Pope Francis has defrocked former US Cardinal Theodore McCarrick after Vatican officials found him guilty of soliciting for sex while hearing Confession and sexual crimes against minors and adults, the Holy See said on Saturday.
McCarrick, who in July became the first Roman Catholic prelate in nearly 100 years to lose the title of cardinal, has now become the highest profile church figure to be dismissed from the priesthood in modern times.
The punishment for the once-powerful prelate, who had served as the archbishop of Washington, was announced five days before Francis is to lead an extraordinary gathering of bishops from around the world to help the church grapple with the crisis of sex abuse by clergy and systematic cover-ups by church hierarchy. The decades-long scandalshave shaken the faith of many Catholics and threatened his papacy.
Defrocking means McCarrick, 88, who has been living in seclusion in a friary in Kansas since last year, won’t be allowed to celebrate Mass or other sacraments.
The Vatican’s press office said that on Jan. 11, the Holy See’s doctrinal watchdog office, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, had found McCarrick guilty of “solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession, and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power.”
The officials “imposed on him the penalty of dismissal from the clerical state”.
The Sixth Commandment regards sexual behaviour. In addition, McCarrick, when he was ordained a priest in 1958, took a vow of celibacy, in accordance with church rules on priests.
McCarrick appealed the penalty, but the doctrinal officials earlier this week rejected his recourse, and he was notified on Friday, the Vatican announcement said.
McCarrick’s defrocking marks a remarkable downfall for the globe-trotting powerbroker and influential church fundraiser who mingled with presidents and popes but preferred to be called “Uncle Ted” by the young men he courted.
The scandal swirling around McCarrick was even more damning because it apparently was an open secret that he slept with adult seminarians.
The abuse claims against him were made public in June by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the current archbishop of New York. Cardinal Dolan said they had been investigated by an independent forensic agency.
A review board that included jurists, law enforcement experts, parents, psychologists, a priest and a religious sister then “found the allegations credible and substantiated” and the Vatican ordered McCarrick to stop exercising his ministry.
At the time, he released a statement maintaining his innocence but added that he “fully cooperated” in the investigation.
Senior US church officials said they had received three allegations of McCarrick’s sexual misconduct with adults decades ago, two of which resulted in settlements.
The US Catholic website Crux quoted a man as accusing him of abuse in New York’s St Patrick’s Cathedral when he was a 16-year-old in the 1970s.
Prosecutors in the US state of Pennsylvania last year found 300 priests were involved in child sexual abuse since the 1940s, crimes that were covered up by a string of bishops.
Prosecutors in half a dozen other US states have announced plans for similar investigations.
McCarrick is unlikely to face criminal charges due to the US statute of limitations, though he could face civil suits.