DEDHAM, Mass. — Ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick stood before a Dedham District Court judge Friday morning where he was arraigned on assault and battery charges.
In a hearing that lasted about five minutes, the 91-year-old laicized cleric pleaded not-guilty and was ordered to return to the courthouse on October 28 for a pretrial hearing, with a number of conditions set for his release. It was McCarrick’s first public appearance since 2018.
He arrived at Dedham District Court around 8:30 a.m., at which time he was ushered up a ramp, looking frail and using a walker, and into the courthouse by marshals as reporters and photographers gathered around.
McCarrick was seated on a front-row bench on the right side of the courtroom. Throughout his entry, the entire proceedings, and his exit, he never spoke or acknowledged anyone or anything happening around him.
An attorney briefly spoke on his behalf during the proceedings to accept the conditions of his release. Those conditions included a $5,000 cash bail. McCarrick was ordered to have no contact with the alleged victim or with anyone under 18, to not leave the United States, and to surrender his passport. He was also warned that if he is charged with a crime in the time until his pretrial hearing he could be incarcerated.
McCarrick is the first former or current U.S. Cardinal to be charged criminally with sexual abuse. The charges stem from McCarrick allegedly sexually assaulting a 16-year-old boy during a wedding reception at Wellesley College on June 8, 1974.
Even though the charges are from nearly 50 years ago, a specific aspect of the statute of limitations on criminal charges in Massachusetts allowed McCarrick’s accuser to pursue charges for the alleged sexual assault.
The statute of limitations for criminal cases in Massachusetts is set up to “toll” or pause when the offender is out of the state. McCarrick has never resided in Massachusetts, therefore, the statute of limitations for this case doesn’t apply.
Attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who represents the plaintiff, sat near McCarrick in the front row of a middle set of benches. Garabedian was silent in the courtroom, as there was no role for him to speak during the proceedings. However, once the proceedings ended he made a statement to reporters gathered outside of the courthouse.
“Justice will prevail. The truth will be heard and children will be kept safe,” Garabedian told reporters. “My client, a courageous clergy sex abuse survivor, is strong and is ready to face Cardinal McCarrick.”
He continued that it was a “very emotional day” for his client, who has “been waiting for this day for decades,” and is “riding an emotional roller coaster right now.”
In a statement released Friday, the Archdiocese of Boston told The Tablet: “Today’s legal proceeding is an important step in revealing the truth in a just and consequential manner. McCarrick’s canonical conviction resulted in his dismissal from the priesthood. Today he stands before the people of the Commonwealth through the judicial system to answer the serious charges against him.”
There were a handful of protestors in front of the courthouse when McCarrick arrived and left. Leaders of bishop-accountability.org and the clergy sex abuse nonprofit Road to Recovery held a joint press conference once the proceedings ended.
Anne Barrett Doyle, the co-director of bishop-accountability.org, said Friday was a significant day in the global fight against clergy sexual abuse.
“Today marks a new phase in the global struggle to hold bishops accountable,” Doyle said. “The world is witnessing what was unimaginable 20 years ago, a powerful (former) cardinal forced to answer child sexual abuse charges in a suburban courtroom.”
The day before the arraignment, a former employee and a former priest of the Archdiocese of Newark filed lawsuits alleging unpermitted sexual contact by McCarrick for alleged incidents in 1991.
The statute of limitations for indecent assault and battery on a person over 14 in Massachusetts is six years, beginning when the child turns 16. McCarrick needed to be in the state for that amount of time for the allegation’s statute of limitations to take effect.
“We are grateful that the survivor in the Massachusetts case and all survivors, who have the courage to come forward, bring to light the crimes alleged,” Friday’s statement from the Boston Archdiocese added. “We pray for all impacted by this case and for all survivors of clergy sexual abuse that they are able to experience healing and know of God’s endless love for them today and always.”
Mary Leary, a former Massachusetts child sex abuse prosecutor, told The Tablet that the statute of limitations “toll” in Massachusetts is a useful tool for prosecutors, especially in child sexual abuse cases, because “sometimes it requires people to be older before they have the strength and courage” to come forward with the allegation.
She acknowledged, however, that the 50-year gap between the criminal event and charge could make things more complicated in the courtroom.
“People’s memories fade. People’s ability to corroborate what they remember disappears. Witnesses become unavailable,” Leary said. “Those things come into play and make it harder to prove a case if you’re the government, and harder to defend the case if you’re the defendant.”
Regardless, Leary also notes the significance of the criminal charges against McCarrick. She said it’s the sign of a culture shift that focuses first on the protection of the child when allegations are made, which leads to accountability.
“That’s not to say we believe every child without question. What it is to say, though, is if a child has made an allegation or an adult has expressed a concern of observation the first reaction should be investigated, not dismissed, and I hope we’re moving in that direction,” Leary said.
McCarrick was laicized — reduced to lay status — by the Vatican in 2019 after allegations of sexual abuse against adults and minors were substantiated. To date, there have been a number of civil lawsuits filed against McCarrick, mostly in New Jersey and New York. However, none of them were filed criminally.