Former Cardinal avoids sex-abuse trial due to dementia

Theodore McCarrick was accused of molesting a 16-year-old boy, one of allegedly dozens of victims

A Massachusetts judge on Wednesday dismissed charges against former Roman Catholic cardinal Theodore McCarrick, ruling that the 93-year-old was not mentally competent to stand trial for the alleged sexual abuse of a teenage boy. McCarrick is the highest-ranked clergyman ever to be defrocked by the Vatican over claims of pedophilia.

The judge’s ruling came after a psychologist told Dedham District Court that McCarrick was suffering from acute memory loss and was exhibiting the signs of “severe cognitive decline.”

“It’s not just that he currently has these deficits,” the psychologist, Dr. Kerry Nelligan, said. “There is no way they are going to get better.”

McCarrick was accused of groping the genitals of a 16-year-old boy at a wedding in 1974. The case was brought after Massachusetts lifted the statute of limitations on sex-abuse cases in 2021. McCarrick is also facing similar charges in Wisconsin, where he is accused of repeatedly groping a young male victim during the late 1970s.

He pleaded not guilty in the Massachusetts case, brought two years ago, and has yet to enter a plea in Wisconsin.

Once the powerful Archbishop of Washington, McCarrick was ordered to resign as Cardinal by Pope Francis in 2018 and was laicized in 2019, after a Vatican investigation determined that he’d molested dozens of minors and adults during his ascent through the Catholic Church’s hierarchy. A report by the Holy See later found that Pope John Paul II promoted McCarrick despite knowing about the allegations against him, while Pope Benedict XVI ignored the warnings. 

However, the Vatican’s former ambassador to the US claimed in 2018 that Pope Francis knew about the allegations and made McCarrick his “most trusted counsellor,” while removing severe sanctions Benedict had placed on the cardinal.

The Catholic Church acknowledged in 2018 that it had reached settlements with a number of McCarrick’s alleged victims during the early 2000s, while he was Archbishop of Washington.

At least four civil lawsuits against the former Archbishop are still pending. One of these accuses McCarrick and three priests of having run a pedophile ring from a beach house in New Jersey in the early 1980s, while McCarrick was Bishop of Metuchen.

“The dismissal of the case against McCarrick is hugely disappointing,” Anne Barrett Doyle of told the Catholic News Agency on Wednesday. “Yet again, a predator has evaded accountability,” she continued, adding that “while the institution may have been spared the embarrassment of an ex-cardinal on trial, the disgrace of its complicity with McCarrick remains.” 

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