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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 27 March 2019

Vatican defrocks former US cardinal McCarrick over sex abuse

Once powerful Roman Catholic cleric is expelled from priesthood after years-long scandal

Former US Catholic cardinal Theodore McCarrick gives an interview in February 2013. AP Photo
Former US Catholic cardinal Theodore McCarrick gives an interview in February 2013. AP Photo

Disgraced former US cardinal Theodore McCarrick has been expelled from the Roman Catholic priesthood following allegations against him, including sexual abuse of minors, the Vatican said on Saturday.

Mr McCarrick, who in July became the first Catholic prelate in nearly 100 years to lose the title of cardinal, has now become the highest profile church figure to be dismissed from the priesthood in modern times.

The decision comes as the Catholic Church is still grappling with a decades-long sexual abuse crisis that has exposed how predator priests were moved from parish to parish instead of being defrocked or turned over to civilian authorities in countries across the globe.

With the ruling, Pope Francis appears to be sending a signal that even those in the highest echelons of the hierarchy will be held accountable.

The ruling, made by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith three days ago, was announced ahead of next week's meeting at the Vatican between the heads of national Catholic churches to discuss the global abuse crisis.

Mr McCarrick appealed the decision, which was made secretly in the first instance on January 11, but it was upheld earlier this week and the pope has ruled that no further appeal would be allowed.

Defrocking means he can no longer call himself a priest or celebrate the sacraments, although he would be allowed to administer them to a person on the verge of death in an emergency.

The allegations against Mr McCarrick date back to decades ago when he was still rising to the top of the Catholic hierarchy in the US.

Mr McCarrick, who became a power broker as Archbishop of Washington, DC from 2001 to 2006, has been living in seclusion in a remote friary in Kansas.

He has responded publicly to only one of the allegations, saying he has "absolutely no recollection" of an alleged case of sexual abuse of a 16-year-old boy more than 50 years ago.

The Vatican said Mr McCarrick was found guilty of the crimes of sexual abuse with minors and adults and the separate crime of solicitation, both with "the aggravating factor of the abuse of power."

The crime of solicitation refers to when a priest uses the pretext of the sacrament of confession to commit an immoral act with a penitent.

Pope Francis ordered a "thorough study" last year of all documents in Holy See offices concerning Mr McCarrick. The four US dioceses where he served – New York, Metuchen, Newark and Washington, DC – have launched independent investigations.

The pope wanted the case completed before heads of national Catholic churches meet at the Vatican from February 21-24 to discuss the crisis, three sources said.

The meeting offers a chance for him to respond to criticism from victims of abuse that he has stumbled in his handling of the crisis and has not done enough to make bishops accountable.

Mr McCarrick had already received one of the most severe punishments short of defrocking. When the pope accepted his resignation as cardinal last July, he also ordered him to refrain from public ministry and live in seclusion, prayer and penitence.

Updated: February 16, 2019 03:58 PM

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