Cardinal Theodore McCarrick Resigns Amid Sexual Abuse Scandal

The New York Times/July 28, 2018

By Elisabetta Povoledo and Sharon Otterman

Rome — Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, from the College of Cardinals, ordering him to a “life of prayer and penance” after allegations that the cardinal sexually abused minors and adult seminarians over the course of decades, the Vatican announced on Saturday.

Acting swiftly to contain a widening sex abuse scandal at the highest levels of the Roman Catholic Church, the pope officially suspended the cardinal from the exercise of any public ministry after receiving his resignation letter Friday evening. Pope Francis also demanded in a statement that the prelate remain in seclusion “until the accusations made against him are examined in a regular canonical trial.”

Cardinal McCarrick appears to be the first cardinal in history to step down from the College of Cardinals because of sexual abuse allegations. While he remains a priest pending the outcome of a Vatican trial, he has been stripped of his highest honor and will no longer be called upon to advise the pope and travel on his behalf.

A prominent Roman Catholic voice in international and public policy, Cardinal McCarrick was first removed from public ministry on June 20, after a church panel substantiated allegations that he had sexually abused a teenage altar boy 47 years ago while serving as a priest in New York.

Cardinal McCarrick, now 88, said in a statement at the time that he was innocent.

Subsequent interviews by The New York Times revealed that some in the church hierarchy had known for decades about accusations that he had preyed on men who wanted to become priests, sexually harassing and touching them. Then a 60-year-old man, identified only as James, alleged that Cardinal McCarrick, a close family friend, had begun to abuse him in 1969, when he was 11 years old, and that the abuse had lasted nearly two decades.

[Read: Church officials knew for decades that the cardinal had been accused of sexual harassment.]

The Times investigation detailed settlements amounting to tens of thousands of dollars in 2005 and 2007, paid to men who had complained of abuse by Cardinal McCarrick when he was a bishop in New Jersey in the 1980s, and a rising star in the Roman Catholic Church.

On Saturday, the former altar boy whose abuse allegations started the unraveling of the cardinal’s lifetime of honors said in an interview that hearing news of the resignation felt like a “gut punch.”

The 62-year-old man, who identified himself only as Mike to protect his privacy, said he believed that Cardinal McCarrick was resigning only because he was being forced to, not because he was accepting responsibility.

“I am kind of appalled that it has taken this long for him to get caught,” he said, in the first time he has spoken publicly. “But I am glad I am the first one that could open the door to other people.”

Resignations from the College of Cardinals are extremely rare for any reason. The last resignation was of the French prelate Louis Billot in 1927, because of political tensions with the Holy See.

Keith Patrick O’Brien, a former archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, waived his rights as a cardinal in 2013, after accusations emerged of inappropriate sexual behavior with junior clergy. But he remained in the College of Cardinals until his death in March of this year.

Cardinal McCarrick’s resignation comes as Pope Francis faces increased pressure to show he is serious about cracking down on bishops and cardinals found to have abused people or covered up abuse.

After a Vatican envoy confirmed this year that the Roman Catholic Church in Chile had for decades allowed sexual abuse to go unchecked, the pope apologized, met with victims and accepted the resignation of some bishops — after the country’s clerical hierarchy offered to quit in May. On Monday, prosecutors in Chile said they were investigating 36 cases of sexual abuse against Catholic priests, bishops and lay persons.

In April, Cardinal George Pell of Australia, who as the Vatican’s finance chief is one of the Holy See’s highest officials, was ordered to stand trial in an Australian court on several charges of sexual abuse. The next month, Philip Wilson, the archbishop of Adelaide, was convicted of covering up a claim of sexual abuse in the 1970s.

Victims and their advocates have long held that bishops have not been held accountable for hiding sexual abuse. With his conviction, Archbishop Wilson became the highest-ranking Catholic official in the world to be convicted of concealing abuse crimes.

Last month, Msgr. Carlo Alberto Capella, a former Vatican diplomat in Washington, was found guilty and sentenced to five years in prison by a Vatican tribunal for possessing and distributing child pornography. His sentence was the first in modern history that the Vatican’s own tribunal had handed down in a clerical abuse case. He will now face a canonical trial, which could lead to his removal from the priesthood.

As the allegations against Cardinal McCarrick continued to mount in the last month, at least one prominent American cardinal has called for sweeping changes in how the Roman Catholic Church handles sex abuse allegations against bishops and allegations involving adult seminarians, who were not covered in the church’s sex abuse reforms of 2002.

“These cases and others require more than apologies,” Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston, said in a statement on Wednesday. “They raise up the fact that when charges are brought regarding a bishop or a cardinal, a major gap still exists in the church’s policies on sexual conduct and sexual abuse.”

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has not responded to calls for broader reform since the allegations against Cardinal McCarrick were made public last month. The president of the conference, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, released a brief statement Saturday saying that the pope’s acceptance of the resignation “reflects the priority the Holy Father places on the need for protection and care for all our people and the way failures in this area affect the life of the Church in the United States.”

Terence McKiernan, president of, which documents the sexual abuse scandal in the church and advocates for victims, called for Pope Francis to make the trial proceedings against Cardinal McCarrick public, and to open an investigation into how Cardinal McCarrick was permitted to advance his church career despite repeated warnings against him.

“The officials responsible must be identified and disciplined, and the investigative file must be made public,” Mr. McKiernan said in a statement.

Much remains unanswered about Cardinal McCarrick’s alleged abuses, including who in the church hierarchy knew what and when, and whether, as a supervisor, the cardinal handled abuse allegations appropriately in the dioceses he led.

“The resignation of one man is not the end, it’s really the beginning,” said Patrick Noaker, the lawyer representing the two men who said the cardinal had abused them as minors. “We now have to go out and find out if others were hurt.”

Elisabetta Povoledo reported from Rome, and Sharon Otterman from New York. Laurie Goodstein contributed reporting from New York, and Yonette Joseph from London.

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