By Christopher White, The Tablet’s National Correspondent
NEW YORK — In response to accusations that Cardinal Francis Spellman groped a West Point cadet during his time as Archbishop of New York, the Archdiocese of New York has said it is taking the claim seriously and invites the victim to formally contact the Archdiocese.
In a personal essay published last week in the online magazine Salon, Lucian K. Truscott IV, alleges that while he was a junior at West Point, Spellman groped him repeatedly during an interview Truscott was conducting for the campus magazine, The Pointer.
The alleged incident took place in 1967 when Spellman was 77-years-old.
According to Truscott’s account, Spellman’s personal secretary — a monsignor — intervened on numerous occasions to prevent the cardinal from continuing to grope him.
He went on to note that each time Spellman made an advance and was interrupted, he would then give Truscott a tie clip or a key chain, without formally acknowledging what had taken place.
“He did it over and over again, and I just kept asking questions and recording his answers like nothing happened. I left the cardinal’s residence that day carrying a couple of tie clasps, three key chains, and a couple of gold-plated tie tacks,” wrote Truscott.
In response to the essay, the archdiocese of New York told the Catholic News Agency (CNA) that this is the first they had learned of this allegation.
“This is the first time we have learned of this allegation, and take what the writer says seriously, as we do all allegations of abuse or inappropriate conduct,” Joseph Zwilling, director of communications for the Archdiocese, told CNA Feb. 11.
“We have never had a substantiated allegation of abuse against Cardinal Spellman, who died in 1967,” he continued. “We would welcome Mr. Truscott in contacting the archdiocese, and reporting his allegation to our Safe Environment Director and/or the Victim Assistance Coordinator, so that we might offer whatever assistance might be needed.
Truscott, who has led a five-decade career as a journalist and screenwriter, said that he, along with his classmates who were present at the time, laughed off the incident and never reported it. However, given the recent wave of sexual abuse claims facing the Catholic Church across the globe, Truscott said he regrets the delay.
“While it may have seemed funny to us 52 years ago, what we’ve learned about sexual abuse by priests and bishops in the Catholic Church has proved that the casual groping by Cardinal Spellman that day was only a hint of what was going on and had been going on in the church certainly for decades, and perhaps for centuries,” he said.
During his influential career as a member of the U.S. hierarchy, Spellman became close to powerbrokers within both the Catholic Church and the United States government.
His longtime friendship with Eugenio Pacelli, who went on to become Pope Pius XII, was critical to his appointment as archbishop of New York in 1939. Pacelli made the appointment soon after his election as pope.
Spellman was also a vocal critic of communism and was known to be a friend to then FBI director J. Edgar Hoover.In 1958, Spellman ordained Theodore McCarrick to the priesthood in the archdiocese of New York. McCarrick would later go on to become the one of the most prominent members of the U.S. Church following Spellman’s death. Sexual abuse allegations against McCarrick, which first became public in 2018, would later spark the latest wave of the U.S. Catholic Church’s clerical sexual abuse crisis.
Spellman died on December 2, 1967 at the age of 78, and, to date, he remains the longest serving archbishop of New York.