Theodore E. McCarrick, the former Roman Catholic cardinal expelled by Pope Francis after the church found him guilty of sexually abusing minors and adult seminarians over decades, was criminally charged on Wednesday with sexually assaulting a 16-year-old boy in 1974.
The criminal complaint makes Mr. McCarrick the highest-ranking Catholic official in the United States to face criminal charges in the sexual abuse crisis that has plagued the church for decades.
Mr. McCarrick, 91, the former archbishop of Washington, was charged with three counts of indecent assault and battery on a person age 14 or over. He is expected to appear in Dedham District Court in Massachusetts for arraignment on Sept. 3.
“It takes an enormous amount of courage for a sexual abuse victim to report having been sexually abused to investigators and proceed through the criminal process,” Mitchell Garabedian, a lawyer for the complainant in civil matters, said in a statement. “Let the facts be presented, the law applied, and a fair verdict rendered.”
The charges, reported earlier by The Boston Globe, describe allegations that Mr. McCarrick sexually assaulted the boy three times at the teenager’s brother’s wedding reception at Wellesley College on June 8, 1974. The victim described the encounters to investigators in January.
Mr. McCarrick’s lawyer, Barry Coburn, said in a statement, “We look forward to addressing this case in the courtroom.”
Jeff Anderson, a lawyer who represents five people who said Mr. McCarrick abused them, said that news of the criminal charges brought a mixture of relief and anger among victims, and that he hoped for a speedy trial.
“The anger the survivors feel is so palpable,” he said. “The more they have known and the more that is unearthed, the worse it gets.”
The criminal charges are “a milestone in the prosecution of abusive bishops,” said Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.org, a group that tracks allegations against priests.
“For McCarrick, today’s reckoning is long overdue,” she said.
Mr. McCarrick’s expulsion from the priesthood two years ago following a Vatican trial marked the first time a cardinal, the church’s highest-ranking position after the pope, was defrocked for sexual abuse. It was also the first time an American cardinal was removed from the priesthood.
Statutes of limitation have made it difficult to prosecute allegations that Mr. McCarrick sexually assaulted people during his rise to power. But the charges against Mr. McCarrick could proceed in this case because he was not a resident of Massachusetts and because the clock on the statute of limitations stopped when he was not in the state.
The Norfolk district attorney, Michael W. Morrissey, who is representing the state in the case, declined to comment before the arraignment, said his spokesman David Traub. Meghan Kelly, a spokeswoman for the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office, which is involved in the case, said the investigation was ongoing.
Alain Delaquérière contributed research.
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