Pope Francis has defrocked a former US Cardinal after the church found him guilty of sexually abusing minors.
Theodore McCarrick, 88, who once led the Archdiocese of Washington and was a powerful figure within the Catholic Church in the U.S., was accused of sexually abusing three minors and harassing adult seminarians and priests.
He was also found guilty by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of soliciting sex while hearing confession, the Holy See said in a statement on Saturday.
An investigation last year detailed settlements paid to men who had complained of abuse when McCarrick was a Bishop in New Jersey in the 1980s.
It also revealed that some church leaders had long known of the allegations against him, The New York Times reported.
Pope Francis has defrocked former U.S. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick after Vatican officials found him guilty of soliciting for sex while hearing confession against minors and adults
Defrocking means McCarrick, 88, who now lives in a friary in Kansas after he lost his title of Cardinal last year, can no longer celebrate Mass or other sacraments, wear clerical vestments or be addressed by any religious title.
The judgement was recognized by the Pope to be of a ‘definitive nature,’ and cannot be appealed, a Vatican statement said.
The Pontiff accepted McCarrick’s resignation from the College of Cardinals in July and he was suspended from all priestly duties.
He was first removed from ministry in June, after a church panel proved a claim that he had abused an altar boy almost 50 years ago.
McCarrick had previously denied the allegations, saying he had ‘absolutely no recollection of this reported abuse.’
He had appealed his penalty, but doctrinal officials earlier this week rejected it and he was notified of the decision on Friday, the Vatican said.
The allegations that McCarrick had sexually abused seminarians and an altar boy decades ago have raised questions among Church leaders and victim advocacy organizations as to why he was allowed to remain in a powerful position.
McCarrick became a Cardinal in 2001. He then led the Archdiocese of Washington until 2006 and frequently met political leaders, becoming an influential figure in American politics.
An attorney for the former altar boy who made an accusation against McCarrick said last June that his client was abused twice, once in 1971 and again in 1972.
Pope Francis (pictured) became implicated in the decade-long McCarrick cover-up after a former Vatican ambassador to the U.S. accused him rehabilitating the cardinal from sanctions imposed by Pope Benedict XVI
Both alleged incidents happened at St. Patrick’s Cathedral as his client was being fitted for a cassock for Christmas Mass, his attorney Patrick Noaker told CNN.
‘McCarrick started measuring him, then he unzipped his pants, stuck his hand in and grabbed his genitals,’ Noaker said.
He claimed that his client, who was about 16 when the incident occurred and a student at a Catholic high school in New York, pushed McCarrick away.
Noaker said: ‘One thing he distinctly remembers is that McCarrick told him not to tell anyone about it.’
An investigation by the Archdiocese of New York found the allegations by the altar boy were ‘credible and substantiated.’ It then handed the case over to law enforcement last year.
The Vatican said in a statement that he was dismissed from a clerical state after he was tried and found guilty of several crimes.
These included ‘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.’
James Grein, (pictured), one of McCarrick’s accusers, said he was ‘glad the Pope believed me.’ He testified to church officials that the cleric had groped him during confession
The officials ‘imposed on him the penalty of dismissal from the clerical state.’
McCarrick, when he was ordained a priest in his native New York City in 1958, took a vow of celibacy, in accordance with church rules on priests.
‘Today I am happy that the pope believed me,’ said one of McCarrick’s chief accusers, James Grein.
In a statement issued through his lawyer, Grein also expressed hope that McCarrick ‘will no longer be able to use the power of Jesus’ church to manipulate families and sexually abuse children.’
Grein had testified to church officials that, among other abuses, McCarrick had repeatedly groped him during confession.
Saying it’s ‘time for us to cleanse the church’, Grein said pressure needs to be put on state attorney generals and senators to change the statute of limitations. ‘Hundreds of priests, bishops and cardinals are hiding behind man-made law,’ he said.
Defrocking means McCarrick, 88, who now lives in a friary in Kansas after he lost his title of cardinal last year, can no longer celebrate Mass or other sacraments
Pope Francis reaches out to hug McCarrick after the Midday Prayer of the Divine at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in September, 2015
Francis is set to lead an extraordinary gathering of bishops from around the world to help the church grapple with the crisis of sex abuse by clergy. He is seen here meeting McCarrick during a visit to the 9/11 memorial in September 2015
The archdiocese of Washington, D.C. said in a statement it hoped that the Vatican decision ‘serves to help the healing process for survivors of abuse, as well as those who have experienced disappointment or disillusionment because of what former Archbishop McCarrick has done.’
McCarrick, a one-time ‘prince of the church’, as cardinals are known, becomes the highest-ranking churchman to be laicized, or dismissed from the clerical state.
It marks a remarkable downfall for the globe-trotting power-broker and influential church fundraiser who mingled with presidents and popes but preferred to be called ‘Uncle Ted’ by the young men he courted.
The scandal swirling around McCarrick was even more damning to the church’s reputation in the eyes of the faithful because it apparently was an open secret that he slept with adult seminarians.
The Vatican summit, which runs from February 21-24, draws church leaders from around the world to talk about preventing abuse.
It was called in part to respond to the McCarrick scandal as well as to the explosion of the abuse crisis in Chile and its escalation in the United States last year.
Despite the apparent common knowledge in church circles of his sexual behavior, McCarrick rose to the heights of church power.
He even acted as the spokesman for U.S. bishops when they enacted a ‘zero tolerance’ policy against sexually abusive priests in 2002.
Francis removed McCarrick as a cardinal in July after a U.S. church investigation determined that an allegation he fondled a teenage altar boy in the 1970s was credible.
It was the first known allegation against McCarrick involving a minor – a far more serious offense than sleeping with adult seminarians.
Patrick Noaker (pictured) said one his clients was 16 when he wasabused by McCarrick at St. Patrick’s Cathedral as he was being fitted for a cassock for Christmas Mass
But Francis himself became implicated in the decade-long McCarrick cover-up after a former Vatican ambassador to the U.S. accused the pope of rehabilitating the cardinal from sanctions imposed by Pope Benedict XVI despite being told of his penchant for young men.
Francis hasn’t responded to the claims. But he has ordered a limited Vatican investigation.
The Vatican has acknowledged the outcome may produce evidence that mistakes were made, but said Francis would ‘follow the path of truth, wherever it may lead.’
McCarrick moved from his Washington retirement home to a Kansas religious residence after Francis ordered him to live in penance and prayer while the investigation continued.
It wasn’t immediately clear if he would continue to live in a religious residence.
Vatican watchers have compared the McCarrick cover-up scandal to that of the Reverend Marcial Maciel, perhaps the 20th-century Catholic Church’s most notorious pedophile.
Maciel’s sex crimes against children were ignored for decades by a Vatican impressed by his ability to bring in donations and vocations. Among Maciel’s staunchest admirers was Pope John Paul II, who later became a saint.
Like Maciel, McCarrick was a powerful and popular prelate who funneled millions in donations to the Vatican.
He apparently got a calculated pass for what many in the church hierarchy would have either discounted as ideological-fueled rumor or brushed off as a mere ‘moral lapse’ in sleeping with adult men.