In an unprecedented decision this week, Pope Francis defrocked former cardinal and archbishop of Washington, D.C Theodore McCarrick, after decades of sex abuse allegations involving minors and adults.
The Vatican’s decision, which was announced on Saturday, is believed to be the first time a cardinal or bishop from the United States has been expelled from the priesthood, and the first time any cardinal has been defrocked in relation to sexual abuse allegations, according to the New York Times.
In the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, McCarrick’s “dismissal from the clerical state” is widely considered the most severe form of canonical punishment available to the church, worse even than excommunication.
Although many priests have received similar punishment in recent years for their role in the church’s massive sexual abuse scandal, no bishop has ever faced such severe consequences. With Pope Francis signing off on the decision, McCarrick has no recourse to dispute his fate.
Less than 24 hours earlier, the Brooklyn Catholic Diocese — one of the largest jurisdictions in the country, whose domain encompasses roughly 1.5 million Catholics in Brooklyn and Queen — presented a list of more than 100 priests under its watch who have been credibly accused of sexually abusing one or more minors. The disclosure is one of the largest to date, according to the New York Times.
Saturday’s decision is the end of a long road of accusations and church proceedings against McCarrick. Last year, he was removed from public ministry after a new allegation of sexual abuse against a teenager emerged dating back nearly half a century.
In recent years, after reporting and whistleblowing uncovered a vast, global effort by the Catholic Church to conceal and suppress decades of allegations against ministers, parishioners are coming forward with greater resolve and frequency to accuse former priests of sexual misconduct. The problem was inherited by Pope Francis when he assumed the papacy in 2013, and next week he is set to convene a massive summit with bishops from around the world to address matters of sexual abuse.
According to the Washington Post, McCarrick’s dismissal directly relates to the sexual abuse of at least three minors, and the harassment of adult seminarians stretching over decades.
James Grein, a Virginia man who says he was one of McCarrick’s victims when he was just 11 years old, said he was thankful that the church believed him, but far from content. “Nothing can give me back my childhood and I have not taken any pleasure in testifying or discussing what happened to me,” he said in a statement.
Despite the punishment by the church, it’s unlikely that McCarrick, who is 88 years old, will receive any criminal punishment. Statutes of limitation in the states where the offenses occurred have long since elapsed in all of the alleged cases. Instead of criminal proceedings, McCarrick will simply be barred from engaging in any priestly duties.