Theodore McCarrick's court hearing is today: What to expect

Theodore McCarrick Theodore McCarrick before his dismissal from the clerical state./ Copyright Mazur_catholicchurch.org.uk

Disgraced former cardinal Theodore McCarrick is expected to appear in a Massachusetts court on Friday morning for his arraignment.

It will be a historic moment, as McCarrick, 91, is the first current or former U.S. cardinal to be criminally charged with sex abuse. It will also mark the first time McCarrick has appeared in public since 2018, when accusations of longstanding sexual misconduct by him first came to light.

On July 29, McCarrick was charged with three counts of indecent assault and battery on a person over the age of 14, in Dedham District Court in Massachusetts. The charges stemmed from an incident in 1974 when he allegedly sexually assaulted a 16 year-old male.

McCarrick had already been living at a then-undisclosed location since early 2020, and before that, a private residence at a Capuchin friary in rural Kansas. He was sentenced to a life of prayer and penance by Pope Francis in July 2018, after the New York archdiocese deemed sex abuse accusations against him to be credible.

Despite the significance of his charges, Friday’s court appearance will likely be a brief affair, an introduction to a lengthier trial process.

At an arraignment, the defendant is present in a court room as charges are read in the case. The defendant then has the opportunity to plead guilty, not guilty, or “no contest” to the charges. If a defendant pleads “no contest,” it is not a guilty plea, but does signal a willingness to accept whatever sentencing a court will issue in the case.

The judge then determines whether the defendant should be in prison or released on bail until a trial begins. The judge and may set conditions for the defendant to meet in order to avoid jail time before a trial. A date for a pre-trial conference will be determined.  

McCarrick was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of New York in 1958, and became its auxiliary bishop in 1977. He became in 1981 Bishop of Metuchen, then Archbishop of Newark in 1986, and then in 2001 Archbishop of Washington, whence he retired in 2006. He became a cardinal in 2001.

McCarrick resigned from the college of cardinals in 2018, following public allegations of abuse and harassment of minors and vulnerable adults. He was dismissed from the clerical state by Pope Francis in February 2019.

McCarrick was dismissed from the clerical state after the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith conducted an expedited canonical investigation and found him 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.”

Although he already faced several civil lawsuits in New Jersey and New York courts, McCarrick was only criminally charged this year due to the state statutes of limitations in sex abuse cases. Allegations of abuse and misconduct against him date back decades.

In Massachusetts, however, he was not a resident, and left the state before the statute of limitations would have expired. Mitchell Garabedian, the attorney representing McCarrick's alleged victim, who is now in his 60s, sent a letter to the Middlesex District Attorney that appeared to set in motion the criminal investigation that resulted in McCarrick’s charges.

The criminal charges stem from a series of sexual assaults alleged to have to have taken place on June 8, 1974 during the wedding reception of the alleged victim's brother at Wellesley College.

After allegedly committing sexual assault, McCarrick instructed the boy to "say three our fathers and a hail Mary or it was one our father and three hail Mary's, so god can redeem you of your sins," according to notes of the alleged victim's interview with authorities included in the court documents.

The criminal complaint listed McCarrick's address as a location in Dittmer, MO, the site of the Vianney Renewal Center. The center is a treatment facility run by the Servants of the Paraclete, which, according to its website, provides "a safe and supportive environment for the rehabilitation and reconciliation of priests and religious brothers." The Servants of the Paraclete have long operated centers for the treatment of priests and religious with problems of sexual or substance abuse.

Each of his three criminal charges carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

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