Ex-cardinal McCarrick asks for dismissal of sex abuse case against him, citing dementia

Theodore McCarrick Former cardinal Theodore McCarrick arrives outside Massachusetts' Dedham District Courthouse for his arraignment on Sept. 3, 2021. | Andrew Bukuras/CNA

Former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, 92, filed a motion in a Massachusetts court claiming he is “legally incompetent” to stand trial for sex abuse charges, citing “significant, worsening, and irreversible dementia.”

McCarrick is charged with three counts of indecent assault and battery on a person over the age of 14 relating to allegations that he sexually abused the teenager who was a family friend at a wedding ceremony in the 1970s at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts. 

McCarrick, laicized by Pope Francis in 2019, held one of the highest offices in the Catholic Church and has been accused of serially abusing his priestly authority by sexually abusing minors and seminarians.

The state of Massachusetts told CNA that it wants an opportunity to examine McCarrick’s competency to stand trial.

McCarrick’s motion to dismiss the charges comes about a month after his legal team said a neurological exam of him was being conducted by Dr. David Schretlen, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

That exam remains unavailable to the public, as Schretlen’s final report includes “extensive confidential information” about McCarrick’s health and personal life, and would be “harmful” to McCarrick if it were available to the public, one of McCarrick’s lawyers, Daniel Marx, said in a separate court document.

However, there are certain details from the report that were available in McCarrick’s motion to dismiss the case, such as his consistently low performance scores on cognitive tests.

The document says that McCarrick performed “below expectation” on nearly two-thirds of the cognitive tests administered to him. Quoting the report, the document says that he performed “worse than 92% of reasonably healthy men of similar background and estimated premorbid on 38% of the cognitive measures.”

The report on McCarrick says that his “reported inability to retrieve memories of the alleged incident and potential witnesses” and “any exculpatory factors related to it” are consistent with his performance on the exams and testimony from those who know him well, according to the document.

Schretlen’s report concluded that McCarrick has a “severe cognitive disorder” and “everyday functional disability” that classifies as dementia and is most likely due to Alzeimer’s disease, the document says.

McCarrick is not legally competent to stand trial, the document says. It adds that his dementia is also “irreversible” and “likely to progress over time” with no expectation of improvement. 

The document says that although McCarrick “remains intelligent and articulate,” he is unable to stand trial because his dementia prevents him from “meaningfully consulting with counsel and effectively participating in his own defense.”

It would be a violation of McCarrick’s 14th Amendment right in the Constitution and Article XII of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights if he were to stand trial with his dementia, his lawyers maintain in the court document.

David Traub, director of communications for the Norfolk District Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting the case, told CNA in an email Monday that “the Commonwealth will hire its own expert to assess competency.”

Traub said that an update court hearing in Dedham District Court on the state’s examination of McCarrick is set for April 20.

McCarrick’s lawyer Barry Coburn declined comment. Marx, his other lawyer, did not respond to a request for comment.

McCarrick hasn’t been seen publicly since his arraignment in Dedham on Sept. 3, 2021, when he pleaded not guilty to all three counts of indecent assault and battery on a person over the age of 14. 

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He appeared in frail condition that day, arriving at the courthouse wearing a mask and hunched over a walker. He made no comment either inside or outside the courthouse, where a demonstrator yelled, “Shame on you!” as McCarrick slowly walked past reporters and photographers alongside one of his attorneys.

The document says that McCarrick continues to maintain his innocence on all charges. 

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