Past Adviser to Cardinal O'Connor Resigns After Admitting to Affairs
By Daniel J. Wakin
The New York Times
June 12, 2002
A bishop who was a confidant of Cardinal John O'Connor has resigned as a pastor and auxiliary bishop after admitting having had sexual affairs with women over the course of several years, the Archdiocese of New York said yesterday.
The bishop, James F. McCarthy, 59, told church officials about the affairs after he was confronted with a letter that the archdiocese received on Saturday, said Joseph Zwilling, the archdiocese spokesman. The bishop stepped down as pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Shrub Oak, N.Y., and as auxiliary bishop in charge of northern Westchester, Putnam and Rockland Counties.
None of the women were minors, and there is no accusation that the bishop did anything illegal. But it is likely that the scandal over the sexual abuse of children by priests played some role in the bishop's departure. It would have been difficult to ignore such a letter given the scrutiny focused on the archdiocese, or to have accepted anything less than his resignation.
''We felt we had to move quickly because of the role he has as a bishop and because the bishops' conference is coming up starting tomorrow and because he did admit to doing this,'' said one archdiocese official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
American bishops are gathering in Dallas to discuss new guidelines about how to deal with child-abusing priests and the outrage generated by the reassignment of some by bishops who were aware of the abuse but did not take action against the priests.
Bishop McCarthy's swift departure raised eyebrows among victims' advocates, who noted that some priests who sexually abused children were never forced to resign.
''It is ironic,'' said Barbara Blaine, president and founder of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. ''Obviously, that's the kind of response we want when we find out about allegations of priests who have abused children as well.'' The proposed guidelines in Dallas call for immediate suspension of offenders who have committed more than one act of past abuse.
Cardinal Edward M. Egan has ordered Bishop McCarthy not to act as a priest. But whether there will be an effort to remove him formally from the priesthood has not been decided, Mr. Zwilling said. The pope would need to approve his resignation as bishop.
In a statement, the bishop acknowledged a sexual relationship with a woman that began when she was 21, which church authorities said took place roughly 20 years ago. Bishop McCarthy also acknowledged ''improper sexual contact with other women.''
He said he struggled to live a celibate life. ''To my humiliation and shame, I was not always successful,'' he said. ''I have grievously sinned and long ago asked for the Lord's forgiveness.'' He also apologized to fellow priests, parishioners, family and friends, and to the women. He added that he would do penance with a period of contemplation in retreat.
Mr. Zwilling declined to release the contents of the accusatory letter or say who sent it.
A bishop who knows Bishop McCarthy well said it was from the woman mentioned in the statement. At the time, Bishop McCarthy was a priest in his 30's at St. Benedict's in the Bronx. The bishop described Bishop McCarthy as crushed.
In a statement, Cardinal Egan expressed concern for all involved, ''in particular any women and their families who may have been hurt and Bishop McCarthy as well.''
He said people should pray ''that we will see a return to holiness and sanctity on the part of all clergy.''
Some parishioners at St. Elizabeth expressed strong support for their fallen pastor. ''It's not fair,'' said Sarah Koshofer, 54. ''We don't want him to leave. I just don't understand -- he's done so much good.''
One church expert said the resignation should prod American Catholics to examine celibacy and the heterosexual practices of priests.
''It confronts the broader and richer picture of the human nature of the priesthood, the assertion of a need for not so much sexual expression, but deep personal relationships,'' said Eugene Kennedy, a former priest and an emeritus professor of psychology at Loyola University of America. Mr. Kennedy said he has known and admired Bishop McCarthy for many years. ''I'm not surprised to find out that he is capable of being loved by a woman and loving a woman,'' he said. ''It's not a crime, and I'm not sure it's a sin.''
Bishop McCarthy was well liked and known for his ease at dealing with people. He was born and raised in White Plains, attended Archbishop Stepinac High School and was ordained in 1968. He became Cardinal O'Connor's secretary in 1984. He was ordained a bishop in 1999.
Bishop McCarthy became a trusted adviser and gatekeeper, and accompanied the cardinal on his frequent trips to Rome. After Bishop McCarthy left the job, Cardinal O'Connor recounted how he once went to see the pope without him.
''And the Holy Father looked around and said, 'Where's Jim?' '' the cardinal said.