McCarrick criminally charged for abuse. Here's what you need to know

A Pillar Explainer

Former cardinal Theodore McCarrick was charged in Massachusetts Wednesday with three counts of indecent assault and battery on a person over 14. McCarrick, 91, is summoned to appear in a Massachusetts courtroom Aug. 26. 

The story was first reported Thursday by the Boston Globe.

Share The Pillar

Here’s what you need to know:

What is McCarrick alleged to have done?

According to court filings obtained by the Boston Globe, McCarrick is alleged to have sexually molested a 16-year-old-boy during a 1974 wedding reception at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts.

The alleged molestation was not reported as a singular occurrence. Rather, the alleged victim, who has not been named, says McCarrick was a family friend, and that McCarrick had molested him frequently, on family trips to several states. The alleged abuse in Massachusetts reportedly took place at the victim’s brother’s wedding reception.

The alleged victim claims that McCarrick molested him subsequently at hotels in Massachusetts.

Why isn’t McCarrick in prison already?

McCarrick has been accused of serially sexually abusing and coercing both children and adults, and been found guilty within the Church of canonical crimes, called delicts, by an administrative penal process. 

It has generally been perceived that the allegations of McCarrick’s criminal acts had fallen beyond state statutes of limitation, effectively preventing his prosecution in state courts. 

In Massachusetts, McCarrick can be criminally charged with assaults alleged to have taken place in 1974 because he was not a state resident and the statute of limitations’ time period for prosecution was effectively suspended when he left the state, according to the Boston Globe. 

Each criminal count against McCarrick carries a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment in Massachusetts.

Share

Could McCarrick face new canonical charges?

McCarrick was laicized in 2019 after an administrative penal process at the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. 

While records of that process are not publicly available, the former cardinal was found guilty of “solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession, and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power,” according to a Vatican press release.

It is not clear whether the CDF’s judgment against McCarrick included the allegations for which he now faces Massachusetts charges, but it is possible.

Canonically, the allegation is made complicated by the fact that the alleged victim, at age 16, was not classified in the Church's law as a minor at the time of alleged assault. This has since been changed. But the CDF's judgment in the McCarrick case seemed to sidestep the legal complexity by finding McCarrick guilty of abusing both minors and adults.

The alleged assaults could be described as abuse “with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power,” especially given the alleged victim’s recollection that his father told him specifically to be obedient to McCarrick. 

Further, the alleged victim in Massachusetts told police that McCarrick sexually assaulted him twice at the wedding reception, once during the course of sacramental confession. Depending on the exact circumstances, that assault could constitute the canonical crime of solicitation, which was mentioned specifically when McCarrick was laicized.

But if these newly-known allegations were not already known to the CDF, it is unlikely McCarrick would face new canonical charges for them; he has already been laicized, and there is no additional penalty the Church’s canonical system could impose on him for the alleged acts of assault.  

Where is McCarrick now?

Since early 2020, McCarrick has been living at the Vianney Renewal Center in Dittmer, Missouri, southwest of St. Louis.

The center is a secured facility administered by a religious order, the Servants of the Paraclete. It mostly houses priests and religious brothers who are not laicized or dismissed from religious orders, but who require ongoing supervision because of misconduct, often sexual, or substance abuse. While some clerics or religious live there short-term during a period of therapeutic treatment, others are long-term residents.

The Servants of the Paraclete say the center “collaborates with sponsoring dioceses and religious communities to provide a safe and supportive environment for the rehabilitation and reconciliation of priests and religious brothers. It offers a progressive program of healing rooted in Gospel values and based on current clinical research, which promotes spiritual, psychological and physical well-being. The goal of Vianney Renewal Center is to enable residents to realize a meaningful role in the mission of the church.”

While the St. Louis Dispatch reported in 2015 that five registered sex offenders were in residence at the center, the Missouri State Highway Patrol’s online sex offender registry does not presently identify registered sex offenders in residence at the center. 

McCarrick is believed to have paid his own expenses while in voluntary residence at the center, and The Pillar has confirmed that Church officials have been aware of the arrangement since his arrival.

Share

What does McCarrick say?

McCarrick has not responded specifically to this allegation, although his lawyer has told media he looks forward to addressing things in court. 

McCarrick said of the first allegation made public against him, which also accused him of molesting a teenager, that he was innocent. 

In 2019, McCarrick told Slate he was innocent of allegations against him, saying “I do not believe that I did the things that they accused me of.” 

McCarrick denied with particular emphasis having committed acts of abuse within the sacrament of confession. 

“That’s horrible, to take the holy sacrament and make it a horrible thing,” he said.