Faith

'Catholic Death Penalty': Pope Defrocks Cardinal Over Sex Abuse

The Vatican found Cardinal Theodore McCarrick guilty of abusing minors and adults.

Nate Jackson · Feb. 18, 2019

The Catholic Church has reeled from the fallout of a sexual-abuse scandal in recent months. In August, news broke that there were more than 300 “predator priests” in Pennsylvania. Then came revelations of a more secret element: The vast majority of the crime was perpetrated by homosexuals. Next came a fight in the form of a letter written by the Vatican’s former ambassador to the U.S., Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, in which he demanded the resignation of Pope Francis over allegations that the latter knew of the sexual abuse perpetrated by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, DC, and Newark, New Jersey.

Francis addressed that over the weekend, defrocking the retired cardinal after an investigation concluded that accusations against him were credible. Over the course of many years, McCarrick is alleged to have sexually abused minors and coerced adult seminarians into sex. A Vatican tribunal found McCarrick guilty of “solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power.” (Catholics number the commandments differently from Protestants. Adultery is the seventh commandment in the reckoning of the latter.)

McCarrick had been placed under disciplinary sanctions by Pope Benedict, and yet Francis acted to repeal them, freeing McCarrick to continue his predatory ways. McCarrick resigned from the College of Cardinals last July, and Francis ordered him to observe a life of prayer and penance in seclusion. This latest move is what Crux editor in chief John L. Allen calls “the Catholic equivalent of the death penalty.”

So why defrock McCarrick now? Francis is scheduled this week to meet with the heads of national Catholic bishops conferences to address the global problem of sexual abuse by priests. “The church will never seek to hush up or not take seriously any case,” Francis said. We hope that’s true because it would mark a serious change from past practice by the church as a whole and by Francis in particular, who has at times appeared rather tone-deaf to the problem.

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