Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of a prominent US cardinal who is accused of sexually abusing a teenager nearly five decades ago, the Vatican said yesterday.
Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, 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 (USA.), presented his resignation as a member of the College of Cardinals,” the Vatican said in a statement yesterday.
“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, 88, is one of the most prominent American cardinals active on the international stage and the charges make him one of the most high-profile Catholic leaders to face abuse claims.
Although he has officially retired, McCarrick has continued to travel abroad regularly, including to defend human rights issues.
McCarrick was ordained a priest in 1958 and rose through the ranks in the Archdiocese of New York before being installed as archbishop of Washington in 2001, a post he held until 2006.
The claims against him were made public in June by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the current archbishop of New York.
Dolan said an independent forensic agency “thoroughly investigated” the allegation.
ALSO READ: Australia PM says Pope must sack arcbishop
A review board that included jurists, law enforcement experts, parents, psychologists, a priest and a religious sister then “found the allegations credible and substantiated” and the Vatican ordered McCarrick to stop exercising his priestly ministry.
At the time, McCarrick released a statement maintaining his innocence but added that he “fully cooperated” in the investigation.
Senior US church officials said they had received three allegations of McCarrick’s sexual misconduct with adults decades ago, two of which resulted in settlements.
Some US Catholics have said the Vatican should send an inspector to the United States to determine who in the US Church hierarchy knew of the alleged incidents and why McCarrick’s rise was not impeded.
Last Tuesday, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston said he was “deeply troubled” by the McCarrick case, saying it and others pointed to “a major gap” in Church policy on sexual conduct and sexual abuse by bishops or other top officials.
In 2013, Cardinal Keith O’Brien of Scotland recused himself from participating in the conclave that elected Francis after he was caught up in a sexual abuse scandal involving seminarians.
He later renounced rights and privileges of being a cardinal but kept his red hat and title until his death earlier this year.