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The global Catholic community Opus Dei in 2005 paid $977,000 to settle a sexual misconduct suit against the Rev. C. John McCloskey, a priest well-known for preparing for conversion big-name conservatives — Newt Gingrich, Larry Kudlow and Sam Brownback, among others.
The woman who filed the complaint is a D.C.-area Catholic who was among the many who received spiritual direction from McCloskey through the Catholic Information Center, a K Street hub of Catholic life in downtown Washington. She told The Washington Post that McCloskey groped her several times while she was going to pastoral counseling with him to discuss marital troubles and serious depression.
The guilt and shame over the interactions sent her into a tailspin and, combined with her existing depression, made it impossible for her to work in her high-level job, she said. She spoke to him about her “misperceived guilt over the interaction” in confession and he absolved her, she said.
“I love Opus Dei but I was caught up in this coverup — I went to confession, thinking I did something to tempt this holy man to cross boundaries,” she said. The Post does not name victims of sexual assault without their consent.
The disclosure of the complaint and settlement were not made public by Opus Dei until Monday but behind the scenes, the ministry of the well-known priest had been sharply curtailed. Many Washington-area Catholics have wondered for years what happened to McCloskey, who was the closest thing to a celebrity the Catholic Church had in the region.
One other woman told Opus Dei that “she was made uncomfortable by how he was hugging her,” Brian Finnerty, an Opus Dei spokesman said Monday night. He said Opus Dei is also investigating a third claim — so far unsubstantiated — that he called potentially “serious.” He declined to provide details but said the woman “may have also suffered from misconduct by Father McCloskey” at the D.C. center, which is a bookstore, chapel and gathering place for conservative Catholics in particular.
In a statement, Opus Dei Vicar Monsignor Thomas Bohlin said McCloskey’s actions at the center were “deeply painful for the woman” who made the initial complaint “and we are very sorry for all she suffered.”
Bohlin’s statement, which came after the woman requested Opus Dei go public in an effort to reach other potential victims, said McCloskey was removed from his job at the center a year after the complaint, when it was found to be credible.
“All harassment and abuse are abhorrent,” Bohlin wrote. “I am painfully aware of all that the Church is suffering, and I am very sorry that we in Opus Dei have added to it. Let us ask God to show mercy on all of us in the Church at this difficult time.”
After leaving Washington after the complaints, McCloskey was sent to England, and then Chicago and California for assignments with Opus Dei. The woman in the settlement said she was told by church officials in Chicago when he was sent there that McCloskey would not be allowed to “get faculties” — or permission to fully function as a priest — and would be put on a very tight leash.
She became worried last year when she came into contact with someone else who knew about McCloskey and heard he may have been working as a priest in California.
In the statement Monday, Opus Dei said that after the settlement, McCloskey was told to only give spiritual direction to women in the confessional — meaning separated physically from them. In Opus Dei, a traditional community of Catholics, that is the norm for priests working with those they are counseling. McCloskey had an unusually public, free role at the Information Center.
In interviews in 2014, McCloskey was identified as working in “spiritual direction and pastoral ministry.” In a 2014 piece for the Jesuit magazine America, he said he was a “spiritual consultant.”
As a result, the woman in the settlement said, a lack of clarity about McCloskey’s role all these years haunted her, and she wants to be sure any other women potentially harmed by the priest know they aren’t alone and can get help.
McCloskey, who is now in his 60s, recently moved back to the D.C. region, where he has family. Opus Dei said Monday that he “suffers from advanced Alzheimer’s. He is largely incapacitated and needs assistance for routine daily tasks. He has not had any pastoral assignments for a number of years and is no longer able to celebrate Mass, even privately.”
The woman, who remains close to Opus Dei and participates in some of their spiritual activities, said Monday she was grateful to them for going public. She is now in her mid-50s, and was 40 when the incidents with McCloskey occurred.
“I’m very happy with how it’s being handled right now. They listened,” she said.
When she first reported McCloskey’s actions in the early 2000s, she said, she did so in a confessional with an Opus Dei priest in Virginia. The priest told her not to tell anyone else, including any other priests, “so he could fix it,” she said.
Later, an Opus Dei priest tried to help her, she said, encouraging her to seek medical and legal assistance.
Finnerty said the settlement for McCloskey is the only sexual misconduct settlement Opus Dei has ever paid out in the United States. The group received a special contribution specifically for it, he said. He would not name the donor.
Before becoming a priest, McCloskey worked for Citibank and Merrill Lynch on Wall Street, according to media reports. He was ordained a priest of Opus Dei in the early 1980s. He went on to become a successful author and religious commentator on television and radio, including the Catholic station EWTN.
In a 2011 piece by the Catholic News Agency celebrating 30 years as a priest, McCloskey said God had used him “as an instrument in spite of myself to bring dozens of vocations to the priesthood, religious life and to the new ecclesial movements, and all this with my evident faults and human failings.”
Michelle Boorstein is a religion reporter, covering the busy marketplace of American faith. Her career has included a decade of globe-trotting with the Associated Press, covering topics including terrorism in the Arizona desert, debates on male circumcision, Ugandan royalty, and how strapped doctors in Afghanistan decide who lives and who dies. Follow
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