Former cardinal Theodore McCarrick faces new sex abuse lawsuit in Newark

Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, then-archbishop of Los Angeles, and then-Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, arrive for Pope Benedict XVI's celebration of a Mass with new cardinals in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Nov. 21, 2010. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

NEWARK, N.J. (CNS) -- A day after a New Jersey victims' rights law went into effect, a 37-year-old man represented by Minnesota attorney Jeff Anderson has filed a lawsuit against Theodore McCarrick, a former cardinal who was Newark's archbishop from 1986 to 2000.

The suit also names the Archdiocese of Newark as a defendant and alleges Vatican officials were aware of McCarrick's behavior over his more than 60 years as a cleric and yet continued to promote him as a church leader.

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The plaintiff, John Bellocchio, alleges the now-laicized former prelate sexually assaulted him when he was 14 and then-Archbishop McCarrick was visiting Bellocchio's parish in Hackensack.

The Associated Press quoted Bellocchio as saying at a morning news conference Dec. 2 that McCarrick "never would have been able to do the things he did and rise up the ranks the way he did without their (church officials) complicity or consent, implied or otherwise."

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Dismissed from the clerical state by the Vatican in February, McCarrick has been accused of abusing or sexually harassing seminarians as a bishop and abusing children since early in his career of more than 60 years as a cleric.

U.S. Catholics are waiting for a promised Vatican report on how it was possible for McCarrick to become an archbishop and cardinal when it seems that at least his sexual harassment of seminarians was widely known.

On Nov. 28, during their "ad limina" visits to the Vatican, the bishops of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, including Newark Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, brought up the impact on their priests and the faithful of the McCarrick case in a two-and-a-half-hour meeting they had with Pope Francis.

Ordained a priest of the New York Archdiocese in 1958, then-Father McCarrick was named an auxiliary bishop for New York in 1977, then became bishop of the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey, in 1981. Five years later he was appointed Newark's archbishop. He became a cardinal in February 2001 and served as archbishop of Washington from 2001 to 2006, when he retired.

McCarrick's initial suspension from ministry and removal from the College of Cardinals in 2018 came after a man alleged that McCarrick began sexually abusing him in 1971 when he was a 16-year-old altar server in New York; the Archdiocese of New York found the allegation "credible and substantiated" and turned the case over to the Vatican.

At least two former seminarians reported the sexual misconduct of McCarrick to their local bishops as far back as the 1990s. The Archdiocese of Newark and the dioceses of Metuchen and Trenton made a settlement with one man in 2005, and the Diocese of Metuchen settled with the other man in 2007.

Since September, McCarrick has been living in a Capuchin friary in rural Kansas. He continues to deny he has abused anyone.

Anderson claims his client Bellocchio's lawsuit is the first such suit to name McCarrick as a defendant.

Another lawsuit was filed under New Jersey's new law by two of six sisters who claim a now-deceased priest of the Newark Archdiocese abused the six siblings for about 10 years after he transferred to Pennsylvania.

News reports said both lawsuits seek "unspecified punitive damages."

The state's new victims' rights law lifts the statute of limitation and provides a two-year window for sexual abuse survivors to bring lawsuits in cases that were previously barred by the statute of limitations, no matter when the abuse occurred or how old the survivor is.

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