Pope Francis made what has been described as an "almost revolutionary" decision, the Vatican announced Saturday, expelling Theodore McCarrick from the priesthood. The decision came after an expedited Vatican trial found the former cardinal and archbishop of Washington guilty of sexually abusing three minors and harassing adult seminarians and priests.
This is believed to be the first time the church has defrocked a U.S. cardinal. McCarrick is also the highest-ranking church official to be dismissed for sexual abuse. "Bishops and cardinals are no longer immune to punishment," Kurt Martens, a professor of canon law at the Catholic University of America, told the The New York Times.
Allegations against McCarrick reached church officials as early as 2000, CNN reports, just months before he became a cardinal. After the accusations became public in 2017, McCarrick resigned from the College of Cardinals but denied he had any recollection of the incidents. Francis ordered a Vatican investigation into the matter, as did the Archdiocese of New York, where several of the alleged incidents occurred. The probes found the accusations to be "credible and substantiated."
The news comes just ahead of this week's meeting of top Catholic officials from around the world, who will gather in Rome to discuss the church's sex abuse crisis. The summit is the first of its kind. Tim O'Donnell