Theodore McCarrick, the former Archbishop of Washington D.C., pleaded not guilty on Friday to child sex abuse charges. McCarrick was stripped of his rank as a cardinal and removed from the priesthood after the Vatican confirmed other allegations of abuse against him.
Now 91, McCarrick appeared in court for an arraignment Friday morning at the Dedham District Court outside Boston, using a walker. He entered the not guilty plea to, accusing him of sexually assaulting a teenage boy almost 50 years ago in Massachusetts. A judge ordered him to post a $5,000 bail and barred him from contacting the accuser as well as anyone under the age of 18. McCarrick was also ordered to turn over his passport and was barred from traveling outside the U.S.
As CBS News correspondent Chris Livesay reports from Rome, McCarrick's court appearance marked a profound day of reckoning for the disgraced former cardinal, as well as for the Catholic Church. Victims hope that the criminal trial of the former prelate will send a strong signal that no one, no matter how powerful, is above the law.
McCarrick was once the most powerful cardinal in the United States. He advised popes and hobnobbed with presidents.
In 2002, upon returning from a sex-abuse summit at the Vatican, he even claimed to champion the cause of abuse victims, declaring that "from now on, anybody who is credibly accused will never work in the U.S."
That now includes McCarrick himself. He was defrocked by Pope Francis in 2019 after evidence showed he'd abused minors and seminarians for decades.
Even more damning for the church was a Vatican report published last year that revealed that John Paul II, the pope who made McCarrick a cardinal and archbishop of Washington D.C., knew about the allegations, but ignored them.
CBS News Vatican consultant Monsignor Anthony Figuereido worked as McCarrick's secretary for 20 years, and he spoke to him shortly before Friday's arraignment.
"The first thing he said is: 'I do not want to end my life in this way.' So, he expects something serious to come from this trial, perhaps imprisonment. Even more stunning: 'I want my priesthood back.' It's almost as if he was deluded about the damage he has caused to victims, above all, but also to the church and the loss of faith of millions of Catholics," Figuereido said.
This week Pope Francis said he was, "not afraid of transparency or truth. Sometimes it hurts a lot, but the truth is what sets us free."
Now, with this long-overdue trial, survivors hope McCarrick's plunge from grace will inspire silent victims to speak out.
"It means that no bishop is safe," said Figuereido. "I hope that it has many shaking in their boots, those who have covered up and those, too, who have abused."
While this is the first criminal trial against McCarrick, there are numerous civil suits pending against him, too. One of his other accusers told CBS News that seeing McCarrick in court would make it the happiest day of his life.
for more features.