VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith ordered this week the laicization of Theodore McCarrick, a former cardinal and archbishop emeritus of Washington, D.C.
Once a powerful figure in ecclesiastical, diplomatic and political circles in the U.S. and around the world, McCarrick, 88, is now removed from the clerical state. He was publicly accused last year of sexually abusing at least two adolescent boys, and of engaging for decades in coercive sexual behavior toward priests and seminarians.
The CDF conducted an administrative penal process which found McCarrick 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,” according to a February 16 Vatican communique.
An administrative penal process is a much-abbreviated penal mechanism used in cases in which the evidence is so clear that a full trial is unnecessary.
Because Pope Francis personally approved the guilty verdict and the penalty of laicization, it is formally impossible for the decision to be appealed.
According to a February 16 statement from the Vatican, the CDF issued the decree January 11 finding McCarrick guilty. This was followed by an appeal, which the CDF rejected February 13.
McCarrick was notified of the decision February 15 and Pope Francis “has recognized the definitive nature of this decision made in accord with law, rendering it a res iudicata (i.e., admitting of no further recourse).”
CNA contacted McCarrick’s canonical advocate this week, who declined to comment on the case.
The allegations of sexual abuse against McCarrick became public in June 2018 when the Archdiocese of New York reported that it had received a “credible” allegation that McCarrick sexually abused a teenage boy in the 1970s, while serving as a New York priest. McCarrick stepped down that same month from all public ministry at the direction of the Holy See.
In July, Pope Francis accepted his resignation from the College of Cardinals, ordering McCarrick to a life of prayer and penance pending the completion of the canonical process concerning the allegations. Since the end of September, McCarrick has been residing at the St. Fidelis Capuchin Friary in Victoria, Kansas.
Key among McCarrick’s accusers is James Grein, who gave evidence before specially deputized archdiocesan officials in New York on December 27.
As part of the CDF’s investigation, Grein testified that McCarrick, a family friend, sexually abused him over a period of years, beginning when Grein was 11 years old. He also alleged that McCarrick carried out some of the abuse during the sacrament of confession — itself a separate canonical crime that can lead to the penalty of laicization.
The CDF has also reportedly received evidence from an additional alleged victim of McCarrick — 13 at the time the alleged abuse began — and from as many as eight seminarian-victims in the New Jersey dioceses of Newark and Metuchen, where McCarrick previously served as bishop.
As emeritus archbishop of Washington, D.C., McCarrick occupied a place of prominence in the U.S. Church.
He was a leading participant in the development of the 2002 Dallas Charter and USCCB Essential Norms, which established procedures for handling allegations of sexual abuse concerning priests.
Though laicized, McCarrick does not cease to be a bishop, sacramentally speaking, since once conferred the sacrament of ordination and episcopal consecration cannot be undone.
The penalty of reduction from the clerical state — often called laicization — prevents McCarrick from referring to himself or functioning as a priest, in public or private. Since ordination imparts a sacramental character, it cannot be undone by an act of the church; but following laicization he is stripped of all the rights and privileges of a cleric including, in theory, the right to receive financial support from the church.
In a statement issued February 16, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said:
“The Holy See’s announcement regarding Theodore McCarrick is a clear signal that abuse will not be tolerated. No bishop, no matter how influential, is above the law of the Church. For all those McCarrick abused, I pray this judgement 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. I am grateful to Pope Francis for the determined way he has led the Church’s response.
“If you have suffered sexual abuse at the hands of someone within the Catholic Church, I urge you to contact local law enforcement and your local diocese or eparchy. Victims Assistance Coordinators are available to help. We are committed to healing and reconciliation.”
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