Pope Francis on Saturday accepted a cardinal’s letter of resignation from the College of Cardinals following a child sexual-abuse allegation.
It is unclear at press time as to whether or not the Cardinal will face criminal charges.
The pope suspended Archdiocese of Washington Cardinal Emeritus Theodore McCarrick from ministering in public and ordered him to pray and do penance until his canonical trial is completed.
“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,” the Vatican press office said Saturday.
McCarrick, a retired Catholic cardinal, said in a letter that he heard from Archbishop Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York that there were allegations of McCarrick sexually abusing a minor while he was a priest in New York.
A Montgomery County resident who is a former parishioner of the Archdiocese of Newark said she remembers McCarrick as a welcoming and friendly man.
“He was the type of priest that you would want to talk to,” the woman said, later adding, “He wasn’t a standoffish type of priest, not the kind that would make you feel like ‘Don’t bother me because I’m better than you’ type of thing.”
The woman, age 75, said she did not want to give her name. She said she was sad to hear about the allegations.
“I felt terrible,” she said, later adding, “What you thought you knew, was just wrong.”
The Rev. John Beal, a Canon law professor at Catholic University of America, said resignation from the College of Cardinals means McCarrick is automatically returned to his previous title, archbishop, and is no longer a cardinal. McCarrick is still a priest, although he may not practice ministry publicly for the present.
The alleged crime is a sin against the Sixth Commandment, “whose prosecution is reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,” Beal said, later adding, “Only the Pope can judge a bishop, although he normally delegates to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”
A violation of the Sixth Commandment could include penetration or masturbation, Beal said. The Catholic Church can punish a priest for it, if the Congregation determines the priest is guilty. Pope Francis would decide what punishments McCarrick would receive if the Congregation were to find him guilty.
In June, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of the Archdiocese of Washington confirmed that the Archdiocese of New York investigated the claim against McCarrick and determined the claim was credible. Investigation by the Archdiocese of New York is the church equivalent of a grand jury, Beal said.
“We must now wait for a final determination of this case to be made in Rome,” Wuerl said last month. “In matters such as this, our first priority as a Church is to continue to offer spiritual and pastoral support for the survivors of abuse and their families, and to provide assistance to help them heal and find peace. The abuse of children is a terrible tragedy, and the Church, even as we offer profound apologies, can never express enough our deep sorrow and contrition.”
Wuerl encouraged any other survivors of abuse to come forward, so the Archdiocese can provide spiritual and pastoral support to bring healing and peace.
McCarrick created a Child Protection Advisory Board within his first few years as cardinal, part of a commitment he made in July 2002 to enhance child protection measures and amend the policy. The board would review and assist with child protection efforts in the archdiocese of Washington.
One change to the Child Protection Policy was additional accountability measures, to “restore the trust and confidence of victims, parishioners, all Catholics and the public at large in the Church’s ability to prevent child abuse and identify and heal those who have been abused,” the Board reported in 2004.
Starting in 2004, the board published an annual report to inform Catholics in the Archdiocese about child protection activities, including trainings and training material distribution and counts of allegations of priests abusing children. The report also included allegations of child abuse against church staff and Catholic school staff and volunteers.
Montgomery County Police Chief Thomas Manger has been a member of the Child Protection Advisory Board for about 10 years. Although the board was not involved in investigating the New York allegation against McCarrick, Manger said members met since Wuerl sent his June letter.
McCarrick was Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Washington 2001 to 2006, Archdiocese of Washington spokesperson Chieko Noguchi confirmed. The Rev. Pope John Paul II made McCarrick cardinal of the archdiocese in February 2001.
Beal said if the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith determines McCarrick is guilty, he will likely face one of two consequences.
“One is that he could be dismissed from the clergy, cease to be able to present himself as a Catholic clergyperson,” Beall said. “Or, if they think because of his age and his health” they could order him to live in a monastery or a secluded location and pray and do penance.
A penance may consist of “fasting, prayer, doing other things to atone for his offenses,” Beal said.