Today we learned that former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was criminally charged with sexually assaulting a teenager in Massachusetts. McCarrick has a long history of molesting children and young adults during his rise from a priest to an Archbishop and later becoming a Cardinal. He rose to be one of the most powerful Catholic leaders in the world. For years the Vatican, the Pope and other top ranking officials dismissed reports of McCarrick’s abuse and kept promoting him. So the criminal charges against McCarrick are long overdue. He should be behind bars for the countless children and young adults whose lives he ruined.
We must never forget that at one time, he was one of the most powerful Catholic bishops in the world, even though his superiors, colleagues, survivors, and witnesses knew he was a child predator.
After years of cover-up by church officials—cover-up that we have every indication is still going on—McCarrick’s crimes will be prosecuted in a court of law. This is a huge, positive step. But what else does it mean?
Coming forward and reporting abuse matters – When prosecutors charge child predators, survivors are empowered to continue to come forward and report. Every report and every statement are important pieces. Telling your story is the most powerful way to stop the cycle of abuse, protect kids, and expose decades of crime.
Witnesses see that it’s safe to blow the whistle – We know that McCarrick has been protected for decades. We have seen no indication that the cover-up of abuse has stopped. Every time brave witnesses stand up and disclose to law enforcement what they know and have seen, they are a “predator roadblock,” and tell an organization that abuse and cover-up are criminal acts that won’t be tolerated.
Lawmakers see that changing the laws to protect victims is vital – Although McCarrick was charged in Massachusetts, evidence unearthed in civil cases in New York and other states with Child Victims Act windows can help prosecutors anywhere put offenders like McCarrick and those who help them behind bars. The more states that have strong criminal laws, the more predators are jailed and deterred from abusing. Predators don’t retire, and generations-long cover-ups are best exposed when survivors, the courts, and the law are empowered to get to the truth.
Strong civil and criminal laws protect children right now and stop the cycle of abuse – Every time a child sex predator is charged, other predators are put on alert. Every time a predator is arrested, the people and institutions that cover up for them are on notice. Every time a predator is arrested, survivors are empowered and emboldened to speak out to help ensure that what happened to them does not happen to another child.
There also needs to be a reckoning for all of those who covered up and concealed his crimes. He should have been stopped by church officials decades ago, but given his position of power McCarrick was allowed to keep his position and have unlimited access to kids for decades and decades. The only way for there to be change is for there to be accountability for those who allowed McCarrick and so many others like him to flourish and hurt countless children and young adults.
We can’t change the past, but we can do everything in our power now—through reporting abuse, changing laws, supporting survivors, and exposing cover-up—to punish wrong-doers and help and protect both yesterday’s and today’s children.