DEDHAM, Mass. — Disgraced ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick, 91, in street clothes, stooped and using a walker, was arraigned Friday in a suburban Boston courtroom on three counts of criminal child sex abuse.
Inside, McCarrick was charged with sexually assaulting a teen in the 1970s, the first time a U.S. cardinal has faced a criminal charge of abuse. He pleaded not guilty during the hearing that lasted less than 10 minutes. Judge Michael J. Pomarole ordered McCarrick to give up his passport and to stay away from people under the age of 18, as well as the victim.
Afterward, Terry McKiernan, with BishopAccountability.org, a site that tracks abuse cases, said Friday was significant. McCarrick was a global Catholic figure, rising even as allegations of misconduct swirled, so his being criminally charged reverberates within the Church, he said. But more important are possible criminal implications for the dozens of other U.S. bishops publicly accused of sexual misconduct with minors, he said.
“For people’s consciousness, to know that this is a criminal matter in which the hierarchy is deeply implicated. And this is an option. The thought that [criminal prosecution] is an option is the thought we hope other prosecutors take from this and actually act on it.”
“There should be no statute on child sexual abuse. If you harm a child you should be worried for your whole life. They’ll grow up and start talking, just like I did,” said Susan Renehan, a survivor from Southbridge, Mass., outside the court. She called the day, “a symbol — a crumb ― but a symbol. And the truth.”
Now in his early 60s, the alleged victim is the first of more than a dozen McCarrick accusers to publicly face the once-powerful cleric who they allege sexually abused or harassed them as boys or young seminarians or clerics. Prosecutors say McCarrick abused the man when he was 16, in a coat room at the man’s brother’s wedding in Wellesley, Mass., in 1974.
The man sat with some relatives Friday inside the courtroom, his gaze fixed on McCarrick. He declined to comment. (The Washington Post does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault without their consent.)
“We want to see McCarrick looking at us. The look on his face. ... That’s why it’s a big deal,” Karen, a sister of the accuser, said Thursday. (The Washington Post is not using his sister’s last name to protect the identity of the accuser.) She and other family members drove from the Mid-Atlantic to support the survivor, who grew up part of a large Catholic family whose parents and grandparents were close to McCarrick. He was baptized by McCarrick and alleges he was later abused for more than a decade.
“You can go through all these other processes [including civil suits and Vatican probes] but they never face their victims. I think it’s a big deal,” she said.
Another man, whose allegations against McCarrick were included in a lengthy Vatican investigation of the ex-cardinal, said Thursday: “I am surprisingly nonplussed by the whole thing.” The man did not want to be identified to protect his family’s anonymity. “I guess because I just expect more of the same out of him. This is his last chance to help the Church that he professes to love so much. Let’s see what he does with it.”
According to court documents in the Dedham case, McCarrick now lives at a treatment center called the Vianney Renewal Center in Dittmer, Mo. Before retreating from public view, he was a powerful cardinal, a class that selects popes. Friday he looked frail as he walked into court, slowly in a sweater, blazer and mask.
McCarrick had been bishop of Metuchen and Newark, in New Jersey before Pope John Paul II picked him to lead Washington D.C.’s Catholics in 2000. A well-connected and prolific fundraiser for Catholic efforts, McCarrick also served as a globe-trotting diplomat for the Vatican even after he retired and years after allegations of misconduct had made their way to church leaders in the United States and Rome.
That high-flying life ended in June 2018 when the archdiocese of New York and the Vatican said there was a credible allegation of child sexual abuse from decades earlier and suspended him. Multiple allegations followed from people who said McCarrick had fondled, groped and harassed them when they worked for him as priests, seminarians or knew him as youth, usually through their families.
While shocking, due to the popularity and power of the sprightly, charismatic McCarrick, his case came two decades after the Catholic sex abuse scandal exploded in Boston and spread everywhere from high-level sports to the Boy Scouts. Forty-six U.S. bishops have been publicly accused of sexual misconduct with minors, according to BishopAccountability. Many thousands of complaints have been filed and multiple dioceses have filed for bankruptcy to cover costs of attorneys and settlements.
But McCarrick is one of only two U.S. bishops who have been criminally charged. The charges against former Springfield bishop Thomas Dupre were dropped the same day, in 2004, with prosecutors citing the statute of limitations.
McCarrick’s case went forward because of an infrequently used rule that says the accused aren’t entitled to the statute of limitation’s stop-clock if they don’t live in that jurisdiction. Because McCarrick didn’t live in Massachusetts for any significant amount of time, the statute hasn’t run out.
Marci Hamilton, an attorney and advocate for victims of child abuse, said many states have this rule but it’s rarely used. If accused criminals jump from state to state, she said, they are often charged with federal crimes instead. Proving people’s whereabouts can be difficult, she said.
McCarrick’s attorney, Barry Coburn, declined to comment. The accuser and his attorney, Mitch Garabedian, did not comment.
McCarrick has mostly declined comment since 2018. In 2019 he told a Slate reporter that he is “not as bad as they paint me,” is the target of ideological enemies and goes to confession every week.
“I do not believe that I did the things that they accused me of,” he told Slate.
A statement from the Boston Archdiocese, led by Cardinal Sean O’Malley, leader of Pope Francis’s commission to combat child sexual abuse, called Friday “an important step.”
“Today he stands before the people of the Commonwealth through the judicial system to answer the serious charges against him. We are grateful that the survivor in the Massachusetts case and all survivors, who have the courage to come forward, bring to light the crimes alleged. We pray for all impacted by this case and for all survivors of clergy sexual abuse that they are able to experience healing and know of God’s endless love for them today and always.”