ROME.- The Vatican has defrocked a former cardinal who had been one of its most influential representatives in the United States as part of a major drive to restore its reputation after having been dogged by accusations of ignoring and covering up years of sex abuse allegations, the Holy See said Saturday.
The decision to defrock Theodore McCarrick after finding him guilty of the sexual abuse of minors was announced five days ahead of an international gathering of bishops to help the church chart a way out of a deep crisis of sex abuse by clergy accompanied by a cover-up by high-ranking members of the church.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said the former cardinal and archbishop of Washington had been sentenced to, «dismissal from the clerical state,» which means he will no longer be allowed to celebrate Mass, administer the sacraments or call himself as a priest.
As of Saturday, he will be known simply as «Mr. McCarrick,» the Roman Curia said, thus making him the first US Cardinal to be dismissed, a catastrophic fall from grace for a man who had been one of the most powerful figures in the Roman Catholic Church in the US.
The former cardinal’s downfall followed years of extensive rumors about his sexual wrongdoing, «with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power,» the Vatican said.
McCarrick, 88, who now lives in a Capuchin friary in rural Kansas under a mandate to seek a life of «prayer and penance,» became in July the first man in nearly a century to lose the title of cardinal after a church investigation ruled that a charge that he had sexually abused a teenager early in the 1970s was demonstrable.
Then, in August, a report by Pennsylvania prosecutor’s detailed decades of sex abuse, something that caused outrage in the USA.
He was eventually found guilty of an undisclosed number of acts of sexual abuse against minors and sexual misconduct with adults.
He was even found guilty of soliciting sex while taking confession.
The church’s long-running sexual abuse crisis in the US was top off by massive scandals in Latin America, Europe and Australia over the course of 2018.
Saturday’s statement added that the decision to defrock McCarrick had been approved by Pope Francis who had “recognized the definitive nature of this decision made in accordance with (church) law, rendering it as ‘res iudicata,’” the Vatican said, using a Latin maxim for admitting no further recourse to appeal.
The scandals have prompted Francis to call bishops from around the world to the Vatican to discuss the crisis.
The Vatican decision to hasten McCarrick’s trial and appeal process was taken in a bid to prevent the matter from clouding the abuse summit, scheduled for next week.
Normally, appeals heard at the Vatican can take a minimum of two months, but the Vatican’s doctrinal office issued the first ruling on Jan. 11 and corroborated it on Feb. 13.
McCarrick’s case has dogged Pope Francis since August when a former Vatican envoy accused him of overlooking the reports as well as disciplinary measures that his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, had imposed on the then-cardinal.
McCarrick (New York, 1930) was ordained a cardinal by John Paul II and participated in the April 2005 conclave in which Benedict was elected Pope.
The only other incidence of a cardinal being defrocked dates back to Sept. 13, 1927, and was not related to sexual abuse.
Cardinal Louis Billot had supported the «Action Française» anti-fascist movement condemned by Pius XI.