Prominent U.S. cardinal accused of sexually abusing teenager decades ago resigns

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Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington. McCarrick is a prominent U.S. cardinal who is accused of sexually abusing a teenager nearly 50 years ago, the Vatican said on 28 July.

McCarrick, 88, was removed from the ministry in June after a review board found there was “credible” evidence that he had assaulted the teen while working as a priest in New York in the early 1970s.

“Yesterday evening the Holy Father received the letter in which Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington (U.S.A.), presented his resignation as a member of the College of Cardinals,” the Vatican said in a statement Saturday.

“Pope Francis accepted his resignation from the cardinalate and has ordered his suspension from the exercise of any public ministry, together with the obligation to remain in a house yet to be indicated to him, for a life of prayer and penance until the accusations made against him are examined in a regular canonical trial.”

McCarrick although officially retired, has been active in the international arena and travels abroad regularly speaking on various topics including on human rights. He is one of the most high-profile Catholic leaders to face sexual abuse claims.

McCarrick was ordained in 1958 and served in various capacities in the Archdiocese of New York before being installed as archbishop of Washington in 2001. He held the position until 2006.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the current archbishop of New York, made public the claims of sexual abuse against him in June saying an independent forensic agency “thoroughly investigated” the allegation.

McCarrick was ordered by the Vatican to stop exercising his priestly ministry after a review board which included jurists, law enforcement experts, parents, psychologists, a priest and a religious sister found the allegations against the priest to be “credible and substantiated”. McCarrick then released a statement saying “fully cooperated” in the investigation and that he maintains his innocence.

Senior officials of the U.S. Roman Catholic Church said they had received three allegations of sexual misconduct against McCarrick decades ago. Two of of these allegations resulted in private settlements. The U.S. Catholic website Crux quoted a man as accusing him of abusing him in New York’s St Patrick’s Cathedral when he was a 16-year-old in the 1970s.

The Catholic Church’s action against McCarrick is the rarest of moves. Despite the church discipline, McCarrick remains a priest pending the Vatican investigative process which could see him being permanently excluded from the Church.

In January of this year, Pope Francis faced severe criticisms during his visit to Chile for saying that claims that a recently appointed Chilean bishop covered for a pedophiliac priest are “slander”.

“You, in all good will, tell me that there are victims, but I haven’t seen any, because they haven’t come forward,” he told an Associated Press reporter at the time. But the AP later reorted that a victim did come forward, and that the Pope personally received a letter from him detailing both the abuse and Bishop Juan Barros’s role in the cover-up:

[M]embers of the pope’s Commission for the Protection of Minors say that in April 2015, they sent a delegation to Rome specifically to hand-deliver a letter to the pope about Barros. The letter from Juan Carlos Cruz detailed the abuse, kissing and fondling he says he suffered at Karadima’s hands, which he said Barros and others saw but did nothing to stop.
Four members of the commission met with Francis’ top abuse adviser, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, explained their concerns about Francis’s recent appointment of Barros as a bishop in southern Chile, and gave him the letter to deliver to Francis.
“When we gave him (O’Malley) the letter for the pope, he assured us he would give it to the pope and speak of the concerns,” then-commission member Marie Collins told the AP. “And at a later date, he assured us that that had been done.”

Pope Francis’s rhetoric was described by some as “a source of great pain for survivors of sexual abuse.” In noting that the Pope appointed Barros as a bishop despite objections from local clergy and laity, his critics questioned the Vatican’s dedication to addressing clergy abuse.