BOSTON – Former Roman Catholic Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the once-powerful American prelate who was expelled from the priesthood for sexual abuse, pleaded not guilty Friday to sexually assaulting a 16-year-old boy during a wedding reception in Massachusetts nearly 50 years ago.
McCarrick, 91, wore a mask and entered suburban Boston’s Dedham District Court hunched over a walker. “Shame on you!” a protester shouted.
He did not speak during the hearing, at which the court entered a not guilty plea on his behalf, set bail at $5,000, and ordered him to stay away from the victim and have no contact with minors.
McCarrick is the only U.S. Catholic cardinal, current or former, ever to be charged with child sex crimes.
His attorney Katherine Zimmerl said afterward that they are “looking forward to addressing the allegations in court” and would have no other immediate comment. Another hearing was set for Oct. 28.
McCarrick, who lives in Dittmer, Missouri, faced three counts of indecent assault and battery on a person over 14, according to court documents. He can still face charges because he wasn’t a Massachusetts resident and had left the state, stopping the clock on the statute of limitations.
An attorney for the accuser said after the hearing that his client has shown “enormous amount of courage” by coming forward and is “ready to see this trial through the end.”
“Today’s arraignment provides hope for many clergy sex abuse victims and survivors that justice will prevail, truth will be told and children will be kept safe,” said Mitchell Garabedian.
The Associated Press generally doesn’t identify people who report sexual assault unless they agree to be named publicly, which the victim in this case has not done.
The case against McCarrick and other Catholic clerics is especially raw in Boston, where the global priest sex abuse scandal was first exposed.
Anne Barrett Doyle, co-founder of the online research database BishopAccountability.org, said McCarrick’s case marks a “new phase in the global struggle” to hold abusive clergy accountable.
“The world is witnessing what was unimaginable 20 years ago: a powerful cardinal forced to answer to child sexual abuse charges in a suburban courtroom,” she told reporters.
Susan Renehan, who said she was sexually assaulted by another priest as a girl and came to the courthouse to see McCarrick’s arraignment, called the charges just a “crumb” for victims who themselves never got justice, but still a cause for celebration.
“So many lives have been ruined, and nobody seems to care in the Catholic Church,” she said.
Ordained as a priest in New York City in 1958, McCarrick ascended the church ranks despite apparently common knowledge in the U.S. and Vatican leadership that “Uncle Ted,” as he was known, slept with seminarians.
McCarrick became one of the most visible Catholic Church officials in the U.S. and even served as the spokesman for fellow U.S. bishops when they enacted a “zero tolerance” policy against sexually abusive priests in 2002.
His fall began in 2017 when a former altar boy came forward to report the priest had groped him when he was a teenager in New York.
The next year, the Archdiocese of New York announced that McCarrick had been removed from ministry after finding the allegation to be “credible and substantiated,” and two New Jersey dioceses revealed they had settled claims of sexual misconduct against him in the past involving adults.
Pope Francis defrocked McCarrick in 2019 after a Vatican investigation determined he sexually abused minors, as well as adults.
A two-year internal investigation found that three decades of bishops, cardinals and popes downplayed or dismissed reports of sexual misconduct. Correspondence showed they repeatedly rejected the information as rumor and excused it as an “imprudence.”
The findings released last year pinned much of the blame on Pope John Paul II, who appointed McCarrick archbishop of Washington, D.C., despite having commissioned an inquiry that confirmed McCarrick slept with seminarians.
In the Massachusetts case, authorities began investigating McCarrick after Garabedian sent a letter to the prosecutor's office alleging the abuse, according to the court records.
The man told authorities in January that McCarrick was close to his family when he was growing up and that the abuse started when he was young.
The man said that during his brother’s wedding reception at Wellesley College in June 1974, when he was 16, McCarrick told him his father wanted him to have a talk with the priest because the boy was “being mischievous at home and not attending church.”
They took a walk around campus, the man said, and McCarrick groped him before they went back to the party. The man said McCarrick also sexually assaulted him in a “coat room type closet” after they returned to the reception, authorities wrote in the documents.
The man told investigators that 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,” according to the report.
He also described other instances of sexual abuse by McCarrick over the years, including when the man was an adult, according to the court records.
Cardinals outside the U.S. have faced prosecution. Cardinal George Pell was convicted of sexual abuse in his native Australia, but his conviction was thrown out. And French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin was convicted but later acquitted of charges that he covered up for a pedophile priest.
Associated Press writer Nicole Winfield in Rome contributed to this report.