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Former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick denies sex-abuse charges in first court appearance

With a plea of not guilty, the 91-year-old McCarrick posted a $5,000 bail and agreed to stay away from children on the road to trial.

DEDHAM, Mass. (CN) — A onetime voice for the Roman Catholic Church in the early days of mounting clergy sexual abuse allegations, former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick entered a Massachusetts courtroom Friday to face accusations that he sexually abused a teenage boy in the 1970s.

The only U.S. cardinal to charged with a sexual crime against a minor, McCarrick, now 91, shuffled up the ramp to the entrance of Dedham District Court with the aid of a walker, the morning sun shining off his bent head, television cameras pressed in close.

“Shame on you!” shouted Susan Reinehan, who said she was sexually abused by a seminarian in the same New Jersey beach town were McCarrick summered. “Shame on you!”

“What a nice life that guy has,” Reinehan shouted as McCarrick entered the courthouse door and security waved him down with a wand. “How many children?”

At the arraignment hearing, McCarrick heard the charges against him: As a priest in 1974 — almost a half a century ago — McCarrick allegedly sexually assaulted a teenage boy during a wedding reception in Wellesley. Three counts of indecent assault and battery on a person 14 or older.

Judge Michael Pomarole set the bail at $5,000 after McCarrrick pleaded not guilty. The defrocked cardinal first ordained in New York City in 1958 faces orders to have no contact with his accuser or anyone under age 18, and to hand over his passport once he acquires another form of identification.

Today McCarrick is resident of Dittmer, Missouri, but decades earlier he traveled with a diplomatic passport. Described often as charming and charismatic, McCarrick helped the Vatican carry out “soft diplomacy.”

As archbishop of Washington — a role he was given by Pope John Paul II, who made the appointment despite also having ordered the Vatican inquiry that confirmed McCarrick slept with seminarians — McCarrick traveled to China to talk about religious freedom and gave a report to President Bill Clinton. In 2000, Clinton awarded McCarrick the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award.

Pope John Paul II was canonized as a saint in 2014, but he is given most of the blame for McCarrick's rise in a 2020 investigation published by the Vatican. The report details how the pope sought consult about the church’s response to allegations of sexual abuse from McCarrick, who would emerge as the church's spokesman for the issue in 2002.

In 2019, Pope Francis cast McCarrick out of the priesthood after a doctrinal watchdog office within the Holy See, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, convicted him of sexual crimes against minors and adults, including the solicitation of sex while hearing confession.

Pope Francis reaches out to hug Cardinal Archbishop emeritus Theodore McCarrick on Sept. 23, 2015, after the Midday Prayer of the Divine with more than 300 U.S. bishops, at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post via AP, File)

The criminal case in Massachusetts was filed because a quirk in the commonwealth’s law that stops the clock on the statute of limitations when the alleged offender resides out of state.

Sarah Lelle, assistant district attorney of the Norfolk District, told Pomarole during the hearing Friday that McCarrick was “immersed in the fabric of the victim’s family,” and used the act of confession to separate the boy from his siblings and family.

According to a statement of case filed by prosecutors on Thursday, McCarrick was immersed in the victim's family: to the victim he was "Uncle Ted," and he referred to the boy as his nephew.

The accuser was 16 when McCarrick presided over the wedding of the boy's brother on June 8, 1974. During the wedding reception at the Wellesley College Club, McCarrick and the teen stepped outside so that McCarrick could ostensibly scold him for not attending church and "being mischievous," as McCarrick called it.

Prosecutors say McCarrick brought him to a coatroom, telling the teen he needed to go to confession. McCarrick's accuser says the priest recited prayers while sexually assaulting him. Before leaving the room, he allegedly instructed the boy to say the “Hail Mary” and “Our Father” prayers.

But the abuse started years earlier, prosecutors say, when the boy was 11. In some instances, would rub holy water on the victim's penis, according to the latest statement of the charges.

Out on the steps of the suburban Massachusetts courthouse Friday, Anne Barret Doyle, co-director of Bishop Accountability, said the charges against McCarrick represent a “new phase to hold bishops accountable.”

Doyle said McCarrick is only the second U.S. bishop to be criminally charged. But by virtue of his high position in the church, she said McCarrick was also in a position to enable abuse by other priests.

The victim, who is not named in court records per a protective order, is represented by Mitchell Garabedian. Garabedian is the lawyer who was portrayed by Stanley Tucci in the film "Spotlight," which dramatized the account of a group of Boston Globe reporters investigating allegations of clergy sexual abuse in the Boston area.

In an email Friday, Garabedian said history was being made.

“The trailblazing complainant is sending a direct message to the Catholic Church that its reign of sexual abuse by Bishops and Cardinals is going to be confronted head on,” Garabedian said.

Daniel Marx represented McCarrick at the hearing. The former cardinal is also represented by Washington-based attorney Barry Coburn, who has represented McCarrick for years. Both declined to comment.

In a motion filed Aug. 23 seeking to continue the arraignment, McCarrick’s attorneys said McCarrick would be flying back to the assisted living facility where he resides in the Midwest. He would be flying accompanied by a family member.

“Mr. McCarrick is extremely frightened about this proceeding,” the attorneys wrote.

As the short arraignment wound to a close, the court told McCarrick to return on Oct. 28 for a pretrial hearing.

These are not the only legal troubles to recently follow the former cardinal. Earlier this week, two lawsuits filed in New Jersey by the firm Jeff Anderson & Associates said McCarrick sexually assaulted a former priest and an employee of the Archdiocese of Newark in the early ‘90s.

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