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Former Cardinal McCarrick Pleaded Not Guilty To Sexual Assault

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick pleaded not guilty today to three counts of sexual assault on a teenager. He's the highest-ranking U.S. Catholic Church official to be charged with a sex crime, and his undoing has renewed calls for the Catholic Church to identify sex offenders in its ranks. Meg Woolhouse of member station GBH was at his arraignment near Boston and is on the line now.

Meg, tell us what the scene was like at the courthouse today.

MEG WOOLHOUSE, BYLINE: Well, McCarrick is 91, and he looked pretty frail. And it was all kind of painful to watch. Going in and out of the courtroom, he was hunched over his walker and moving so slowly through a crowd of reporters and protesters. At one point, someone yelled, shame on you. Other people had signs with pictures of him in full cardinal regalia saying things like, McCarrick, confess. Robert Hoatson was part of that group. He said he was a young Irish Christian brother when he first heard about McCarrick's abusive behavior toward young seminarians.

ROBERT HOATSON: They all knew. I was a young brother in 1975 when I started teaching. Everybody knew about McCarrick.

WOOLHOUSE: The alleged victim in this case told police that he was molested by the former cardinal at a wedding about 50 years ago.

SHAPIRO: And remind us what led to this case, how it wound up here in the legal system.

WOOLHOUSE: Well, McCarrick was defrocked by Pope Francis in 2019. That came after an investigation by the Vatican concluding that he had committed sex crimes against adults and minors. The church had never done anything like that to such a high-ranking member. McCarrick had been the archbishop of Newark and later Washington, D.C., before Pope John Paul made him a cardinal. That was in 2001.

SHAPIRO: And you mentioned that the alleged victim says the molestation took place about 50 years ago. What more do we know about him?

WOOLHOUSE: Well, not much, really. His name has been redacted from court documents, and he didn't make a statement at the hearing.

SHAPIRO: Are there likely to be more cases brought?

WOOLHOUSE: Yes, there are. Anne Barrett Doyle, the co-founder of bishop-accountability.org, named a half-dozen to reporters today.

ANNE BARRETT DOYLE: For every McCarrick, there are dozens of bishops with multiple allegations of sexual abuse who've been allowed by the church to retain their titles and their pensions and who have evaded criminal charges, thanks largely to antiquated statutes of limitation.

WOOLHOUSE: And she says the church's approach of self-policing just doesn't cut it.

SHAPIRO: OK, so what's next in this case?

WOOLHOUSE: The judge ordered that McCarrick post $5,000 bail and required him to surrender his passport. He lives in Missouri now, but he'll be required to reappear in court in Massachusetts again in late October. So today's really just the start.

SHAPIRO: That's Meg Woolhouse of member station GBH in Boston.

Thank you.

WOOLHOUSE: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRENTEMOLLER'S "MISS YOU") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.