Pope Francis has defrocked former US Cardinal Theodore McCarrick after Vatican officials found him guilty of soliciting for sex while hearing confession and of sexual crimes against minors and adults, the Holy See said Saturday.
McCarrick, 88, is the highest-ranking Catholic churchman to be laicized, as the process is called. It means he can no longer celebrate Mass or other sacraments, wear clerical vestments or be addressed by any religious title. He is the first churchman who reached the rank of cardinal to be defrocked in the church’s sex abuse scandals.
The punishment for the once-powerful prelate, who had served as the archbishop of Washington, spent years in New Jersey dioceses and had been an influential fundraiser for the church, was announced five days before Francis leads an extraordinary gathering of bishops from around the world to help the church grapple with the crisis of sex abuse by clergy and the systematic cover-ups by church hierarchy. The decades-long scandals have shaken the faith of many Catholics and threaten Francis’ papacy.
The scandal swirling around McCarrick was particularly damning to the church’s reputation because it apparently was an open secret in some church circles that he slept with adult seminarians. Francis removed McCarrick as a cardinal in July after a US church investigation determined that an allegation he fondled a teenage altar boy in the 1970s was credible.
The Vatican’s press office said the Holy See’s doctrinal watchdog office, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, found McCarrick on Jan. 11 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 commandment forbids adultery.
The officials “imposed on him the penalty of dismissal from the clerical state.” It considered his appeal on Wednesday and upheld its ruling, telling McCarrick Friday of that decision, the Vatican said.
McCarrick, when he was ordained a priest in his native New York City in 1958, took a vow of celibacy in accordance with church rules on priests.
The pope “has recognized the definitive nature of this decision made in accordance with (church) law, rendering it as ‘res iudicata,’“ the Vatican said, using the Latin phrase for admitting no further recourse.