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Vatican sued for allowing Cardinal Theodore McCarrick to serve in New Jersey and New York

Four accusers of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick have filed a lawsuit against the Vatican, arguing it should be held liable for allowing the now-disgraced cleric to serve in multiple positions in New York and New Jersey when it knew of numerous allegations of sexual abuse against him.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Newark, New Jersey, where McCarrick served as archbishop from the mid-1980s until 2000. 

Prior to that, he served as bishop of the Diocese of Metuchen, also in New Jersey, and as a priest in the archdiocese of New York.

He was appointed archbishop of Washington, D.C., in 2000 by Pope John Paul II and became one of the highest-ranking, most visible Roman Catholic officials in the United States and a skilled fundraiser. 

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, pictured in 2004, was defrocked by Pope Francis last year

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, pictured in 2004, was defrocked by Pope Francis last year

Now four men are suing the Vatican in Newark, New Jersey, for sexual abuse by McCarrick

Now four men are suing the Vatican in Newark, New Jersey, for sexual abuse by McCarrick 

McCarrick, pictured in 2000, said he had no recollection of child abuse and has not commented publicly on allegations of misconduct with adults. Now aged 90, he is living in isolation

McCarrick, pictured in 2000, said he had no recollection of child abuse and has not commented publicly on allegations of misconduct with adults. Now aged 90, he is living in isolation

McCarrick was defrocked in 2019 after an investigation substantiated allegations of sexual abuse against him.

Timeline of Cardinal McCarrick’s downfall 

1958: Ordained a priest in New York 

1977: Ordained as an auxiliary bishop 

1981: Installed as bishop of Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey

1984: Buys beach house where alleged abuse takes place 

1986: Installed as archbishop of Newark 

Late 1980s: Two seminary professors speak with superiors about McCarrick’s behavior

1988: New Jersey man tells Pope John Paul II he was sexually abused by McCarrick 

1994: Further allegations of abuse surface

1995: He hosts Pope John Paul II

1999: Allegations are included in a letter from Cardinal O’Connor, then the Archbishop of New York

2000: appointed archbishop of Washington by Pope John Paul II 

2001: McCarrick is promoted to cardinal

2005: Settlements reached with a former seminary student who alleged abuse; remains a secret until 2018

2006: McCarrick retires from the Washington Archdiocese

2008: Private restrictions put in place by Pope Benedict XVI officials 

2018: McCarrick removed from ministry after credible allegation he sexually abused a child

2019: McCarrick is defrocked

2020: Vatican report is released 

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Three of the plaintiffs were parishioners who allege McCarrick abused them as youths in the 1980s. 

The fourth is a priest who alleges McCarrick abused him at a beach house in New Jersey in the 1990s and that a fellow priest told him to forget about what happened ‘for the good of the church.’

An internal Vatican report released last week found that bishops, cardinals and popes downplayed or dismissed multiple reports of sexual misconduct by the now-90-year-old McCarrick, who lives as a layman in a residence for priests.

The plaintiffs seek unspecified monetary damages, as well as an injunction to force the Vatican to release the names of more than 3,000 clerics who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse, and all documents relating to those claims.

Popes from John Paul II to Benedict to Francis ‘chose to conceal and condone this conduct,’ Jeff Anderson, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, said Thursday.

The lawsuit characterizes the Holy See, the government of the Catholic Church located in Vatican City, as a ‘vast enterprise’ that exerted total control over McCarrick, its employee, and had the sole authority to remove him but refused to do so because of its policy of keeping sexual abuse allegations secret.

‘If Defendant Holy See had not engaged in its vast enterprise of soliciting funds, recruiting members, and other commercial activities, and had not deceived Plaintiffs while undertaking this commercial activity, Plaintiffs would not have been abused,’ the lawsuit reads.

The lawsuit’s claims include violations of international human rights laws, consumer fraud, breach of contract, negligence and infliction of emotional distress.

An email message was left after hours Thursday with a spokesperson for the Vatican in Rome.

The Holy See has successfully defended previous lawsuits by Anderson and others by arguing that it is immune as a foreign sovereign and its priests aren’t Vatican employees. 

Anderson said Thursday that the immunity defense has been weakened over the years.

‘It’s our belief that there’s a clear legal path that must be taken,’ he said.

In this Oct. 12, 1988 file photo, President Ronald Reagan, center, and Newark Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, right, attend a Republican party campaign stop in West Orange, N.J

In this Oct. 12, 1988 file photo, President Ronald Reagan, center, and Newark Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, right, attend a Republican party campaign stop in West Orange, N.J

President Bush, left, laughs with Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick Archbishop of Washington, D.C., center, and Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts, in 2005. A new report says the U.S. Church hierarchy was aware of abuse claims but still promoted McCarrick to archbishop of Washington D.C, one of the most prestigious posts in the U.S. Church, in 2000

President Bush, left, laughs with Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick Archbishop of Washington, D.C., center, and Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts, in 2005. A new report says the U.S. Church hierarchy was aware of abuse claims but still promoted McCarrick to archbishop of Washington D.C, one of the most prestigious posts in the U.S. Church, in 2000

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