Pope Francis has defrocked former US cardinal Theodore McCarrick after Vatican officials found him guilty of soliciting for sex while hearing Confession and sexual crimes against minors and adults, the Holy See said on Saturday.
McCarrick is the most senior Catholic figure to be dismissed from the priesthood in modern times.
The punishment for the once-powerful prelate, who had served as the Archbishop of Washington, was announced five days before Francis is to lead an extraordinary gathering of bishops from around the world to help the Catholic Church grapple with the crisis of sex abuse by clergy and systematic cover-ups by church hierarchy.
The decades-long scandals have shaken the faith of many Catholics and threatened Francis’s papacy.
Defrocking means that McCarrick, 88, who now lives in a friary in Kansas after he lost his title of cardinal last year, will not be allowed to celebrate Mass or other sacraments.
The Vatican’s press office said that, on 11 January, the Holy See’s doctrinal watchdog office, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, had found McCarrick guilty of “solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession, and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power”.
The officials “imposed on him the penalty of dismissal from the clerical state”.
The Sixth Commandment regards sexual behaviour.
In addition, McCarrick, when he was ordained a priest in 1958, took a vow of celibacy, in accordance with church rules on priests.
McCarrick appealed against the penalty, but the doctrinal officials earlier this week rejected his recourse, and he was notified on Friday, the Vatican announcement said.
The Pope “has recognised the definitive nature of this decision made in accordance with (church) law, rendering it as ‘res iudicata’,” the Vatican said, using the Latin phrase for admitting no further recourse.
That meant McCarrick, a one-time “prince of the church”, as cardinals are known, becomes the highest-ranking churchman to be laicised, or dismissed from the clerical state.
It marks a remarkable downfall for the globe-trotting powerbroker 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 because it was apparently an open secret that he slept with adult seminarians.