By Nate Raymond
DEDHAM, Mass. (Reuters) -Former Roman Catholic Cardinal Theodore McCarrick pleaded not guilty on Friday to charges he molested a 16-year-old boy in 1974, a case that makes him the highest-ranking U.S. Catholic official to be prosecuted for sexually abusing a minor.
McCarrick, 91, a former archbishop of Washington, D.C., wore a face mask and hunched over a walker as he entered the courthouse in Dedham, Massachusetts, walking past TV cameras and a demonstrator yelling "shame on you."
He said nothing as the court entered a not guilty plea on his behalf to three counts of indecent assault and battery filed in July. Each charge carries up to five years in prison.
Bail was set at $5,000, and McCarrick, who now lives in Dittmer, Missouri, was ordered not to contact his alleged victim or children. His lawyer declined to comment. McCarrick has said he had no recollection of committing child abuse.
McCarrick is the only U.S. Catholic cardinal to face child sex abuse charges. He was expelled from the Roman Catholic priesthood in 2019 after a Vatican investigation found him guilty of sexual crimes against minors and adults.
A Vatican report in November 2020 found that McCarrick rose through the church's ranks despite rumors of sexual misconduct and that Pope John Paul II promoted him despite knowing the allegations.
While McCarrick has faced lawsuits from men accusing him of sexual abuse decades ago, the statute of limitations for criminal charges in those cases has expired.
But a legal quirk froze the statute of limitations in the Massachusetts case after McCarrick, a non-resident, left the state. Sexual abuse survivors hailed the rare prosecution.
"So many children lost their lives, their innocence," said Susan Renehan, 73, who said a priest sexually assaulted her when she was a teenager. "Nobody seems to care in the Catholic Church."
Mitchell Garabedian, McCarrick's alleged victim's lawyer, said the case "is sending a direct message to the Catholic Church that its reign of sexual abuse by bishops and cardinals is going to be confronted head on."
According to court records, the alleged victim said McCarrick, a family friend, began molesting him when he was a boy in New York, California, New Jersey and Massachusetts.
The man told police that during his brother's wedding reception on June 8, 1974, at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, McCarrick told him his father wanted the two of them to have talk about his misbehavior.
McCarrick groped him as they walked around campus before taking him into a small closet-like room and fondling him while saying prayers, the man told authorities.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by David Gregorio and Steve Orlofsky)