Vatican defrocks former US cardinal McCarrick over sex abuse

Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick is seen in Rome, Feb. 13, 2013. (Associated Press)

In the latest development to rock the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis has defrocked former U.S. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the longtime archbishop of Washington, D.C., who resigned from the church's College of Cardinals last year amid sexual misconduct allegations.

The punishment for the once-powerful prelate was announced Saturday, five days before Francis is to lead an extraordinary gathering of bishops from around the world to help the church grapple with the crisis of sex abuse by clergy and systematic cover-ups by church hierarchy.

McCarrick, 88,  in July became the first Roman Catholic prelate in nearly 100 years to lose the title of cardinal, Reuters reported. He has now become the highest-profile church figure in modern times to be dismissed from the priesthood, the report said. He was the archibishop of Washington, D.C., from 2001 to 2006.

Defrocking means McCarrick, who now lives in seclusion in a friary in Kansas after he lost his title of cardinal last year, won't be allowed to celebrate Mass or other sacraments, the news service reported.

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U.S. Catholic Church officials said allegations he had sexually assaulted a teenager five decades ago were credible, according to the BBC.

McCarrick, having resigned last year from the College of Cardinals, has responded publicly to only one of the allegations, saying he has “absolutely no recollection” of an alleged case of sexual abuse of a 16-year-old boy more than 50 years ago, the BBC reported. He was the first person to resign as a cardinal since 1927.

The Vatican's press office said that on Jan. 11, the Holy See's doctrinal watchdog office, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, had found McCarrick guilty of "solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession, and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power."

The officials "imposed on him the penalty of dismissal from the clerical state."

McCarrick appealed the penalty, but the doctrinal officials earlier this week rejected his recourse, and he was notified on Friday, the Vatican announcement said. Pope Francis said no further appeal would be allowed, according to Reuters. The Vatican also said the pope ruled the expulsion from the clergy as definitive, the BBC reported.

The Sixth Commandment regards sexual behavior. McCarrick, when he was ordained a priest in 1958, took a vow of celibacy, in accordance with church rules on priests.

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The decades-long scandals and allegations have shaken the faith of many Catholics and threatened his papacy.

But the alleged abuses may have taken place too long ago for criminal charges to be filed due to statutes of limitation in the U.S., the BBC reported.

The pope "has recognized the definitive nature of this decision made in accordance with (church) law, rendering it as 'res iudicata,'" the Vatican said, using the Latin phrase for admitting no further recourse.

That meant McCarrick, a one-time "prince of the church," as cardinals are known, becomes the highest-ranking churchman to be laicized, or dismissed from the clerical state. It marks a remarkable downfall for the globe-trotting powerbroker and influential church fundraiser who mingled with presidents and popes but preferred to be called "Uncle Ted" by the young men he courted.

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The scandal swirling around him was even more damning because it apparently was an open secret that he slept with adult seminarians.

McCarrick is among hundreds of members of the clergy accused of sexually abusing children over several decades, according to the BBC.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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