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McCarrick removed from priesthood

VATICAN (CNS): Pope Francis confirmed the removal from the priesthood of Theodore McCarrick, the 88-year-old former cardinal and archbishop of Washington. The Vatican announced the decision on February 16, saying he was found 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.”
 
A panel of the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith found him guilty on January 11, the Vatican said. However, McCarrick appealed the decision, but the appeal was rejected on February 13. McCarrick was informed of the decision February 15 and Pope Francis “recognised the definitive nature of this decision made in accord with law,” making a further appeal impossible.
 
By ordering McCarrick’s “dismissal from the clerical state,” the decision means that he loses all rights and duties associated with being a priest, cannot present himself as a priest and is forbidden to celebrate the sacraments, except to grant absolution for sins to a person in imminent danger of death.
 
The only Church penalty that is more severe is excommunication, which would have banned him from receiving the sacraments. The other possible punishment was to sentence him to a “life of prayer and penance,” a penalty often imposed on elderly clerics; similar to house arrest and usually includes a ban from public ministry, limiting interactions with others and restricting his ability to leave the place he is assigned to live.
 
McCarrick’s punishment is the toughest meted out to a cardinal by the Vatican in modern times.
 
McCarrick’s initial suspension from ministry and removal from the College of Cardinals in 2018 came after a man alleged that McCarrick began sexually abusing him in 1971 when he was a 16-year-old altar server in New York; the Archdiocese of New York found the allegation “credible and substantiated” and turned the case over to the Vatican.
 
In late July, the pope accepted McCarrick’s resignation from the College of Cardinals and ordered him to maintain “a life of prayer and penance” until the accusation against him could be examined by a Vatican court.
 
In the weeks that followed the initial announcement, another man came forward claiming McCarrick abused him as a child and several former seminarians spoke out about being sexually harassed by the cardinal at a beach house he had in New Jersey.
 
Since September, McCarrick has been living in a Capuchin friary in rural Kansas.
 
At least three other cardinals have been accused of sexual abuse or impropriety in the past 25 years. In the 1990s Hans Cardinal Hermann Groer of Austria, was forced to step down as archbishop of Vienna and eventually to relinquish all public ministry after allegations of the sexual abuse and harassment of seminarians and priests; he died in 2003 without having undergone a canonical trial.
 
Pope Benedict XVI forced Keith Cardinal O’Brien of Scotland, to step down as archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh in early 2013; after an investigation, Pope Francis withdrew his rights and duties as a cardinal, although he retained the title until his death in March 2018.
 
George Cardinal Pell of Australia, facing charges of abusing minors, has been on leave from his post as head of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy since mid-2017. He reportedly was found guilty of some charges in December, but the court has imposed an injunction on press coverage of the trial.

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