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Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, facing sexual abuse reports, resigns from the College of Cardinals

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 7/28/2018 Julie Zauzmer, Chico Harlan
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Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington and longtime globe-trotting diplomat of the Catholic Church, has resigned his position as a cardinal, the Vatican announced Saturday.

McCarrick, 88, was found by the church in June to be credibly accused of sexually abusing a teenager nearly 50 years ago. Since then, additional reports of sexual abuse and harassment by the cardinal, over a span of decades, have been reported. The victims include one then-minor and three adults, who were young priests or seminarians when McCarrick allegedly abused them.

Pope Francis ordered McCarrick to remain in seclusion, and in prayer, until a church trial considers further sanctions.

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McCarrick is the highest ranked U.S. Catholic clergy member to ever be removed from ministry due to sexual abuse allegations, and the first cardinal to fully resign his position since 1927.

Cardinal Keith O’Brien, from Scotland, renounced the rights and privileges of his position after a string of accusations in 2013 about sexual misconduct. But he did not officially depart the College of Cardinals, and Pope Francis only accepted O’Brien’s resignation two years after the allegations came out.

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick waves to fellow bishops at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in the District in September 2015, during Pope Francis’s visit to Washington. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post) © Provided by WP Company LLC d/b/a The Washington Post Cardinal Theodore McCarrick waves to fellow bishops at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in the District in September 2015, during Pope Francis’s visit to Washington. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

The Vatican said McCarrick will face a canonical trial, though it did not provide details about when the trial would be conducted. Kurt Martens, a professor of canon law at Catholic University, noted that the Catholic church has typically punished people by ordering them to conduct a life of “prayer and penance.” In McCarrick’s case, the Vatican has imposed that penalty before the trial has even started — raising pressure on the church to find a stronger form of punishment.

“Because you’re running out of options if you want to impose a further penalty,” Martens said. “I would not be surprised if he gets dismissed from the clerical state.”

In June, McCarrick was removed from ministry when a church review board found that he had been credibly accused of abusing a teenager early in his career, when he was a priest in New York. The youth was helping prepare for a Christmas service when McCarrick allegedly put his hands in the boy’s pants. When he was removed from ministry, McCarrick said he had no memory at all of that incident and maintained his innocence, but he accepted the Vatican’s decision.

Then came more allegations. A Virginia man, now 60, told the New York Times and then The Washington Post that McCarrick, a friend of his father, abused him for nearly 20 years, starting when he was 11. He said McCarrick urged him to show him his genitals while changing clothes after a swim party.

The New Jersey diocese of Metuchen and the archdiocese of Newark, both of which McCarrick led before he was promoted to archbishop of Washington in 2001, revealed that they had reached settlements in the 2000s with two men who accused McCarrick of sexually harassing them when they were adults.

In one case, Robert Ciolek, a former priest, said McCarrick would invite him and other seminarians to a beach house, where there was always one bed too few, so one man would have to sleep with the bishop. Ciolek, who said McCarrick never kissed him or touched him below the waist but did give and demand unwanted back rubs, reached an $80,000 settlement with the dioceses for McCarrick’s conduct and abuse he also suffered at the hands of a high school teacher when he was a teenager in Catholic school.

Ciolek said the church imposed an agreement that he not speak to the media about McCarrick’s abuse, which it released him from this year.

In the second case, which The Washington Post learned about after examining extensive church files, a former priest said McCarrick abused him while on a fishing trip and again on a trip to New York City, where McCarrick made him sleep with him and rubbed his crotch. The New York Times reported that the church settled with that former priest — who himself was removed from ministry in the mid-2000s, about a decade after he admitted that he had touched two teenage boys — for $100,000. That priest has not returned requests for comment.

A third man brought a lawsuit over McCarrick’s harassment in 2011 but then withdrew it from the court system. According to files obtained by The Washington Post, that man — a priest from Brazil — also alleged McCarrick forced unwanted sexual acts on him while at a trip to a beach house.

The allegations have startled Catholics, especially in Washington, where McCarrick was a well-liked local archbishop from 2001 to 2006. He stepped down from the Washington archdiocese when he reached retirement age but continued to remain an active diplomat for the church — traveling around the world at the behest of the Vatican and occasionally the U.S. State Department to advocate for religious freedom and intervene in conflicts.

“The message is quite clear: no person or institution can feel safe,” said Father Hans Zollner, a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. “Even those who hold the office of a bishop or cardinal. If there are allegations, we need to follow the normal procedure, and it’ll no longer be possible to muddy, conceal or hide them in a drawer and forget about it.”

In a statement, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that pope’s acceptance of McCarrick’s 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.”

The pope has faced increasing calls to more forcefully handle cases of sexual abuse involving not just priests, but also leaders at the highest echelons of the church. Earlier this week, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Francis’s chief adviser on sexual abuse, said that a “major gap still exists” and called for more muscular church policies to address the punishment of bishops and cardinals.

“Failure to take these actions will threaten and endanger the already weakened moral authority of the Church,” O’Malley said.

Francis is also contending with a massive case of abuse and cover-up in Chile — a country where the Argentinian pontiff dispatched Vatican investigators. The country’s 34 bishops offered to step down en masse after meeting with Francis in May; so far, the pope has accepted five of those resignations.

Francis later this month will travel to Ireland, a country where the church was scared and weakened by systemic abuse.

Austen Ivereigh, a Francis biographer, said that the appetite across the world has grown for the pope to show more than just verbal contrition in the biggest cases.

“I think a lot of people are saying this is the time for new kinds of action, rather than repeating words,” Ivereigh said. “A much more proactive stance. Of the sort like sending your top prosecutor to investigate Chile. A stance where the pope, when he sees or suspects an institutional omertà, he reacts.”

Critics say that the Vatican still handles cases without transparency and too often fails to take action against unless allegations become public. McCarrick was a high-profile figure whose behavior was likely known by many, said Marie Collins, a former member of the Vatican Commission for the Protection of Minors, who resigned last year, citing a reluctance among Vatican administrators to implement the commission’s recommendations.

“I don’t think the pope or the Vatican has changed in any way,” Collins said. “When things are public or are no longer tenable, they are asked to resign, and they have the prayer and penitence. But that is not the same thing as proper accountability.”

Michelle Boorstein in Washington and Stefano Pitrelli in Rome contributed to this report.

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