Former cardinal expelled as Pope confronts abuse

Pontiff expells Theodore McCarrick, a NYC native and former cardinal and archbishop of Washington D.C.
Theodore McCarrick, shown in 2011, has been accused of abusing minors and adults over a nearly 50-year clerical career.
Theodore McCarrick, shown in 2011, has been accused of abusing minors and adults over a nearly 50-year clerical career.

Pope Francis has expelled Theodore McCarrick, a former cardinal and archbishop of Washington, from the priesthood, after the church found him guilty of sexually abusing minors and adult seminarians over decades, the Vatican said Saturday.

The move appears to be the first time any cardinal has been defrocked for sexual abuse — marking a critical moment in the Vatican’s handling of a scandal that has gripped the church for nearly two decades. It is also the first time an American cardinal has been removed from the priesthood.

In a statement Saturday, the Vatican said McCarrick had been dismissed after he was tried and found guilty of several crimes, including soliciting sex during confession and “sins” with minors and with adults, “with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power.”

While the Vatican has defrocked hundreds of priests for sexual abuse of minors, few of the church’s leaders have faced severe discipline. The decision to laicize, or defrock, McCarrick is “almost revolutionary,” said Kurt Martens, a professor of canon law at the Catholic University of America.

“Bishops and former cardinals are no longer immune to punishment,” Martens said. “The reverence that was shown in the past to bishops no longer applies.”

The expulsion of McCarrick is the most serious sign to date that Francis is addressing the clerical sex abuse crisis, after facing criticism that he has moved too slowly. The announcement’s timing shows that church leaders hope they can move forward from the scandal before the coming week, when the pope and the presidents of bishops’ conferences around the world are meeting at the Vatican to discuss the sexual abuse crisis.

McCarrick, now 88, was accused of sexually abusing three minors and harassing adult seminarians and priests. A New York Times investigation last summer detailed settlements paid to men who had complained of abuse when McCarrick was a bishop in New Jersey in the 1980s, and revealed that some church leaders had long known of the accusations.

Francis accepted McCarrick’s resignation from the College of Cardinals in July and suspended him from all priestly duties.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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