Judge rules US ex-cardinal not competent to stand trial for sexual abuse

Former US cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who rose through the Church's ranks despite sexual abuse allegations (CHIP SOMODEVILLA)
Former US cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who rose through the Church's ranks despite sexual abuse allegations (CHIP SOMODEVILLA)

A Boston judge ruled Wednesday that former top US Catholic official Theodore McCarrick was cognitively unable to stand trial for sexually assaulting a teenage boy five decades ago.

Based on the testimony of a forensic psychologist that the 93-year-old has dementia, "Mr. McCarrick is not competent to stand trial," ruled Massachusetts state judge Paul McCallum.

With that ruling, the state prosecutor withdrew the case against the former cardinal, the highest US Catholic official to face charges in the sweeping scandal over the systemic sexual abuse of minors in the Church.

"The commonwealth does not have a good-faith basis to proceed any longer with the prosecution given the testimony and the opinion of the psychologist that Mr. McCarrick is not restorable to competency," the prosecutor said.

McCarrick, who was silent as he followed the hearing by video conference, was charged in 2021 with three counts of indecent assault and battery against a then-16-year-old boy.

The youth was unnamed in the complaint but has since been identified as James Grein, 64.

The 1974 incident allegedly took place on the campus of Wellesley College in Massachusetts during Grein's brother's wedding reception.

The victim says McCarrick led him into a room and groped his genitals while "saying prayers," according to the criminal complaint.

Grein, who now speaks publicly about his experience, said McCarrick, calling himself "Uncle Teddy," continued to abuse him for years.

The charge was filed two years after McCarrick was ejected from the Catholic Church, when he became the highest-ranking Church figure to be expelled in modern times.

McCarrick once wielded significant influence in Washington as the Church's highest official there.

But behind the scenes, he had hidden regular sexual contact with adult seminarians and children, according to a Vatican investigation.

McCarrick's actions described in the report spanned decades, and the Vatican was accused of ignoring allegations against him while promoting him ever higher.

They only came to light in 2018, 12 years after his retirement, when he was stripped of his cardinal's title.

A year later he was expelled from the Church, losing his status as a priest.

- Victims 'powerless' -

In a 2020 formal report, the Vatican admitted that McCarrick had been promoted despite internal warnings over potential abuse.

The report cited interviews of victims describing "sexual abuse or assault, unwanted sexual activity, intimate physical contact," including approaching his targets during confession sessions.

The report said it had accounts from 17 people who detailed McCarrick's abuse when they were still boys, who told of often repeated incidents that began when they were as young as 12, and sometimes involved him plying them with alcohol.

"A number of individuals reported feeling powerless to object to or resist physical or sexual advances given McCarrick's position of authority," the report said.

It said McCarrick's personal friendship with former pope John Paul II "likely had an impact on the pope's decision-making" in ignoring the warnings and elevating him to cardinal.

McCarrick still faces a separate criminal complaint filed against him in Wisconsin in April by Grein over alleged abuse that took place in that state in 1977.

Mitchell Garabedian, an attorney who has represented Grein and other targets of abuse by Catholic priests, said Wednesday's court ruling will not erase the views of the victims.

"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," he said.