Former cardinal Theodore McCarrick has been charged in Wisconsin with sexually assaulting a teenage boy in 1977.
McCarrick is charged with one count of fourth-degree sexual assault, stemming from an alleged incident in April 1977. He is accused of fondling an 18-year-old boy’s genitals when they were both guests at a house in Geneva Lake.
The charges, filed last week and announced Sunday, mark the second set of criminal charges against McCarrick, who was laicized in 2019. He is also facing sexual assault charges in Massachusetts.
Wisconsin’s Department of Justice announced that the charges came out of an attorney general probe into Catholic dioceses in state. That probe has faced criticism from both Catholic official and some victims’ advocates. The Milwaukee archdiocese has criticized the review as targeted anti-Catholicism, while one victims’ advocacy group says the state’s AG has not done enough to pursue records on alleged sexual abuse cases.
The alleged victim in the Wisconsin case, identified by Fox6 as James Grein, said McCarrick was close to his family, and alleged that he was 11 years old when McCarrick first exposed himself and soon after began to sexually assault him, frequently at parties.
Grein also said McCarrick had non-consensual intercourse with him, and had taken him on one occasion to an event where multiple adult males had intercourse with him, although those alleged events did not take place in Wisconsin and are not part of the Wisconsin criminal charges.
In 2018, Grein told the New York Times that he had been frequently abused by McCarrick, a family friend. Grein alleges that the abuse began when he was 11, in the early 1970s, before McCarrick was ordained a bishop.
The charges against McCarrick come two years after Wisconsin’s Attorney General Josh Kaul announced in April 2021 that his office would pursue information about clergy sexual abuse in Wisconsin’s five dioceses, and the prospect of cover-ups.
The attorney general said he hoped Wisconsin dioceses would “cooperate with the investigation,” and claimed that “there has never been a statewide independent investigation of the issue of clergy and faith leader abuse in Wisconsin.”
But almost a year later, as both victims’ advocates and the Milwaukee archdiocese criticized the attorney general, state officials took a step back from their initial framing of the project — seeking to manage expectations of the probe.
A state official said in March 2022 that “investigation” would be “too strong of a word” to describe the initiative, and that the word “review” would be more appropriate.
The attorney general’s office maintained that it was not changing the scope of the initiative, but was trying to temper expectations for an outcome.
But the Wisconsin-based abuse survivor advocacy group Nate’s Mission criticized the change in language, noting that it came while the attorney general’s office said its inquiry was not well-funded, and after the attorney general had decided not to push in court for diocesan personnel records which might contain evidence of wrongdoing.
Nate’s Mission told The Pillar last year that the state’s investigation began to stall soon after it started, when the Wisconsin dioceses decided they would not turn over records the attorney general’s office had requested.
In a June 2022 letter declining the records request, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s lawyer accused the attorney general of targeting the Catholic Church. The archdiocese said the investigation was “well beyond the Attorney General’s statutory authority,” and an “abuse of the First Amendment,” and that it was “based upon complete ignorance regarding what the Catholic Church has actually done over the last two decades to address the problem of clergy sexual abuse of minors.”
Nate’s Mission said the attorney general should have fought in court for a subpoena of archdiocesan records and should have pushed for records and testimony from Church officials.
Nate’s Mission did not respond to The Pillar’s request for comment on the charges against McCarrick.
Sara Larson, executive director of the Catholic nonprofit group Awake Milwaukee, which works to address sexual abuse in the Church and support survivors, welcomed the charges against McCarrick, saying that “any step toward accountability for abusers is a positive signal to victim-survivors that their stories matter.”
“As a Catholic, I welcome any opportunity to seek the truth and stand in solidarity with those who have been harmed,” Larson told The Pillar.
“Theodore McCarrick has become emblematic of the continued problems with accountability and transparency in our Church, and these charges demonstrate the value of continued investigations by secular authorities,” Larson said.
“I am grateful for the courage of the victim-survivor who chose to make a report and seek justice. This is not an easy step for any person who has experienced sexual abuse, and I’m glad that this man's report has led to concrete results.”
Although numerous abuse allegations against McCarrick have surfaced in recent years, the Wisconsin charges make up just the second criminal case against the former cardinal. He is also facing criminal charges in Massachusetts for allegedly sexual assaulting a teen in 1974.
Many of the other allegations against him have fallen beyond state statutes of limitation, effectively preventing his prosecution in state courts.
In both Wisconsin and Massachusetts, he is eligible for prosecution because he was not a state resident and the statute of limitations was paused when he left the state.
In Massachusetts, McCarrick’s attorneys have argued that the former cardinal has dementia and is not mentally competent to stand trial. Prosecutors have said they will hire their own expert to conduct a second evaluation of the 92-year-old defendant.
The former cardinal’s attorney is expected to argue in Wisconsin that McCarrick is not fit for trial.
In June 2018, the Archdiocese of New York announced that McCarrick had been removed from public ministry, at the instruction of Pope Francis, over credible allegations that he had sexually abused an altar server.
The next month, he resigned from the College of Cardinals. In the months that followed, numerous other allegations of sexual abuse and coercion were raised against him.
McCarrick was laicized after a Vatican administrative penal process in 2019, which found him guilty canonically of sexual crimes with minors and adults, with the aggravating factor of “abuse of power.”
McCarrick was also found by the Vatican to have solicited sexual contact within the sacrament of confession.
Editor’s note: This report was updated after publication to identify James Grein as McCarrick’s alleged victim in Wisconsin.