WASHINGTON — Pope Francis has confirmed the removal from the priesthood of Theodore E. McCarrick, the 88-year-old former cardinal and archbishop of Washington.
The Vatican’s removal of McCarrick from the priesthood “is a clear signal that abuse will not be tolerated,” stated the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Feb. 16.
“No bishop, no matter how influential, is above the law of the Church,” wrote Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston. “For all those McCarrick abused, I pray this judgment will be one small step, among many, toward healing.”
“For us bishops, it strengthens our resolve to hold ourselves accountable to the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” the cardinal said.
The Vatican stated 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.”
A panel of the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith found him guilty Jan. 11, the Vatican stated. McCarrick appealed the decision, but the appeal was rejected Feb. 13 by the congregation itself. McCarrick was informed of the decision Feb. 15 and Pope Francis “recognized the definitive nature of this decision made in accord with law,” making a further appeal impossible.
By ordering McCarrick’s “dismissal from the clerical state,” the decision means that McCarrick loses all rights and duties associated with being a priest, cannot present himself as a priest and is forbidden to celebrate the sacraments, except to grant absolution for sins to a person in imminent danger of death.
The Vatican decision comes after months of mounting accusations that he abused children and seminarians decades ago. The accusations surrounding the former cardinal have prompted many to ask U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ leaders and the heads of the archdioceses and dioceses he has served how he could have risen up the ranks of the Church to become a cardinal.
Ordained a priest of the New York Archdiocese, he was the founding bishop of the Diocese of Metuchen, N.J., then served as archbishop of Newark, N.J. His last assignment was as archbishop of Washington. During his tenure there, he was named a cardinal.
James Grein, one of those who have publicly said he was abused by the former cardinal, wrote in a statement released by his attorney that “today I am happy that the pope believed me.”
“For years I have suffered, as many others have, at the hands of Theodore McCarrick,” he stated. “It is with profound sadness that I have had to participate in the canonical trial of my abuser. Nothing can give me back my childhood and I have not taken any pleasure in testifying or discussing what happened to me. There are no winners here.”
However, Grein, who provided Vatican officials with accounts that McCarrick sexually abused him as an 11-year-old child, including during confession, stated he was “hopeful now I can pass through my anger for the last time. I hope that Cardinal McCarrick will no longer be able to use the power of Jesus’ Church to manipulate families and sexually abuse children.”
Last July, Pope Francis accepted his resignation from the College of Cardinals, after U.S. newspapers reported detailed accounts that he exposed himself and sexually molested two boys in his early years as a priest — accusations that spanned almost five decades and were too old to legally prosecute.
As of Feb. 16, McCarrick was believed to be living in a small religious community of Capuchin Franciscans, St. Fidelis Friary, in rural Victoria, Kan., where he had been ordered to go by the Vatican to live since late September “a life of prayer and penance” until the accusations against him could be examined. He will continue to reside there until a decision of permanent residence is finalized, according to Bishop Gerald L. Vincke, who heads the Diocese of Salina, Kan., which is where the friary is located.