Cardinal Theodore McCarrick molested a young altar boy at St. Patrick’s Cathedral before Christmas Mass in 1971 and 1972, the victim’s lawyer told the Daily News.
The predatory priest preyed on the teen boy, who was 15 or 16 at the time of the first assault, as he was being fitted for his Christmas cassock, said lawyer Patrick Noaker.
The victim lived with the painful secret for decades — as McCarrick’s stature grew — before coming forward to report it to church officials early this year.
“This shows you how broken the system is,” Noaker told The News. “You don’t go higher than cardinal unless you’re pope.”
McCarrick, 87, is the highest-ranking member of the Catholic Church to be booted from the ministry amid allegations of sexual misconduct. In a statement, he maintained his innocence even after a Vatican investigation substantiated the allegations.
“While I have absolutely no recollection of this reported abuse, and believe in my innocence, I am sorry for the pain the person who brought the charges has gone through, as well as for the scandal such charges cause our people,” McCarrick said.
McCarrick added that he was “shocked” when he learned of the allegations months ago.
The Manhattan-born McCarrick served as an auxiliary archbishop of New York from 1977 to 1981. He quickly moved up the rungs of the Catholic Church — becoming the bishop of Metuchen, New Jersey, then the archbishop of Newark and finally the archbishop of Washington in 2000.
He retired in 2006.
McCarrick had no record of abusing teens while working in New Jersey — but he was the subject of three previously unreported allegations of sexual misconduct with adults. Two of the accusations resulted in settlements, according to the Archdiocese of Newark.
The Archdiocese of New York said the new allegation was passed along to local law enforcement. But McCarrick won’t face arrest because state law in New York blocks victims of child sexual abuse from pressing charges after they turn 23.
“It’s appalling that his victims have no recourse,” said State Sen. Brad Hoylman, D-Manhattan, who is pushing for a more comprehensive version of the Child Victims Act than the GOP-sponsored bill under consideration in Albany.
“And now apparently the cardinal will spend his retirement years in leisure protected from further scrutiny by the justice system because of New York’s antiquated law.”
The New York victim’s lawyer said the man, who attended Cathedral Prep School and Seminary in Queens, reported the attacks to church officials in early January after learning about the archdiocese’s Independent Reconciliation and Compensation program for priest-abuse survivors.
The man found out about McCarrick’s removal from media reports and has yet to receive a settlement through the compensation program.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who spearheaded the Vatican investigation of McCarrick, said the allegation was the first “such report of a violation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People ever made against him of which the archdiocese was aware.”
During his career, McCarrick had a troubling history of stifling efforts to protect child victims from predatory priests.
He was an outspoken opponent of a proposed Maryland bill that would require priests to report suspected child abuse. McCarrick claimed that it would violate the sanctity of the confessional.
“If this bill were to pass, I shall instruct all priests in the Archdiocese of Washington who serve in Maryland to ignore it,” McCarrick wrote in a 2003 column in Catholic Standard. “On this issue, I will gladly plead civil disobedience and willingly — if not gladly — go to jail.”
Following the news of McCarrick’s removal, the nonprofit Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said he leaves a shameful legacy.
“Cardinal McCarrick is well-known to survivors as a person who protected the church hierarchy at the cost of children and minors,” the group said in a statement.
“He lobbied against reforming the restrictive Statute of Limitation laws, opposed having priests report sexual abuse of children to the police, and criticized victims who delayed reporting because memories of their horrific trauma was repressed.”