The beginning of a response for victims of sexual abuse within the Church.
Former US cardinal Theodore McCarrick has been charged with the sexual assault of a teenager.
He thus becomes the highest Catholic official to be prosecuted in the United States for acts relating to the huge scandal of sexual violence in the Church.
The 91-year-old former Archbishop of Washington faces three counts of sexual assault on a child over 14, court documents show in northeastern Massachusetts from the country.
Theodore McCarrick was forced to give up the religious habit in 2019, a sanction almost unprecedented in Church history.
The Vatican had convicted him of sexually assaulting at least one teenager in the 1970s, and of engaging in inappropriate sexual behavior with adult seminarians.
A 450-page report released by the Vatican in 2020 concluded that the former cardinal had managed to make his way to the highest levels of the Church despite recurring accusations of sexual violence.
The Holy See admitted last November that former Pope John Paul II ignored the warnings by offering a promotion to Theodore McCarrick, who was the target of persistent rumors of sexual assault, subsequently corroborated.
The first criminal case against Theodore McCarrick
Prosecutors accuse Theodore McCarrick of sexually assaulting a teenager when he was 16 and they were together at a university in Massachusetts for his brother's wedding.
According to the victim, the ex-cardinal had lured him into a room and touched his genitals while "reciting prayers", according to the complaint.
Theodore McCarrick has been the subject of several civil court proceedings, but this is the first criminal case against him.
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The victim's lawyer, Mitchell Garabedian, said his client had been "very courageous" in filing the complaint. "He is the first cardinal prosecuted in the United States for a sexual offense against a minor," he said in a statement to AFP. Theodore McCarrick's lawyer, Barry Coburn, told AFP that the former cardinal "was anxious to be able to take the case to court".
In recent years, the Catholic Church has been rocked by a series of child crime scandals. In 2018, an investigation by the Pennsylvania prosecutor's office had uncovered facts of sexual abuse perpetrated by more than 300 "predatory priests" on at least a thousand children, and covered by the Catholic Church in this state alone. Between 1950 and 2016, the American Church received complaints from more than 18,500 victims of sexual abuse by more than 6,700 clergy, according to bishop-accountability.org. Several members of the ecclesiastical hierarchy had to resign after protecting priests guilty of sexual assault, including the late Cardinal Bernard Law.