Last week, a Massachusetts judge dismissed the criminal charges of sexual abuse against Theodore McCarrick, a priest who was once one of the most powerful men in the Catholic Church in America.
A former cardinal and bishop, McCarrick had been charged with sexually assaulting a teenager nearly 50 years ago. The victim alleges the abuse lasted for about two decades. McCarrick, now 93, reportedly suffers from dementia, and Judge Paul McCallum of the Dedham District Court deemed him incompetent to stand trial.
The victim submitted a statement to the court, writing: “I have trouble reconciling the concept that someone who is intelligent and articulate is also not competent to stand trial and answer for his actions. I brought the charges in this matter in the hope of finding justice in this court. Instead, McCarrick walks a free man, and I am left with nothing.”
Anne Barret Doyle, co-director of the nonprofit organization Bishop-Accountability.org, which advocates for survivors of abuse at the hands of the Catholic Church, said this ruling is a stark reminder of the Catholic hierarchy’s strategy of covering up allegations to protect the church.
“Ex-Cardinal McCarrick’s abuses of seminarians were an open secret for decades,” Doyle said. “Many of his fellow cardinals and bishops knew, and they did nothing. They didn’t report him to law enforcement. They didn’t go public with the information, and they didn’t reach out to his victims. He might have been prosecuted years ago if even one of his brother bishops had called the police.”
Though McCarrick never worked in Massachusetts, the victim in this case was able to press charges thanks to a quirk in Massachusetts law that paused the statute of limitations when McCarrick left the state.
Doyle said McCarrick’s case is a prime example of why antiquated statute of limitations laws for child sex crimes — or lack thereof — should be reformed nationwide. McCarrick is just the first U.S. cardinal and the second U.S. bishop to be charged with child sex abuse.
“What if he had decided not to attend the wedding in Wellesley? We never would have seen him face any prosecution,” Doyle said. “This shouldn’t be the case. Whether sexual assault of a child is prosecutable shouldn’t depend on the predator’s travel plans.”
Despite the disappointment in the court’s decision, Doyle said these charges are a milestone to begin with.
“The world witnessed what was unimaginable 20 years ago when the Catholic abuse crisis first broke here in Boston: A former U.S. cardinal in a courtroom answering to criminal charges of child sexual abuse,” Doyle said.