Theodore E. McCarrick remains a man of many secrets, three years after the retired Catholic cardinal archbishop of Washington, D.C., was expelled from the College of Cardinals due to decades of sexually abusing male minors and adult seminarians.
The so-called McCarrick Report finally released by the Vatican in November 2020 carefully avoided shedding any light on the money trail. What happened to the countless millions of dollars generated by McCarrick through his myriad charities and high-profile fundraising? Who within the Catholic hierarchy benefited from his habit of dispensing cash gifts and what did they provide, or overlook, in return?
Another mystery concerns a much earlier expulsion. Why was McCarrick forced to leave Xavier High School in New York in the fall of 1946?
McCarrick, now 91, and a laicized priest since 2019, has explained that he was booted out of high school in his junior year due to truancy and a laxness of purpose. Xavier High yearbooks for 1945 and 1946, however, depict McCarrick’s account as extremely implausible. That raises one more question: Why the cover story?
“I think I felt the obligation of going daily to school was too strict an obligation,” McCarrick told Washingtonian in 2004. “They said, ‘You’ve had it, you’re out more days than we’d like you to be.’” The magazine’s fulsome profile of the media-friendly cardinal noted that his communications director had herself always wondered why he was thrown out of school at age 16.
In a 2008 book called Being Catholic Now, McCarrick told author Kerry Kennedy that he “went to Xavier High School in New York, but I didn’t take it as seriously as I should have and was expelled. I was really disappointed with myself and with disappointing my mother and my family.”
Xavier billed itself as “Manhattan’s Jesuit Military High School” and the school yearbook was called Evening Parade. World War II was still going strong when McCarrick entered as a freshman in 1944, and except for his murky troubles he would have graduated with the senior class of 1948. Military uniforms and participation in the school’s junior ROTC program were mandatory. Students, faculty and staff were all male.
The 1945 yearbook includes a photo of a skinny 14-year-old Theodore McCarrick, one of four class officers. A photo of the entire class on the same page shows McCarrick sitting in the front row directly beside the teacher, Fr. Matthews, S.J. Another photo features McCarrick, wearing an honor cord for good grades over his left shoulder, as president of Freshman Debate.
Significantly, considering McCarrick would later become one of the most powerful prelates in the Catholic Church, he is also shown solemnly holding cruets of water and wine, with gloved hands, in a simulated scene from the Mass. The caption states that McCarrick and Fr. Daily, S.J., “pose for the mass photographs used throughout the book.” Xavier authorities would not have granted this privilege to a chronically truant slacker.
The 1946 yearbook confirms McCarrick did not suddenly become a bad apple during his sophomore year. He is identified as one of two editors-in-chief of the Review, the twice-monthly student newspaper, and a staff writer for The Xavier, the school’s quarterly literary periodical. McCarrick assumes his customary position in the staff photos for both publications: front and center. He also appears as one of three officers of Sophomore Debate.
Issues of the Review newspaper and The Xavier magazine from this period paint a similar portrait of a striving, high-achieving young man and likely represent McCarrick’s earliest published writing. The magazine featured his Christmas 1944 reflection, “A Child Shall Lead Them,” on its back cover in his freshman year. He contributed a fiction piece, “A Present for Her Grandson,” to The Xavier’s Christmas 1945 issue. He also won the magazine’s editorial contest that year.
McCarrick penned a regular column called Morning Star for the student paper and sometimes displayed eloquence beyond his years. His September 27, 1946, column waxed enthusiastically about the upcoming centenary of Xavier’s founding in 1847.
“And now the hour is approaching. That most joyful and glorious hour when the thousands of sons of Xavier can pause at the crest of one hundred years and look back at the great victory that has been won for Christ, here at 16th Street,” McCarrick wrote in the Review. “Xavier looks to its Regiment of 1947 to carry on those splendid ideals and sturdy principles which have been preserved and cherished for one hundred years.”
But McCarrick was soon forced to depart the Xavier Regiment, despite being exceptionally active and successful. He was evidently a leader and star student at Xavier High School the entire two-plus years he was there.
McCarrick sat out the remainder of the 1946-47 academic year. He reenrolled as a junior at a different Jesuit high school, Fordham Preparatory School in the Bronx, in the fall of 1947 and graduated from Fordham in 1949.
The 2004 Washingtonian article, relying on McCarrick’s own account, portrayed the transition as a dramatic break from past failure: “Something in his attitude changed, and he excelled at Fordham. ‘I guess I realized how unhappy I had made my mother and my family,’ he says. He was elected student-council president and was even an outstanding student in Air Force ROTC.”
Why McCarrick concocted the tale of expulsion due to absenteeism and insufficient seriousness, tossing in a post-Xavier rehabilitation motivated by his desire to be a good son, remains unclear. The pressures and time commitments of his studies and many extracurricular activities may conceivably have led to a nervous breakdown. More likely, judging from his pattern of behavior over the half century that followed, McCarrick was kicked out of Xavier for homosexuality.
Puzzlingly, Xavier High’s director of communications stated in response to inquiries for this article that McCarrick was never actually “expelled” at all, despite his use of the term. Shawna Gallagher Vega said McCarrick voluntarily left Xavier after his sophomore year but before his junior year because he took a trip, “possibly to Europe,” that “would have extended into his junior year and caused him to miss too many days.” Against the advice of school authorities, “he chose to take that trip and leave Xavier.”
This chronology is plainly incorrect. McCarrick is still listed as an editor-in-chief of the Review in the October 18, 1946, issue – well into his junior year. McCarrick also has frequently reminisced about growing up poor, making an extended summer vacation to any destination unlikely at this point in his life. Xavier High has not always been a stickler for accuracy in its alumni directory either. McCarrick is listed in the directory as late as 2009 in the District of Columbia section, identified as a 1949 graduate and retired archbishop.
William Underwood, Ph.D., is currently writing a book with James Grein, the most prominent victim of sexual abuse by former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.