July 29, 2021
By Shelley Murphy
Defrocked former cardinal Theodore McCarrick was charged Wednesday with sexually assaulting a 16-year-old boy during a wedding reception at Wellesley College in the 1970s, making him the highest-ranking Roman Catholic official in the United States to face criminal charges in the clergy sexual abuse scandal.
McCarrick, 91, a former archbishop of Washington, D.C., who fraternized with popes and presidents before he was expelled from the priesthood over sexual abuse allegations, is charged with three counts of indecent assault and battery on a person over 14 in a criminal complaint filed by Wellesley Police in Dedham District Court.
A summons has been issued ordering McCarrick, now living in Missouri, to appear at the court for arraignment Aug. 26.
Until now, McCarrick appeared beyond the reach of the criminal courts. Several men have filed civil lawsuits in New York and New Jersey, alleging that McCarrick sexually abused them in those states when they were children between the 1970s and the 1990s. But the statute of limitations has expired in those cases, preventing authorities from pursuing criminal charges.
Yet McCarrick can be charged with the alleged assaults in Wellesley because he was not a Massachusetts resident and the statute of limitations stopped running when he left the state. At the time of the incident, McCarrick was a monsignor and secretary to Cardinal Terence Cooke and lived in the rectory attached to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.
McCarrick’s attorney, Barry Coburn of Washington D.C., said Thursday that “we will look forward to addressing this issue in the courtroom.” He declined to comment further.
The victim’s name is redacted from court filings, which say the investigation was launched in January by prosecutors in Norfolk and Middlesex counties, as well as police in Newton, Arlington, and Wellesley after the man’s attorney, Mitchell Garabedian, wrote a letter to the Norfolk and Middlesexdistrict attorneys alleging sexual abuse by McCarrick.
“My client is showing an enormous amount of courage by being a complainant in the criminal process,” said Garabedian, a longtime advocate for sexual abuse victims. “This is the first cardinal in the United States ever charged criminally for a sexual offense against a minor.”
Garabedian said his client did not want to be named. The Globe does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault without their consent.
The man told investigators that McCarrick was a family friend who began molesting him when he was a boy. He said McCarrick often went on trips with his family and had sexually abused him in New Jersey, New York, California, and Massachusetts, according to a report by Wellesley Police Detective Christopher Connelly that was filed in court with the complaint.
On June 8, 1974, the alleged victim, then 16, said he was at his brother’s wedding reception at Wellesley College when McCarrick told him his father wanted the two of them to “have a talk” because the teenager was being mischievous at home and not attending church, according to the report. He said McCarrick groped his genitals when they were walking around the campus.
When they returned to the reception, McCarrick led him into a small room, closed the blinds, and told him “that he needed to go to confession.” He then fondled his genitals while “saying prayers to make me feel holy,” according to the report.
Before leaving the room, McCarrick told him to “say three our fathers and a Hail Mary or it was one our father and three Hail Marys, so God can redeem you of your sins,” the report states.
The man told police that when he returned to the reception, his father asked him how his talk with McCarrick went. He told him to listen to the priest and “do what he tells you, he’s really going to help you.”
McCarrick’s accuser told police that he knew what was going to happen when McCarrick told him he needed to go to confession but “didn’t want to make a scene at his brother’s wedding and disturb everything because he had more respect for his mother, father and brother than himself at the time,” according to the police report.
During interviews with police, the man recounted later incidents where McCarrick sexually abused him in Arlington and at hotels in Newton, according to the report. He also provided four photographs of postcards he had received from McCarrick when he was younger, and a photograph of McCarrick that predated the wedding reception in Wellesley.
In 2018, the Vatican removed McCarrick from public ministry, citing credible allegations that he sexually abused an altar boy during preparations for Christmas Mass in the 1970s in New York. At the time, McCarrick issued a statement saying, “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.”
The following year, Pope Francis defrocked McCarrick after a Vatican investigation found him guilty of sex crimes against minors and adults.
Last November, the Vatican released a 449-page report, acknowledging that it had reports of sexual misconduct by McCarrick decades earlier, but they had been dismissed or disregarded by popes, cardinals, and bishops as he rose to become an influential cardinal. Pope John Paul II appointed McCarrick archbishop of Washington, D.C., in 2000, even after it was confirmed that McCarrick slept with seminarians, according to the report. The pope was friendly with McCarrick and believed him when he admitted sharing his bed with seminarians at a beach house was “imprudent,” but insisted he never engaged in sexual conduct with any adults or minors, the report said.
Slate reported in 2019 that McCarrick denied sexually assaulting minors or seminary students and said during an interview at a Kansas friary where he was living at the time, “I’m not as bad as they paint me. I do not believe that I did the things that they accused me of.”
The address listed for McCarrick in the court filings is the Vianney Renewal Center in Dittmer, Mo. According to its website, it’s a ministry coordinated by the Servants of the Paraclete, which collaborates with sponsoring diocese and religious communities “to provide a safe and supportive environment for the rehabilitation and reconciliation of priests and religious brothers.”