Theodore McCarrick, a former cardinal in the Catholic Church, is now the highest-ranking clergy official facing criminal charges of child sexual abuse. The charges accuse McCarrick of sexually assaulting a teenage boy in Massachusetts in 1974. On September 3, 2021, McCarrick appeared in Boston’s Dedham District Court to plead not guilty.
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McCarrick Promoted Despite Rumors Of Misconduct
The 450-page Vatican report details McCarrick’s habits of sexual misconduct and assault. The report found McCarrick’s behavior was an open secret among church officials. Despite widespread knowledge of his abuse, McCarrick continued to climb the clergy ranks.
In fact, the Vatican report found evidence that many church leaders ignored allegations against McCarrick. Church officials dismissed reports against McCarrick as “imprudence” and “rumor.”
In 1999, Cardinal John O’Connor, the Archbishop of New York, wrote to Pope John Paul II. The letter detailed the numerous allegations against McCarrick. Despite this letter, the Pope appointed McCarrick as Archbishop of Washington. He was later made a cardinal.
The first recorded allegations of sexual misconduct came in 2017. A former altar boy accused McCarrick of abusing him in the early 1970s.
Additional accusations found McCarrick abused adults as well as minors. The Vatican report detailed how he regularly shared a bed with young seminarians under his authority.
In 2018, following the 2017 allegation, McCarrick was removed from the New York Archdiocese. In 2019, Georgetown University revoked an honorary degree granted for humanitarian work as Archbishop of Washington. In the same year, Pope Francis laicized McCarrick following the Vatican’s internal investigation.
When a priest, deacon or bishop is laicized, he is no longer considered a member of the clergy. Laicization is also commonly known as “defrocking.”
Until recently, it was unlikely McCarrick would face criminal charges.
Survivors File Civil Lawsuits Against McCarrick
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Multiple abuse survivors have filed civil lawsuits against McCarrick and the Catholic Church in New York and New Jersey. The lawsuits covered child sexual abuse allegations from the 1970s to the 1990s.
Unfortunately, McCarrick will not face criminal charges in either state for these allegations. The criminal statutes of limitations in these states have passed.
Although McCarrick cannot face criminal charges in New York or New Jersey, he can still face charges related to clergy abuse in Massachusetts.
Massachusetts Law Allows Criminal Charges to Be Filed
In July 2021, criminal charges were brought against McCarrick in Massachusetts. The charges pertain to allegations made by an anonymous survivor. The survivor alleges McCarrick repeatedly molested him for several years. McCarrick was close with the survivor’s family.
One specific incident occurred in 1974. McCarrick allegedly assaulted the survivor at a family wedding reception. Due to the circumstances of this assault, McCarrick is able to face criminal charges for the crime.
McCarrick was not a Massachusetts resident at the time of the assault. Because of this, under state law, the “clock” for the statute of limitations stopped when McCarrick left the state. Thus, state prosecutors are able to bring criminal charges against him.
This is the first time criminal charges of abuse have been filed against a Catholic cardinal. It sets a precedent for the hundreds of other high-ranking officials, such as cardinals and bishops, facing abuse allegations. Additionally, it serves as an example of hope for survivors seeking justice.
Hawkinson, K. (2021, August 10). Ex-Cardinal McCarrick Faces Criminal Charges for Sexual Assault. The Hoya.
Mares, C. (2020, November 10). McCarrick Report: What Cardinal O’Connor said in 1999. Catholic News Agency.
Murphy, S., Ellement, J.R. (2021, September 3). Theodore McCarrick, the highest ranking priest charged in clergy abuse scandal, arraigned on sexual assault charges. The Boston Globe.
Porter, D. (2021, September 16). Lawsuit: Defrocked Cardinal McCarrick abused man in 1980s. The Associated Press.
Richer, A.D. (2021, July 29). Ex-Cardinal McCarrick charged with sexually assaulting teen. The Associated Press.
Richer, A.D. (2021, September 3). Ex-Cardinal McCarrick, 91, pleads not guilty in sex assault. The Associated Press.
(2021, July 29). Theodore McCarrick: Defrocked US cardinal charged with assault and battery. BBC News.