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Former cardinal Theodore McCarrick has been charged with sexually abusing a teenage boy, making him the highest-ranking Roman Catholic official in the United States to face criminal charges in the clergy sexual abuse scandal.
The defrocked clergyman was charged on Wednesday with the sexual assault of a 16-year-old boy during a wedding reception at Wellesley College in the 1970s.
Mr McCarrick, 91, is charged with three counts of indecent assault and battery on a person over 14 in a criminal complaint filed by Wellesley Police in Dedham District Court, reports The Boston Globe.
Despite numerous allegations, Mr McCarrick appeared previously untouchable by the courts. Several men had filed civil lawsuits in New York and New Jersey, alleging that Mr McCarrick sexually abused them as children, but as the statute of limitations had expired in those cases, authorities were unable to pursue criminal charges.
However, the former archbishop of Washington DC can be charged with the alleged assaults in Wellesley because he was not a Massachusetts resident and the statute of limitations stopped running when he left the state.
Court filings say the investigation was launched in January by the man’s attorney, Mitchell Garabedian. The victim’s name is redacted and he has said he does not wish to be named.
“My client is showing an enormous amount of courage by being a complainant in the criminal process,” said Mr Garabedian. “This is the first cardinal in the United States ever charged criminally for a sexual offence against a minor.”
The man told investigators that Mr McCarrick was a friend of the family who began molesting him when he was a boy and had sexually abused him on numerous occasions.
When the alleged victim was 16, he was assaulted by Mr McCarrick more than once at his brother’s wedding reception.
He told police that although he knew what was going to happen when forced to be alone with the then-priest, he “didn’t want to make a scene at his brother’s wedding and disturb everything because he had more respect for his mother, father and brother than himself at the time”.
The Vatican expelled McCarrick from the priesthood in 2018, after credible allegations that he had sexually abused an altar boy.
At the time, McCarrick made a statement saying, “While I have absolutely no recollection of this reported abuse, and believe in my innocence, I am sorry for the pain the person who brought the charges has gone through, as well as for the scandal such charges cause our people.”
The following year, Pope Francis defrocked Mr McCarrick after a Vatican investigation found him guilty of sex crimes against both minors and adults.
The Vatican later acknowledged that it had been aware of sexual misconduct by Mr McCarrick decades earlier, but church authorities at the highest levels had consistently dismissed or disregarded reports as Mr McCarrick rose up through the ranks to become a cardinal.