As had been widely expected, the Vatican today announced it had removed Theodore Edgar McCarrick from the clerical state.
In a short statement, the Vatican said at the end of a penal process, the Congresso — a weekly meeting of superiors and officials of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — issued a decree finding McCarrick guilty of committing “delicts” while a cleric.
It described these as “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.”
The CDF issued the decree on Jan. 11, but the archbishop emeritus of Washington D.C. appealed against the decision.
The Vatican said CDF officials meeting on Feb. 13 considered McCarrick’s recourse against the verdict but rejected it and notified McCarrick on Feb. 15.
The statement added that Pope Francis has recognized the “definitive nature” of the decision, rendering it a res iudicata, meaning McCarrick has “no further recourse.”
The full statement:
On 11 January 2019, the Congresso of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, at the conclusion of a penal process, issued a decree finding Theodore Edgar McCarrick, archbishop emeritus of Washington, D.C., guilty of the following delicts while a cleric: 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. The Congresso imposed on him the penalty of dismissal from the clerical state. On 13 February 2019, the Ordinary Session (Feria IV) of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith considered the recourse he presented against this decision. Having examined the arguments in the recourse, the Ordinary Session confirmed the decree of the Congresso. This decision was notified to Theodore McCarrick on 15 February 2019. The Holy Father has recognized the definitive nature of this decision made in accord with law, rendering it a res iudicata (i.e., admitting of no further recourse).
Theodore McCarrick, 88, was consecrated bishop in 1977, becoming an auxiliary in the archdiocese of New York. He then rose through the episcopal ranks, becoming Bishop of Metuchen, New Jersey, in 1981, Archbishop of Newark in 1986, and Archbishop of Washington D.C. in 2000. Pope St. John Paul II elevated him to cardinal in 2001.
He became the first U.S. cardinal in history to be removed from the College of Cardinals last July after being “credibly accused” of sexually abusing a teenager nearly 50 years ago, as well as additional allegations of sexual abuse and harassment over a number of decades.
Other victims include three adults who were young priests or seminarians when McCarrick allegedly abused them. A Virginia man, now in his 60s, alleged that from the age of 11 he was sexually abused and assaulted serially by McCarrick. The man said the abuse continued for almost two decades.
At the time of the accusations, McCarrick maintained he had “absolutely no recollection of this reported abuse and believe in my innocence.”
News of the today’s verdict comes ahead of the Vatican’s Feb. 21-24 summit on clerical sex abuse attended by the heads of bishops’ conferences from all over the world.
The meeting is being held due to public anger over the McCarrick case, along with a raft of other abuse scandals that have come to light in the United States, Europe, Latin America and Australia.
At the center of the McCarrick scandal are unanswered questions over why so many Church leaders remained silent despite widely rumoured allegations against him, and who might have protected McCarrick during his long career.
Last summer, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, a former apostolic nuncio to Washington, accused the Pope and senior Vatican officials of knowing about McCarrick’s alleged misconduct.
Although Benedict XVI had tried to curtail McCarrick’s public ministry after he retired as Archbishop of Washington D.C. in 2006, Archbishop Viganò claimed that Francis had rehabilitated him.
The Holy Father has not responded to the accusations, and the Vatican has yet to release the findings of a promised investigation into its own archives on McCarrick.
In an open letter released last month, Archbishop Viganò called on McCarrick to repent publicly in order to “bring a significant measure of healing to a gravely wounded and suffering Church.”
Canonists say the punishment meted out to McCarrick technically does not mean he is no longer a priest or bishop, because priestly and episcopal ordination cannot be undone, but McCarrick can no longer perform priestly duties.
McCarrick is the most senior Church official in modern times to be removed from the clerical state — a penalty considered more serious than excommunication which is temporary and only lasts for as long as a person persists in sin.
Such a penalty is very rare in the Church but has occurred more frequently in recent times. Recent cases have been Emmanuel Milingo of Zambia in 2009, Raymond Lahey of Canada in 2012, and Józef Wesołowski, a Polish archbishop accused of sexual abuse of minors in 2014. He died in 2015 before a trial could be held.
McCarrick is not expected to face criminal prosecution because the allegations exceed the statutes of limitations in the U.S. jurisdictions where they are said to have taken place.