Could a High-ranking US Church Official Charged With Sexual Abuse Walk Free? Let’s Explore the Unsettling Facts

| Dec 7, 2023 | Catholic Church

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick Horowitz Law

Like the sands in an hourglass, time often slips through our fingers, leaving victims and families disheartened, as time seems to always favor the predator. No, we are not talking about a soap opera or a Rolling Stones song. We are referring to one such troubling case of Ted McCarrick, or Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, as he was known in his prime. Once a cardinal – one of the highest-ranking positions in the Roman Catholic Church, a respected papal advisor, a distinguished diplomate, and even a close friend to presidents, McCarrick was on a pedestal few could reach.

Fast forward to the present, McCarrick is also the only current or former U.S. cardinal to ever face sex abuse charges. McCarrick is stripped of his power and title, revealed as a serial sex abuser who preyed on the vulnerable while keeping his monstrous acts under wraps for decades. Yet, the fortunes of time appear to favor him again.

The Potentially Dead End of a Disturbing Criminal Case

A recent headline in the Washington Post sends chills down the spine: “Ex-cardinal McCarrick’s sex assault case in Wisconsin appears to be dead.” Interestingly, this is a criminal case and not a civil one. If won, it would mark McCarrick as the first US prelate to be incarcerated for child molestation. He also victimized young adults, but now the possibilities of the case proceeding and leading to a conviction seem bleak. According to both his defense lawyer and an expert witness, McCarrick, in his present condition, is too senile and unfit to attend a trial. Or so they say.

Just as a reference, this forms an eerie pattern; McCarrick faced similar charges in Massachusetts, which were conveniently dropped recently as well.

The Prevailing Role Time Has Played in McCarrick’s Crimes

The law generally identifies a child as an “adult” upon their 18th birthday. However, this can differ across states. McCarrick, using his unrivaled influence as a high-ranking Catholic official, manipulated and sexually abused young men, mainly seminarians. Some might argue that these individuals were adults as per the law’s definition, but the reality was far from that. They were exceptionally susceptible to McCarrick’s power, charm, and conniving plots.

Reporting him or rebuffing his advances could potentially ruin their clerical careers, positioning them in an unfathomably tricky spot. McCarrick exploited their age and vulnerability, knowing well that the repercussions would be minimal. This defies common sense as we question the validity of such an arbitrary rule. In recent years, it’s become clear from solid reporting and church records that many in the Catholic hierarchy knew of or strongly suspected that McCarrick was taking advantage of the vulnerable, most of whom were 18 and older.
Does turning 18 overnight turn you into an adult capable of dealing with such gross manipulation? The answer is quite clear. We at Horowitz Law strongly suspect that some of McCarrick’s peers in the US and Rome consciously or unconsciously exploited the ages of his young adult victims as an excuse to stay silent and do nothing.Time, once again, was on the predator’s side.

The Dismaying Power of Time

Child abuse victims often take decades to fully comprehend the severity of their trauma and the availability of legal options. Research and psychologists affirm this delayed response, especially if the culprit is a widely respected figure like McCarrick. The longer the delay in reporting such an incident, the lesser the chances of achieving justice. These deadlines, known as “statutes of limitations,” vary from state to state; here again, McCarrick has skillfully played with the sands of time.

Is Old Age An Excuse?

It’s heartbreaking to see an elderly perpetrator escape charges due to incapacitation. Reportedly, McCarrick, a 93-year-old ex-official, might become immune to charges for the second time due to this factor. This rings alarm bells for victims of Fr. Lawrence Hecker of New Orleans, who confessed to assaulting seven teenagers.

Fr. Hecker was arrested three months ago and is now awaiting trial. But Fr. Hecker is 92 years old. Will he, too, successfully escape consequences for his crimes by becoming – or convincing others that he has become – too incapacitated to face his accusers in court? The jury is still out.

The Grim Reality: Past Instances

Has McCarrick, who is now 93, escaped justice because of their advanced age and medical conditions? Does age make crimes less serious? Sadly, McCarrick’s case isn’t anomalous. There are multiple examples where predator priests have managed to escape the law due to their age and supposedly failing health.

Last year, Fr. Edward Kelley of Rhode Island was deemed “unable to understand or assist in the proceedings against him because “his dementia is permanent and so severe that he only knows his own name. “

Fr. Joseph Kelleher, an Irish priest who was accused of abuse in North Carolina, got off scot-free when a judge there determined that the cleric didn’t have the mental capacity to go to trial. At the time, Fr. Kelleher was 86 years old.

These instances compel us to question the justice system and its impartial handling of such grave crimes. A telling example is Massachusetts’ Fr. John Szantyr, a priest accused of sexually abusing two boys. Szantyr made a theatrical appearance in court in a wheelchair, claiming to be too sick to stand trial because of his mental decline.

But the judge, according to a local newspaper columnist, should have been “a bit more skeptical of the incompetence claims given that Fr. Szantyr pulled a shameless stunt by showing up in court in a wheelchair he didn’t need in September 2006.”

How could the writer be so sure? Here are a few jaw-dropping paragraphs:

“While Fr. Szantyr sat slouched over, looking like a pathetic, crippled old man, his attorney, Ed Ryan, told the court Fr. Szantyr could not feed, bathe or dress himself. The case was put off for six months. One victim became so upset during his ride home from court that day that he had to pull over at a rest area on the Massachusetts Turnpike. Moments later, a car drove into the very same rest area, and guess who got out and walked to the refreshment area? That’s right, the “incompetent” Fr. Szantyr. The victim’s quick-thinking friend took photographs of Szantyr going about his business without any signs of infirmity and no wheelchair in sight! The prosecutor had these photos in hand when he learned a few months later that Fr. Szantyr obtained an unrestricted driver’s license from the state of Connecticut after the wheelchair-in-court routine. Fr. Szantyr was also reportedly making money performing religious services in private homes. With all this evidence of Fr. Szantyr’s competence, the victims felt certain the case would soon be back on track for trial.”

Sadly, the cleric passed away, and all the charges against him were dropped. The column “Father Fraud: Victims Violated Again by Judge’s Ruling,” in the Patriot Ledger newspaper, is worth a read for more shocking revelations.

Final Thoughts

History has taught us time and again that delaying justice often aids predators and their enablers while causing immense harm to the victims. Reporting any known or suspected violation of children as quickly as possible is imperative. If you’ve endured such a violation, don’t hesitate to contact the police, a prosecutor, a trusted friend, a support group, an experienced attorney, or your attorney general.

Before making a snap decision, weigh all your options. Take necessary steps that align with your comfort level and help us move towards prevention, justice, and healing of such heinous crimes. Remember, time may seem to favor the predator, but there’s no doubt it eventually catches up. Stand up, speak out, and let there be no more victims. Let there be an end to this dreadful cycle.

Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by religious authority figures and other clergy. If you need a lawyer because a member of a religious organization sexually abused you, contact us today at 888-283-9922 or [email protected] to discuss your options today. Our lawyers have decades of experience representing survivors of clergy sexual abuse nationwide. We can help.