Rain fell in New York City four days before Christmas of 2018. Francis M. had planned to be in the city that day for business, but he had dutifully put aside time when asked to answer questions at the Archdiocese of New York offices about his experiences with “Uncle Ted” — former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.
A tall, broad-shouldered man nearing 60 at the time, with blue eyes and steely gray hair, Francis had been in enough depositions in his career as an attorney to know how these question-and-answer sessions went. He assumed he would relate the story of his interactions with Mr. McCarrick, which began when he was 11, and then he would return to his usual routine.
Mr. McCarrick’s downfall had been as dizzying as his rise. Once the archbishop of Washington D.C., and a cardinal who boasted of his close ties to Pope Francis, Mr. McCarrick had established himself as a gifted fund-raiser, helping to found the Papal Foundation, a charity with a $200 million endowment. But in 2018, his reputation collapsed in a rush of accusations that he had sexually abused adult seminarians and a teenage boy. More accusations followed, and in 2019 Mr. McCarrick was defrocked — the first time an American cardinal had been removed from the priesthood.
Francis — who asked me to refer to him and his family members only by their middle names and last initials, to protect their privacy — was not surprised, but neither did he feel that the news had much to do with him. He wasn’t a victim, he thought. He had never felt like one. He had explanations for all the times Mr. McCarrick had insisted that Francis share a bed with him as a boy and for the ways the man had touched him when he did. Mr. McCarrick was lonely, Francis had told himself; plenty of clergymen were. And Francis had turned out well: A father of four with a happy marriage and lucrative work, he had little reason to meditate on the former cardinal.