Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, from the College of Cardinals, ordering him to a “life of prayer and penance” after allegations that the cardinal sexually abused minors and adult seminarians over the course of decades, the Vatican announced on Saturday.
Acting swiftly to contain a widening sex abuse scandal at the highest levels of the Roman Catholic Church, the pope officially suspended the cardinal from the exercise of any public ministry after receiving his resignation letter Friday evening. Pope Francis also demanded in a statement that the prelate remain in seclusion “until the accusations made against him are examined in a regular canonical trial.”
Cardinal McCarrick appears to be the first cardinal in history to step down from the College of Cardinals because of sexual abuse allegations. While he remains a priest pending the outcome of a Vatican trial, he has been stripped of his highest honor and will no longer be called upon to advise the pope and travel on his behalf.
A prominent Roman Catholic voice in international and public policy, Cardinal McCarrick was first removed from public ministry on June 20, after a church panel substantiated allegations that he had sexually abused a teenage altar boy 47 years ago while serving as a priest in New York.
Cardinal McCarrick, now 88, said in a statement at the time that he was innocent.
Subsequent interviews by The New York Times revealed that some in the church hierarchy had known for decades about accusations that he had preyed on men who wanted to become priests, sexually harassing and touching them. Then a 60-year-old man, identified only as James, alleged that Cardinal McCarrick, a close family friend, had begun to abuse him in 1969, when he was 11 years old, and that the abuse had lasted nearly two decades.
The Times investigation detailed settlements amounting to tens of thousands of dollars in 2005 and 2007, paid to men who had complained of abuse by Cardinal McCarrick when he was a bishop in New Jersey in the 1980s, and a rising star in the Roman Catholic Church.
On Saturday, the former altar boy whose abuse allegations started the unraveling of the cardinal’s lifetime of honors said in an interview that hearing news of the resignation felt like a “gut punch.”
The 62-year-old man, who identified himself only as Mike to protect his privacy, said he believed that Cardinal McCarrick was resigning only because he was being forced to, not because he was accepting responsibility.
“I am kind of appalled that it has taken this long for him to get caught,” he said, in the first time he has spoken publicly. “But I am glad I am the first one that could open the door to other people.”
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SOURCE: NY Times, Elisabetta Povoledo and Sharon Otterman