Clerical sex abuse survivors have hailed the Vatican’s decision to remove from the priesthood Theodore McCarrick, a former cardinal and archbishop of Washington.
Pope Francis confirmed the removal of the 88-year-old just days before the advent of an unprecedented convocation of bishops in Rome from Feb. 21–24 to tackle the widening abuse crisis the Church is facing.
McCarrick is accused of sexually abusing a man in 1971 when he was a 16-year-old altar server in New York, sexually abusing another when he was still a child, and sexually harassing several seminarians.
The first child baptized by McCarrick after his ordination claimed the priest sexually abused him from age 11 to 30.
Marie Collins, a clerical abuse survivor and former adviser to the pope, described the defrocking as “a step in the right direction.”
“No bishop, no matter how influential, is above the law of the Church,” Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said on Feb. 16. “For all those McCarrick abused, I pray this judgment will be one small step, among many, toward healing.”
The Vatican said McCarrick was found guilty of “solicitation in the sacrament of confession and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power,” Catholic News Service reported.
McCarrick surrenders all rights and duties afforded to priests, and is prohibited from presenting himself as a priest. He is banned from celebrating the sacraments, except for in the extreme situation absolving a person in imminent danger of death.
That is only one step down from the Church’s most severe penalty: excommunication. No other cardinal has faced comparable censure in modern times, Catholic News Service reported.
McCarrick was suspended from ministry last year and resigned from the College of Cardinals as the allegations against him grew in scope and substance.
He was effectively living under house arrest since August and domiciled himself in a Capuchin friary since September.
The Church reached settlements with two seminarians who made claims against the former priest in 2005 and 2007.