Theodore Edgar McCarrick during an interview with Reuters at the North American College in Rome February 14, 2013. Image Credit: Reuters

NEW YORK: A Boston judge ruled Friday that former top US Catholic official Theodore McCarrick was cognitively unable to stand trial for sexually assaulting a teenage boy five decades ago.

Based on the testimony of a forensic psychologist that he has dementia, "Mr. McCarrick is not competent to stand trial," ruled Massachusetts state judge Paul McCallum.

With that ruling, the state prosecutor withdrew the case against the 93-year-old former cardinal, the highest US Catholic official to face charges in the sweeping scandal over the systemic sexual abuse of minors in the Church.

"The commonwealth does not have a good-faith basis to proceed any longer with the prosecution given the testimony and the opinion of the psychologist that Mr. McCarrick is not restorable to competency," the prosecutor said.

McCarrick was charged in 2021 with three counts of indecent assault and battery against a then-16-year-old boy.

The 1974 incident allegedly took place on the campus of Wellesley College in Massachusetts during the boy's brother's wedding reception.

The charge was filed two years after McCarrick was ejected from the Catholic Church, when he became the highest-ranking Church figure to be expelled in modern times.

McCarrick once wielded significant influence in Washington as the Church's highest official there.

But behind the scenes, he had hidden regular sexual contact with adult seminarians and children, according to a Vatican investigation.

McCarrick's actions described in the report spanned decades, and the Vatican was accused of ignoring allegations against him while promoting him ever higher.

They only came to light in 2018, 12 years after his retirement, when he was stripped of his cardinal's title.

A year later he was expelled from the church, losing his status as a priest.

In a 2020 formal report, the Vatican admitted that McCarrick had been promoted despite internal warnings over potential abuse.

The report cited interviews of victims describing "sexual abuse or assault, unwanted sexual activity, intimate physical contact," including approaching his targets during confession sessions.

The report said it had accounts from 17 people who detailed McCarrick's abuse when they were still boys, who told of often repeated incidents that began when they were as young as 12, and sometimes involved him plying them with alcohol.

"A number of individuals reported feeling powerless to object to or resist physical or sexual advances given McCarrick's position of authority," the report said.