Ex-Cardinal McCarrick, FCRH ’54, Charged With Sexual Assault of a Minor

The Observer [Fordham University, Lincoln Center Campus, NY NY]

August 7, 2021

By Jill Rice

Trigger warning: nonconsensual sexual activity and abuse of minors

Nearly nine months after the Vatican released a report detailing the abuse of power and authority and abuse of minors and priests by ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Fordham College ’54, the former cardinal has now been charged with the sexual assault of a minor in 1974. 

McCarrick was charged in a Massachusetts court on three counts of indecent assault and battery on a person over 14, according to documents filed in the Dedham, Massachusetts, District Court. 

The charges were first reported by The Boston Globe on Thursday, July 29.

McCarrick is the highest-ranking Roman Catholic official in the U.S. to be criminally charged with a sexual crime against a minor, according to Mitchell Garabedian, the lawyer for the man alleging the abuse. Garabedian is a well-known lawyer representing church sexual abuse victims.

Although the incident occurred nearly 50 years ago, because McCarrick was not a Massachusetts resident and left the state after the alleged abuse, the statute of limitations was suspended, Garabedian noted.

The incident happened at a wedding at Wellesley College in 1974, three years before McCarrick became an auxiliary bishop of New York. The alleged victim was 16 at the time.

The man said that McCarrick was close to his family and the abuse started “when he was a young boy” and continued through adulthood, according to the Associated Press and court records.

The alleged victim said that at his brother’s wedding in 1974, McCarrick took him away from the others first for a walk around the campus, during which the priest groped him, then brought the then-teen to a “coat room type closet” and told him he needed to go to confession. In this small room, the man claimed, McCarrick sexually assaulted him, touching him and praying over his nude body, then told him to say a few prayers in absolution for his sins.

According to the report, the man’s father, who did not know what happened at the time, told the boy that McCarrick was going to help him, and in the court documents, he stated, “so maybe this was what it was supposed to be … I don’t know, I was still a naive young man.”

The testimony of the alleged victim is similar to that of many of the priests who came forth about McCarrick’s advances toward them in the Vatican Report from November. As their superior in the Church, McCarrick seemed to them to be an untouchable figure, one to whom they were “powerless to object.

From the 1970s onward, the report showed, priests and seminarians testified against McCarrick. Many of the victims in the report had also been groomed to view him as “Uncle Ted” and saw him as a family friend. McCarrick’s superiors and others either dismissed or failed to investigate allegations against him, so he was elevated to the position of cardinal in 2001. 

Pope Francis defrocked McCarrick in 2019 after allegations from the 1970s, including one from a minor, had been proven credible by the Vatican. Defrocking means that McCarrick is no longer a priest, cannot perform any priestly duties such as the sacraments, and cannot marry anyone.

“Let the facts be presented, the law applied, and a fair verdict rendered.”Mitchell Garabedian, lawyer for the alleged victim

This case could be pivotal for clerical sexual abuse survivors. According to the Associated Press, Garabedian wrote in an email, “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.”

Other men from New York and New Jersey have sued McCarrick, but the statute of limitations in those states has prevented anyone from pursuing criminal charges, according to Newjersey.com.   

Garabedian concluded, “Let the facts be presented, the law applied, and a fair verdict rendered.” 

Barry Coburn, an attorney for McCarrick, told the Associated Press that they “look forward to addressing the case in the courtroom.” McCarrick’s arraignment is set for Sept. 3.

Read The Observer’s coverage of the McCarrick report from November 2020.