September 2, 2021
By Michelle Boorstein and Kurt Shillinger
Theodore McCarrick, 91, is scheduled to appear in public — in a Massachusetts courtroom — on Friday for the first time since 2018, when the former Catholic cardinal and global power-broker began his fall amid a wave of sex abuse allegations. He will be arraigned on three counts of sexually assaulting a teen in the 1970s, the first U.S. cardinal to face criminal charges of abuse.
Now in his early 60s, the accuser plans to be with supporters in the courtroom, the first time McCarrick will publicly face one of the more than a dozen people who say the once-powerful cleric 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.
The sight of McCarrick, who now lives at a suburban Missouri treatment center, in regular street clothes and facing criminal charges in the state that put clergy sex abuse in the public consciousness, is also symbolically powerful. Advocates for clergy abuse survivors plan to gather outside the Dedham District Court.
But after two decades of abuse scandals everywhere from the Catholic Church and high-level sports to the Boy Scouts and McCarrick’s denial of more than a dozen allegations of abusing youth and seminarians, accusers have varying views on the impact. Some are taking a wait-and-see attitude. Some see something momentous.
“We want to see McCarrick looking at us. The look on his face. That’s why I’m driving. That’s why it’s a big deal,” said Karen, a sister of the accuser. (The Washington Post is not using his sister’s last name to protect the identity of the accuser. The Post does not identify victims of sexual assault without their consent.) She and other family members drove from the Mid-Atlantic for what to them is historic and to support the survivor, who is 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.
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“I am surprisingly nonplussed by the whole thing,” said a man whose allegations were included in a lengthy Vatican investigation of McCarrick. 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.”
McCarrick had been bishop of Metuchen and Newark, N.J., 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 this country and Rome.
That 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-seven U.S. bishops have been publicly accused of sexual misconduct with minors, according to BishopAccountability, a website and group that tracks abuse cases. 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 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 statue 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, “and prosecutors like to win.”
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McCarrick’s attorney, Barry Coburn, declined to comment. The accuser and his attorney, Mitch Garabedian, did not return calls seeking comment. The Norfolk County prosecutor’s office declined to comment.
McCarrick has not commented or appeared in public and has been in remote church facilities mostly since 2018, with one exception. 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.
According to court documents in the Dedham case, McCarrick now lives at the Vianney Renewal Center in Dittmer, Mo.
It wasn’t clear if Friday would be a quick arraignment with a plea, or if either side would present witnesses or arguments. Hamilton said if there is any argument from McCarrick as to whether the statute has expired, that will come ahead of any potential plea.
The hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday. Advocates for clergy abuse victims are scheduled to speak at a news conference after.
“The world will witness what was unimaginable 20 years ago, when the Catholic abuse crisis first broke in Boston: a former U.S. cardinal answering to criminal charges of child sexual abuse,” read a statement by BishopAccountability. “His appearance in court marks the victory of accountability over impunity, and of the rule of civil law over the Vatican’s failed strategy of cover-up.”