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Ex-Catholic cardinal Theodore McCarrick, age 93, found unfit to stand trial on teen sex abuse charges

The judge dismissed the case against the once-powerful Roman Catholic Cardinal on Wednesday because both prosecutors and defense attorneys agree he suffers from dementia

cardenal Theodore McCarrick en el Vaticano
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick at the Vatican in 2003.PAOLO COCCO (AFP)

The once-powerful Roman Catholic Cardinal Theodore McCarrick will not stand trial on charges he sexually assaulted a teenage boy decades ago, as a Massachusetts judge dismissed the case against the 93-year-old on Wednesday because both prosecutors and defense attorneys agree he suffers from dementia.

McCarrick, the ex-archbishop of Washington, D.C., was defrocked by Pope Francis in 2019 after an internal Vatican investigation determined he sexually molested adults as well as children. The McCarrick scandal created a crisis of credibility for the church, primarily because there was evidence Vatican and U.S. church leaders knew he slept with seminarians but turned a blind eye as McCarrick rose to the top of the U.S. church as an adept fundraiser who advised three popes.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Dr. Kerry Nelligan, a psychologist hired by the prosecution, said she found significant deficits in McCarrick’s memory during two interviews in June, and he was often unable to recall what they had discussed from one hour to the next. As with any form of dementia, she said there are no medications that could improve the symptoms.

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

Without being able to remember discussions, he could not participate with his lawyers in his defense, she said.

McCarrick appeared via a video link during the hearing. He was slightly slumped in his chair, wearing a light green shirt and what appeared to be a grey sweater vest or sweater around his shoulders. He did not speak during the hearing.

The once-powerful American prelate faced charges that he abused the teenage boy at a wedding reception at Wellesley College in 1974.

McCarrick has maintained his innocence and pleaded not guilty in September 2021. He was also charged in April with sexually assaulting an 18-year-old man in Wisconsin more than 45 years ago.

In February, McCarrick’s attorneys asked the court to dismiss the case, saying a professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine had examined him and concluded that he has dementia, likely Alzheimer’s disease.

At that time, lawyers said McCarrick had a “limited understanding” of the criminal proceedings against him.

McCarrick, who lives in Dittmer, Missouri, was charged with three counts of indecent assault and battery on a person over 14. He was not exempt from facing charges for abuse allegations that date back decades because the clock on the statute of limitations was paused once he left Massachusetts.

Mitchell Garabedian, a well-known lawyer for clergy sexual abuse victims who is representing the man accusing McCarrick, said in June that his client was discouraged by the prosecution’s expert findings.

“In spite of the criminal court’s decision today,” Garabedian said Wednesday, “many clergy sexual abuse victims feel as though former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick is and will always be the permanent personification of evil within the Catholic Church.”

The Associated Press generally does not identify people who report sexual assault unless they agree to be named publicly, which the victim in this case has not done.

The accuser told authorities during a 2021 interview that McCarrick was close to the man’s family when he was growing up. 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 McCarrick committed the abuse over several years, including when the boy, who was then 16, was at his brother’s wedding reception at Wellesley College. The man said McCarrick also sexually assaulted him in a coatroom after they returned to the reception.

Prosecutors say McCarrick told the boy to say the Hail Mary and Our Father prayers before leaving the room.

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