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Former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has been charged with sexually assaulting a teenage boy during a wedding reception in the 1970s, court records show.

J. Scott Applewhite/The Associated Press

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 1974, court records show.

Mr. McCarrick is charged with three counts of indecent assault and battery on a person over 14, according to documents filed in the Dedham District Court on Wednesday.

He’s the first cardinal in the United States to ever be criminally charged with a sexual crime against a minor, according to Mitchell Garabedian, a well-known lawyer for church sexual-abuse victims who is representing the man alleging the abuse by Mr. McCarrick.

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“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,” Mr. Garabedian said in an e-mail. “Let the facts be presented, the law applied, and a fair verdict rendered.”

Barry Coburn, a lawyer for Mr. McCarrick, told the Associated Press that they “look forward to addressing the case in the courtroom,” and declined further comment.

The charges against Mr. McCarrick were first reported by The Boston Globe on Thursday.

The man said the abuse started when he was a young boy, according to the court records. The man told authorities during an interview in January that Mr. McCarrick was close to his family and would perform wedding masses, baptisms and funerals for them.

The man said that during his brother’s wedding reception at Wellesley College in June 1974 – when he was 16 – Mr. McCarrick told him that his father wanted him to have a talk with Mr. McCarrick because the boy was “being mischievous at home and not attending church.”

The man said that the two of them went for a walk around campus and Mr. McCarrick groped him before they went back to the party. The man said Mr. McCarrick also sexually assaulted him in a “coat room type closet” after they returned to the reception, officials wrote in the documents.

Before leaving the room, Mr. 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.

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Mr. McCarrick, who now lives in Missouri, has been ordered to appear in Massachusetts for his arraignment on Aug. 26.

Mr. McCarrick, 91, was defrocked by Pope Francis in 2019 after a Vatican investigation confirmed decades of rumours that he was a sexual predator.

The case created a credibility crisis for the church since the Vatican had reports from authoritative cardinals dating to 1999 that Mr. McCarrick’s behaviour was problematic, yet he became an influential cardinal, kingmaker and emissary of the Holy See’s “soft diplomacy.”

Jeff Anderson, a lawyer who has represented others who say they were victimized by Mr. 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.”

“For too long Catholic institutions have been self-policing while making pledges and promises without action. McCarrick should be behind bars for his crimes,” Mr. Anderson said.

Of the thousands of Catholic clergymen implicated in sexual abuse in recent decades, Mr. McCarrick was distinctive in having reached the highest circles of church leadership – even as awareness of his suspect behaviour spread steadily through the hierarchy.

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Ordained as a priest in New York in 1958, Mr. McCarrick rose to become archbishop of Newark, N.J., in 1986 and then archbishop of Washington in 2000. He was elevated to the rank of cardinal in 2001 by Pope John Paul II.

In June. 2018, Mr. McCarrick suddenly became the face of the long-festering Catholic sex-abuse crisis as Pope Francis removed him from public ministry due to allegations that he abused a teenager while a priest in New York. A church panel determined that a former altar boy’s allegations that Mr. McCarrick fondled him before Christmas Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1971 and 1972 were “credible and substantiated.”

The church also acknowledged that it had made previously undisclosed financial settlements with adults who accused Mr. McCarrick of sexual misconduct decades ago. It was apparently common knowledge in the U.S. and Vatican leadership that “Uncle Ted,” as Mr. McCarrick was known, slept with seminarians, and yet he still he ascended up the church ranks.

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