Theodore McCarrick, ex-cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, plead not guilty on Thursday to assaulting a 16-year-old boy. At 91 years old, the expelled priest is the only U.S. cardinal ever to be formally charged with sexual assault, as well as the highest ranking member of the Catholic church to be prosecuted.
Wearing a mask as he entered Boston’s Dedham District Court, Theodore McCarrick was hunched over a walker and did not speak once. The court entered a not guilty plea on his behalf, set bail at $5,000, and ordered the ex-cardinal to stay away from all minors during the trial.
A protestor at the courthouse was heard shouting “shame on you!” as McCarrick entered the courtroom.
The incident on trial, which took place in 1974, occurred at a Wellesley College wedding reception in Massachusetts.
The victim said that the abuse started when he was young, and that Theodore McCarrick was close with his family. At the wedding reception in 1974, the priest reportedly told him that he had to speak with him about “being mischievous at home and not attending church.”
After walking around the Wellesley College campus, McCarrick allegedly groped the 16-year-old, and then later sexually assaulted him in a “coat room type closet” back at the reception.
The accuser said that 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,” before they left the event. The abuse, according to the report, also carried on for years, including when he grew up into an adult.
“I do not believe that I did the things that they accused me of,” the ex-cardinal told Slate back in 2019. “I’m not as bad as they paint me.”
Theodore McCarrick had been a bishop in Metuchen and Newark, N.J., before Pope John Paul II chose him to lead Washington D.C. in 2000. Ordained in 1958, the well-connected fundraiser for the Church rose through the ranks despite common knowledge among U.S. chapters and the Vatican that he was sleeping with seminaries.
According to court documents, the priest was openly referred to as “Uncle Ted,” and had already settled two prior claims of sexual misconduct against him in New Jersey.
After a formal altar boy accused him of sexual abuse as a teenager in 2017, McCarrick became the face of the Vatican’s new “zero tolerance” policy and was promptly removed from the ministry.
The Archdiocese of New York found that the allegations against McCarrick were “credible and substantiated,” and the priest was defrocked by Pope Francis in 2019.
According to a two-year internal investigation, the Vatican found that over three decades of bishops, cardinals, and even popes, completely dismissed known cases of sexual misconduct as “rumors.”
“Today’s arraignment provides hope for many clergy sex abuse victims and survivors that justice will prevail,” said Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who has represented dozens of catholic church sex crime cases in the city. “Truth will be told and children will be kept safe.”
47 U.S. bishops have been publicly accused of sexual abuse of minors, according to The Washington Post. Thousands of claims over multiple dioceses have reportedly caused some churches to file for bankruptcy just to cover the attorneys and settlement fees.
The case is especially potent in Boston, where the priest sex scandal was first blown open by The Boston Globe. Two other cardinals have been tried outside of the United States before, but the cases were either thrown out or acquitted of all charges.
Ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s next hearing is set for Oct. 28.