about a clergy sexual abuse crisis that kept growing more and more intense.
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick stepped forward. The Washington Post hailed him as the Vatican's "man of the hour," an "attractive public face" at a time when many Catholic leaders seemed "arrogant, secretive and uncaring."
"If you're looking to the future, I would say it's pretty clear that the Holy Father is calling for zero tolerance," the archbishop of Washington, D.C., told reporters.
These words rang hollow to some men who watched this drama, men who knew that McCarrick knew they would be stabbed by every word he spoke.
After all, the man some called "Uncle Ted" had "already completed a personal campaign of predatory sexual abuse of minors and young adult males that stretched back across four decades," according to "Nathan Doe," the anonymous author of "Delicta Graviora (More Grave Crimes)," posted at EssayForTheFaithful.com.
"While the national media waxed poetic about this charming and charismatic cardinal with a twinkle in his eye," writes Doe, "they had no idea that McCarrick was using them to send a powerful message to his countless victims that he was untouchable and in complete control. ... It would be another 16 years — and an unspeakable amount of spiritual carnage later — before McCarrick was finally stopped."
This new essay's author is part of a group that calls itself "the Nathans," a reference to the biblical prophet who challenged King David to confess his adultery and abuse of power. The essay indicates that at least seven men have cooperated with church leaders and law enforcement officials, providing names, dates, times, locations and other forms of supporting evidence linked to their sexual abuse by the former cardinal when they were between the ages of 12 and 16.
The author stressed, "I don't have an ax to grind with anyone other than Theodore McCarrick. For me, this is not an attack on our Church. This is not about Conservative vs. Liberal. This is not about Straight vs. Gay. This is not about Benedict vs. Francis. In my view, those arguments are a distraction. For me, this is about our humanity. This is about the criminal, sexual abuse of minors. ...
"We came forward to defend the truth. We came forward to defend McCarrick's victims. We came forward to defend the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ."
This effort to provoke continued discussions of McCarrick's career, he added, is "about Matthew 18:6," a Bible passage in which Jesus states: "But who so shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea."
The "Delicta Graviora" text notes that it was triggered by a recent Slate.com interview in which journalist Ruth Graham traveled to western Kansas to confront McCarrick, currently living in a monastic community next to a basilica commonly known as the Cathedral of the Plains. She asked the former cardinal if accusations that he had assaulted minors and sexually harassed seminarians were true.
"I'm not as bad as they paint me," McCarrick said. "I do not believe that I did the things that they accused me of."
He was especially offended by claims that he abused a boy during confession. "I was a priest for 60 years, and I would never have done anything like that. ... That was horrible, to take the holy sacrament and to make it a sinful thing."
These are stunning words, noted Nathan, because "his canon lawyers were there" to hear the testimonies from this circle of victims. McCarrick knows all the details they provided about how he "groomed, stalked and eventually preyed on us."
Nathan concluded his letter with these words: "The biggest faith lesson for me in all of this is a simple one. In each and every one of us, there is an equal capacity for good and evil. The greater your gifts from God, the more capacity you have to do good or evil depending on the choices you make. ... We must strive to always hold ourselves, as well as our brothers and sisters, accountable."