VATICAN CITY — The key accuser in the sex abuse case against ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has met with New York City prosecutors, evidence that the scandal that has convulsed the papacy is now part of the broader U.S. law enforcement investigation into sex abuse and cover-up in the Catholic Church.
James Grein gave testimony last month to Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Sara Sullivan, who is investigating a broad range of issues related to clergy abuse and the systematic cover-up by church superiors, Grein's attorney, Patrick Noaker, told The Associated Press.
The development is significant, given that the Vatican investigation against McCarrick has already created a credibility crisis for the Catholic hierarchy including Pope Francis, since it was apparently an open secret that McCarrick slept with adult seminarians. Grein's testimony, however, includes allegations that McCarrick, a former family friend, also groomed and abused him starting when he was 11.
The Manhattan District Attorney's office launched a hotline last year and invited victims to report even decades-old sex abuse, saying it would pursue "any and all investigative leads" to ensure justice.
Grein met with Sullivan before Christmas after filing a compensation claim with the New York City archdiocese alleging that McCarrick, the retired archbishop of Washington, first exposed himself when Grein was 11 and continued abusing him for some two decades, including during confession, Noaker said. The church's compensation procedures require that victims notify the district attorney of their allegations, which Grein did on Nov. 1.
Noaker, however, said Grein's testimony to Sullivan went beyond the required pro forma notification and covered issues related to a broader investigation.
On Dec. 27, Grein testified to Vatican investigators as part of the Holy See's internal probe against McCarrick. That investigation has now finished and shifted to Rome, where a final verdict is expected within weeks, Vatican officials say.
McCarrick, who has also been accused by two other men in the Vatican investigation, faces possible defrocking if Francis determines the accusations against him are credible.
Criminal charges in New York City against McCarrick are unlikely for any actual abuse, due to the statute of limitations, Noaker said. But Grein's testimony could still prove useful as prosecutors investigate patterns of abuse, conspiracy and cover-up over decades by Catholic leaders.
A law enforcement official familiar with the New York City investigation said it was separate from the one announced in September by then-New York State Attorney General Barbara Underwood, who subpoenaed all eight dioceses in New York state. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about an ongoing investigation.
Underwood, who has since been replaced, took action along with prosecutors in a dozen U.S. states after a Pennsylvania grand jury alleged that more than 1,000 children were molested by 300 priests over 70 years in six dioceses of that state alone.
The state attorney general's office is pursuing a civil investigation but has also reached out to local prosecutors authorized to convene grand juries or pursue criminal investigations.
Separately, the U.S. Justice Department has told every Catholic diocese in the country not to destroy documents or confidential archives relating to abuse investigations and the transfers of priests.
McCarrick was ordained a priest in New York City in 1958 and served as an auxiliary bishop to New York's then-Cardinal Terence Cooke before being named bishop of Metuchen, New Jersey, in 1981. It was during his years as a New York City priest — in the early 1970s — that he allegedly groped a teenage altar boy in St. Patrick's Cathedral. That accusation launched the internal church investigation.
After the New York City archdiocese found the accusation credible and announced that McCarrick had been removed from public ministry, Grein and former seminarians came forward to say that McCarrick molested them as well. Francis removed McCarrick as a cardinal in July.
McCarrick denied the initial groping allegation of the altar boy and has said, through his lawyer, that he looks forward to his right to due process.
A former priest from the Metuchen diocese, Robert Ciolek, has also publicly accused McCarrick of inappropriate behavior while he was a seminarian and formalized the accusation in a 2004 complaint to Pittsburgh church officials.
In the past week, the archdioceses of Pittsburgh and Washington confirmed that then-Pittsburgh Bishop Donald Wuerl forwarded the complaint to the Vatican embassy at the time — disproving Wuerl's claim that he hadn't heard of allegations against McCarrick until last year.
Francis recently accepted the resignation of now-Cardinal Wuerl as archbishop of Washington after his credibility suffered as a result of the McCarrick scandal and allegations about his tenure in Pittsburgh in the Pennsylvania grand jury report.