Listen to this article

NEW YORK – Soon after ex-cardinal and ex-priest Theodore McCarrick was arraigned in a Massachusetts criminal court Sept. 3 on assault and battery charges, attorneys and activists alike stood on the five steps leading up to the Dedham District Court courthouse and tried to capture the day’s significance.

“Today marks a new phase in the global struggle to hold bishops accountable,” said Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of bishop-accountability.org, into microphones set up by various news outlets. “The world is witnessing what was unimaginable 20 years ago, a powerful (former) cardinal forced to answer child sex abuse charges in a suburban courtroom.”

Moments before, attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who represents the plaintiff and sat near McCarrick during the proceedings, told reporters outside of the courthouse that this was a “very emotional day” for his client, who has “been waiting for this day for decades,” and is “riding an emotional roller coaster right now.”

“Justice will prevail. The truth will be heard, and children will be kept safe,” he said. “My client, a courageous clergy sex abuse survivor, is strong and is ready to face Cardinal McCarrick.”

In the hearing that lasted about five minutes, the 91-year-old laicized cleric pled not guilty and was ordered to return to the courthouse on October 28 for a pretrial hearing, with a number of conditions set for his release. It was McCarrick’s first public appearance since 2018.

He arrived at Dedham District Court on Friday around 8:30 a.m., at which time he was ushered up a ramp and into the courthouse by marshals as a media frenzy ensued. Protestors watched as well, one shouting “shame on you” from afar.

He was dressed in a tan polo and a blazer and used a walker. Upon entry into the courtroom, he was seated on a front-row bench on the right side of the courtroom. Throughout the proceedings and afterwards, he never spoke or acknowledged anyone or anything happening around him.

An attorney briefly spoke on his behalf to accept the conditions of his release. Those conditions included a $5,000 cash bail. The laicized cleric was ordered to have no contact with the alleged victim or with anyone under 18, to not leave the United States, and to surrender his passport. He was also warned that if he is charged with a crime in the time until his pretrial hearing he could be incarcerated.

In a statement released Friday, the Archdiocese of Boston told Crux: “Today’s legal proceeding is an important step in revealing the truth in a just and consequential manner. McCarrick’s canonical conviction resulted in his dismissal from the priesthood. Today he stands he stands before the people of the Commonwealth through the judicial system to answer the serious charges against him.”

Cardinal Seán O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston, heads the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors and has long been a leader in the church’s ongoing recovery from the clergy sex abuse crisis.

McCarrick is the first former or current U.S. cardinal to be charged criminally with sexual abuse. The charges – three counts of indecent assault and battery on a person over 14 – stem from McCarrick allegedly sexually assaulting a 16-year-old boy during a wedding reception at Wellesley College on June 8, 1974.

“We are grateful that the survivor in the Massachusetts case and all survivors, who have the courage to come forward, bring to light the crimes alleged,” Friday’s statement from the Boston Archdiocese added. “We pray for all impacted by this case and for all survivors of clergy sexual abuse that they are able to experience healing and know of God’s endless love for them today and always.”

Even though the charges are from nearly 50 years ago, a specific aspect of the statute of limitations on criminal charges in Massachusetts allowed McCarrick’s accuser to pursue charges for the alleged sexual assault.

The statute of limitations for criminal cases in Massachusetts is set up to “toll” or pause when the offender is out of the state. McCarrick has never resided in Massachusetts, therefore the statute of limitations for this case doesn’t apply.

Mary Leary, a former Massachusetts child sex abuse prosecutor, previously told Crux that the fact that the statute of limitations “toll” in Massachusetts is useful tool for prosecutors, especially in child sexual abuse cases, because “sometimes it requires people to be older before they have the strength and courage” to come forward with an allegation.

She acknowledged, however, that the 50-year-gap between the criminal event and charge could make things more complicated in the courtroom.

“People’s memories fade. People’s ability to corroborate what they remember disappears. Witnesses become unavailable,” Leary said. “Those things come into play and make it harder to prove a case if you’re the government, and harder to defend if you’re the defendant.”

McCarrick was laicized – reduced to lay status – by the Vatican in 2019 after allegations of sexual abuse against adults and minors were substantiated. To date, there have been a number of civil lawsuits filed against McCarrick, mostly in New Jersey and New York. However, none of them were filed criminally.

The day before the arraignment, a former employee and a former priest of the Archdiocese of Newark filed new lawsuits alleging unpermitted sexual contact by McCarrick for alleged incidents in 1991.

Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg