BOSTON -- Lawyers for former Roman Catholic Cardinal Theodore McCarrick filed a motion Monday to dismiss a case charging him with sexually assaulting a boy decades ago, saying the 92-year-old once-powerful American prelate has dementia and is not competent to stand trial.
McCarrick pleaded not guilty in September 2021 in the Massachusetts case that alleges the priest sexually abused the boy at a wedding reception at Wellesley College in June 1974. He is the only U.S. Catholic cardinal, current or former, ever to be criminally charged with child sex crimes.
His attorneys said in their motion to dismiss that McCarrick was examined by a professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who concluded the former cardinal suffers from dementia, likely due to Alzheimer's disease.
“While he has a limited understanding of the criminal proceedings against him, his progressive and irreparable cognitive deficits render him unable to meaningfully consult with counsel or to effectively assist in his own defense,” McCarrick's lawyers wrote. They say McCarrick maintains his innocence of all charges.
A prosecutor told the judge during a hearing earlier Monday at the Dedham District Court that the Norfolk District Attorney's Office would be hiring its own expert to conduct a second opinion on competency, according to David Traub, a spokesperson for that office. The prosecutors' office declined further comment on the defense motion.
McCarrick, who lives in Dittmer, Missouri, faces three counts of indecent assault and battery on a person over 14. He can still face charges because he wasn’t a Massachusetts resident and had left the state, stopping the clock on the statute of limitations.
Mitchell Garabedian, a well-known lawyer for church sexual abuse victims who is representing the man accusing McCarrick, said Monday that his client has “shown a lot of courage in coming forward to report the crimes and he intends to see this matter through to the end.”
“Experience has taught me that the closer in time to trial the more an accused priest becomes incompetent,” Garabedian said in an email.
No trial date has been set in McCarrick's case.
The man told authorities during a 2021 interview that McCarrick, who was close to the man's family when he was growing up, began abusing him as a young boy. Prosecutors say McCarrick would attend family gatherings and travel on vacations with them and that the victim referred to the priest as “Uncle Ted.”
Prosecutors say the abuse continued throughout the years and happened again when the boy, who was then 16, was at his brother's wedding reception at Wellesley College.
Prosecutors say McCarrick told the boy his dad wanted him to have a talk with the priest because the boy was “being mischievous at home and not attending church.” The man told investigators that they took a walk around campus, and McCarrick groped him before they went back to the party. The man said McCarrick also sexually assaulted him in a coat room after they returned to the reception, authorities wrote in the documents.
Prosecutors say McCarrick told the boy to say the "Hail Mary" and “Our Father” prayers before leaving the room.
The Associated Press generally doesn’t identify people who report sexual assault unless they agree to be named publicly, which the victim in this case has not done.
Ordained as a priest in New York City in 1958, McCarrick ascended the church ranks despite apparently common knowledge in the U.S. and Vatican leadership that “Uncle Ted,” as he was known, slept with seminarians.
McCarrick became one of the most visible Catholic Church officials in the U.S. and even served as the spokesman for fellow U.S. bishops when they enacted a “zero tolerance” policy against sexually abusive priests in 2002.
His fall began in 2017, when a former altar boy came forward to report the priest had groped him in New York when he was a teenager.
The next year, the Archdiocese of New York announced McCarrick had been removed from ministry after finding the allegation to be “credible and substantiated,” and two New Jersey dioceses revealed they had settled claims against him in the past of sexual misconduct involving adults.
Pope Francis defrocked McCarrick in 2019 after a Vatican investigation determined he sexually abused minors, as well as adults.
A two-year internal investigation found that three decades of bishops, cardinals and popes downplayed or dismissed reports of sexual misconduct. Correspondence showed they repeatedly rejected the information as rumor and excused it as an “imprudence.”
The findings released in 2020 pinned much of the blame on Pope John Paul II, who appointed McCarrick archbishop of Washington, D.C., despite having commissioned an inquiry that confirmed McCarrick slept with seminarians.
This story has been corrected to reflect that the findings of the Vatican investigation were released in 2020.