BOSTON -- Former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who was defrocked after a Vatican investigation confirmed he had sexually molested adults as well as children, has been charged with sexually assaulting a teenage boy during a wedding reception in Massachusetts in 1974, court records show.
McCarrick is the first cardinal in the U.S. to ever be criminally charged with a sexual crime against a minor, said Mitchell Garabedian, a well-known lawyer for church sexual abuse victims who is representing the man alleging the abuse by McCarrick.
"It takes an enormous amount of courage for a sexual abuse victim to report having been sexually abused to investigators and proceed through the criminal process," Garabedian said in an email. "Let the facts be presented, the law applied, and a fair verdict rendered."
McCarrick faces three counts of indecent assault and battery on a person older than 14, according to documents filed in Dedham District Court on Wednesday.
Barry Coburn, an attorney for McCarrick, told The Associated Press that they "look forward to addressing the case in the courtroom," and declined to comment further.
The charges against McCarrick were first reported by The Boston Globe on Thursday.
The man told authorities during an interview in January that McCarrick was close to his family and would perform wedding Masses, baptisms and funerals for them. He said that during his brother's wedding reception at Wellesley College in June 1974 -- when he was 16 -- McCarrick told him that his father wanted him to have a talk with him because he was "being mischievous at home and not attending church."
The man said that two of them went for a walk around campus and McCarrick groped him before they went back to the party. The man said McCarrick also sexually assaulted him in a "coat room type closet" after they returned to the reception, authorities wrote in the documents.
Before leaving the room, McCarrick told him to "say three Our Fathers and a Hail Mary or it was one Our Father and three Hail Marys, so God can redeem you of your sins," according to the report.
The man also described other instances of sexual abuse by McCarrick over the years, including when the man was an adult, the report said.
Authorities began investigating McCarrick after Garabedian sent a letter alleging the abuse to the district attorney's office, according to the court records.
McCarrick, 91, was defrocked by Pope Francis in 2019 after a Vatican investigation confirmed decades of rumors that he was a sexual predator.
The case created a credibility crisis for the church since the Vatican had reports from cardinals dating to 1999 that McCarrick's behavior was problematic, yet he became an influential cardinal, kingmaker and emissary of the Holy See's "soft diplomacy."
It led to a two-year investigation that found that bishops, cardinals and popes downplayed or dismissed multiple reports of sexual misconduct. An internal investigation report released last year put the lion's share of blame on Pope John Paul II, who appointed McCarrick archbishop of Washington, D.C., despite having commissioned an inquiry that confirmed he slept with seminarians.
Anne Barrett Doyle, co-founder of the online research database BishopAccountability.org, said that "for McCarrick, today's reckoning is long overdue."
"We hope that these charges lead to justice," she said in an emailed statement.
Jeff Anderson, an attorney who has represented others who say they were victimized by McCarrick, said in a statement that the defrocked cardinal's "history of prolific sex crimes has been ignored by the highest-ranking Catholic officials for decades."
McCarrick, who now lives in Missouri, has been ordered to appear in Massachusetts for arraignment Sept. 3.
Ordained in New York City in 1958, McCarrick rose to archbishop of Newark, N.J., in 1986 and then archbishop of Washington, D.C., in 2000. He was elevated to cardinal in 2001 by John Paul II.
In June 2018, Pope Francis removed him from public ministry because of allegations that he abused a teenager while a priest in New York.
Information for this article was contributed by David Crary of The Associated Press.