In a first for the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis has defrocked a former cardinal over accusations American Theodore McCarrick sexually abused a teenager 50 years ago, a Vatican statement said Saturday.
McCarrick, 88, who resigned from the Vatican’s College of Cardinals in July, is the first cardinal ever to be defrocked for sex abuse.
He was found guilty in January by a Vatican court for sexually abusing a teenager, a decision confirmed by the pope in February, with “no further recourse”, according to the statement.
It said McCarrick was guilty of “sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power”.
The announcement marks a spectacular fall from grace for the once influential cardinal and comes ahead of a Vatican conference from February 21-24 bringing together bishops from around the world to discuss protecting children within the Church.
Sex abuse scandals around the globe, and most recently in the United States and Chile, have shaken the church, with Pope Francis promising a policy of “zero tolerance” even for high-ranking church members.
McCarrick, former archbishop emeritus of Washington, was barred from practising as a priest in July last year, after which he resigned his honorary title of cardinal. He currently lives in Kansas.
The US Conference of Catholic Bishops reacted swiftly, saying the decision “is a clear signal that abuse will not be tolerated”.
“No bishop, no matter how influential, is above the law of the Church,” Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the bishops conference, said in a statement which also called for all victims of abuse to contact the police.
SNAP, a group representing survivors of abuse by priests, suggested Saturday that the McCarrick decision had been “‘fast-tracked’ by the hierarchy” in the days before the Vatican abuse conference “because it’s so damning”.
The group called on Catholic officials to practise the transparency they have promised, and said in a statement that criminal charges should be filed not just against McCarrick but “against Church officials who hid his wrongdoing for decades”.