Theodore McCarrick: Disgraced ex-Cardinal becomes first in US to face criminal charges

Court records show ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has been charged with 3 counts of indecent assault and battery in Boston


                            Theodore McCarrick: Disgraced ex-Cardinal becomes first in US to face criminal charges
Theodore McCarrick at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 24, 2008 (Andy Mettler/World Economic Forum/Wikimedia Commons)

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DEDHAM, MASSACHUSETTS: Former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who was defrocked by the Vatican in 2019, has become the first US Cardinal to be criminally charged. According to court documents, McCarrick was charged with three counts of indecent assault and battery and will be tried in Dedham District Court, in Massachusetts. The latest setback to McCarrick comes years after Pope Francis defrocked him, confirming decades of rumors that he was a sexual predator.

Over the years, a large number of pastors and religious figureheads have openly been outed as sexual predators. On July 23, a senior "apostle" of a church in Southern California was arrested for allegedly sexually abusing a minor girl. In May 2020, we reported on the arrest of Roy Shoop, an Oklahoma pastor who allegedly raped three girls under the pretext of training them for rodeo events. 

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McCarrick is one of the most high-profile church members to face criminal charges. In Australia, Cardinal George Pell was sentenced in 2018 for child abuse but had his conviction overturned in 2020. He was the first-ever Cardinal to face criminal charges for sex abuse. The charges against McCarrick stem from an alleged sexual assault in 1974. Here's everything we know about the case. 

Survivors of sexual abuse by priests and clergy stand before photos of accused religious men during a news conference on February 14, 2019, in New York City (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Why was Theodore McCarrick charged?

According to documents, McCarrick was charged for sexually assaulting a then-minor at a wedding reception in Massachusetts in 1974. According to the unnamed individual, McCarrick groped him on the pretext of having a talk when they were at the boy's brother's wedding reception at Wellesley College. At the time, the victim was 16 years old. Allegedly, McCarrick said the boy's father wanted him to talk to the teenager because he was "being mischievous at home and not attending church".

McCarrick then led the boy for a walk around campus and groped him before going back to the party. Furthermore, McCarrick also sexually assaulted him in a "coat room type closet" after they returned to the reception. Those weren't the only instances. the individual alleged that McCarrick assaulted him on numerous occasions over the years, including after he had turned 18. The person is being represented by the well-known lawyer for church sexual abuse victims Mitchell Garabedian. 

Garabedian said in an email to the Associated Press, "It takes an enormous amount of courage for a sexual abuse victim to report having been sexually abused to investigators and proceed through the criminal process. Let the facts be presented, the law applied, and a fair verdict rendered." So far, McCarrick has decided not to comment on the charges. An attorney declined to comment and said that they "look forward to addressing the case in the courtroom".

According to AP, authorities began investigating McCarrick after Garabedian sent a letter alleging the abuse to the DA's office. The former Cardinal can be prosecuted because he wasn’t a Massachusetts resident and had left the state, stopping the clock on the statute of limitations, according to authorities. He currently lives in Missouri and has been asked to appear before the court for his arraignment on September 3, rescheduled from August 26. 

Former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick (Twitter)

McCarrick's past in the spotlight

The case in Dedham is not the first time McCarrick's actions have been in the spotlight. In June 2018, he became the face of the Catholic Church's sex abuse crisis after Pope Francis removed him from public ministry. That move came after he was accused of abusing a teenager when he was a priest in New York. Documents detail that those allegations were simply the latest in a long line. Reportedly, the Vatican had reports dating back to 1999 that McCarrick’s behavior was problematic. 

Despite those allegations, he became a key figure in the Church's diplomatic circles. Eventually, in 2019 after a two-year-long investigation, the Church confirmed the allegations against McCarrick and had him defrocked. That internal investigation was also publicly released in 2020, a first for the Vatican. The investigation laid blame on Pope John Paul II, who appointed McCarrick archbishop of Washington, DC, despite having commissioned an inquiry that confirmed he slept with seminarians.

While the road to conviction is long, the charges represent a huge win for the many victims of abuse by the Church. "For McCarrick, today’s reckoning is long overdue. We hope that these charges lead to justice," Anne Barrett Doyle, co-founder of the online research database BishopAccountability.org, said.

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