Theodore E. McCarrick, 91, the former Roman Catholic cardinal who was able to rise through the church’s hierarchical structure despite rumors of sexual impropriety, today pleaded not guilty to three counts of indecent assault and battery.
Ordained in 1958, McCarrick became an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of New York in 1977, then became Bishop of Metuchen, New Jersey, in 1981. From 1986 to 2000, he was Archbishop of Newark. He was made a cardinal in February 2001 and served as Archbishop of Washington from 2001 to 2006.
McCarrick wore a face mask and hunched over a walker as he entered the courthouse in Dedham, Massachusetts, walking past TV cameras and a demonstrator yelling “shame on you,” but he said nothing as the court entered a not guilty plea on his behalf to three counts of indecent assault and battery filed in July.
Each charge carries up to five years in prison.
The prolific fundraiser, once connected to prominent politicians and considered a power broker in Washington, D.C., stands accused of abusing a 16-year-old boy in 1974 but his rising power in the Catholic hierarchy grew for decades despite repeated rumors, anonymous letters, allegations and even settlements with alleged victims of abuse.
Pope John Paul II allegedly promoted him as one of the most senior members of the Catholic clergy, despite knowing the allegations.
McCarrick resigned from the College of Cardinals in July 2018, after a canonical process found him guilty in February 2019 of “solicitation in the sacrament of confession and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power,” Pope Francis dismissed him from the priesthood.
“While I have absolutely no recollection of this reported abuse, and believe in my innocence, I am sorry for the pain the person who brought the charges has gone through, as well as for the scandal such charges cause our people,” said McCarrick, in a statement posted by the Archdiocese of New York when he resigned from the College of Cardinals over the sexual abuse allegations.
McCarrick, the former Roman Catholic cardinal expelled by Pope Francis after the church found him guilty of sexually abusing minors and adult seminarians over decades, is criminally charged in Massachusetts with sexually assaulting a 16-year-old boy in 1974.
The criminal complaint, filed by the Wellesley police in the Dedham District Court in Massachusetts, makes McCarrick the highest ranking Catholic official in the United States to face criminal charges in the sexual abuse crisis that has plagued the church for decades.
McCarrick, using a walker, arrived at a county courthouse for his first appearance on sexual assault charges, on Sept. 3, 2021 in Dedham, Massachusetts, and he was arraigned on three counts of criminal child sex abuse.
Some in the crowd outside, including survivors of other assaults, screamed at the former global power-broker: “Shame on you! Prince of the church!”
It was the first time the former Catholic archbishop of Washington had appeared in public since 2018, when his fall began amid a wave of sex abuse allegations. 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.
“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,” said Mitchell Garabedian, a lawyer representing the victim in a civil lawsuit. “Let the facts be presented, the law applied, and a fair verdict rendered.”
McCarrick pleaded not guilty in the quick process.
Bail was set at $5,000, and McCarrick, who now lives in Dittmer, Missouri, was ordered to give up his passport and to stay away from his alleged victim and children under the age of 18. His lawyer declined to comment.
Mitchell Garabedian, McCarrick’s alleged victim’s lawyer, said the case “is sending a direct message to the Catholic Church that its reign of sexual abuse by bishops and cardinals is going to be confronted head on.”
According to court records, the alleged victim said McCarrick, a family friend, began molesting him when he was a boy in New York, California, New Jersey and Massachusetts.
The man told police that during his brother’s wedding reception on June 8, 1974, at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, McCarrick told him his father wanted the two of them to have talk about his misbehavior.
McCarrick groped him as they walked around campus before taking him into a small closet-like room and fondling him while saying prayers, the man told authorities.
“The abuse crisis in our Church has been devastating. We cannot undo the actions of the past, but we must continue to act with vigilance today. I renew my commitment to seek forgiveness and healing, while ensuring a safe environment for children in this Archdiocese,” said the current Archbishop of Newark, Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, who revealed that the local archdiocese was aware of allegations of his sexual misconduct.
“The Archdiocese of Newark has never received an accusation that Cardinal McCarrick abused a minor,” said Tobin in 2018. “In the past, there have been allegations that he engaged in sexual behavior with adults. This Archdiocese and the Diocese of Metuchen received three allegations of sexual misconduct with adults decades ago; two of these allegations resulted in settlements.”