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Defrocked prelate Theodore McCarrick arraigned for child sex abuse charges

McCarrick was charged with three counts of indecent assault and battery on a person over 14, making him the first US cardinal criminally charged for such crimes.

Former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, left, arrives at Dedham District Court, Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, in Dedham, Mass.  McCarrick, the once-powerful American prelate who was expelled from the priesthood for sexual abuse, pleaded not guilty Friday to sexually assaulting a 16-year-old boy during a wedding reception in Massachusetts nearly 50 years ago.   (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

(RNS) — Former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was arraigned Friday morning in Massachusetts, where the defrocked prelate faces criminal charges of sexually abusing a 16-year-old child in 1974.

McCarrick, 91, appeared briefly in court in Dedham on Friday (Sept. 3) to hear allegations that he repeatedly sexually abused the child of a family friend, including during the sacrament of confession at a wedding that took place at Wellesley College. The alleged victim has also accused McCarrick of molesting him on family trips and at various hotels in the state.

He pleaded not guilty to the charges and was ordered to stay away from the alleged victim and people under the age of 18.

McCarrick was berated by abuse survivors and demonstrators as he approached the courtroom in a walker, according to The Washington Post. They shouted: “Shame on you! Prince of the church!”

The once prominent cleric — a liberal who was seen as a powerbroker when he served as the Catholic archbishop of Washington — was charged with three counts of indecent assault and battery on a person over 14, making him the first U.S. cardinal criminally charged for such crimes. Each carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

McCarrick has been accused of child sex abuse in other states such as New York and New Jersey. But the statute of limitations has expired in those states, preventing criminal charges from being filed.

In addition, McCarrick was defrocked by Catholic Church officials in 2019 after authorities deemed sex abuse allegations against him to be “credible and substantiated.” He has also been accused of harassing adult seminarians.

A two-year Vatican investigation made public last year also suggested high-ranking Catholic officials — including popes — dismissed or failed to act on allegations of sexual misconduct that surrounded McCarrick for decades. Among those singled out in the report: Pope John Paul II, who appointed McCarrick as archbishop of Washington, D.C., despite knowledge of a probe that concluded the prelate slept with seminarians.

The alleged victim will be represented by Mitchell Garabedian, a lawyer who has spent his career representing child sex abuse victims — including those abused by Catholic prelates. Garabedian’s litigation against Catholic officials was depicted in the 2015 film “Spotlight.”

McCarrick’s next court date is set for Oct. 28.