Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, who has been accused of sexually abusing minors and adults for over 20 years, one involving a boy as young as age 11.
The pope received a resignation letter from McCarrick, the former archbishop emeritus of Washington, D.C., on Friday evening and immediately suspended the cardinal from the exercise of any public ministry, The New York Times reported.
The Vatican announced Saturday that Francis ordered McCarrick to conduct a “life of prayer and penance” before a church trial is held, a move seen as unprecedented.
McCarrick is reportedly the first cardinal in history to resign from the College of Cardinals over sexual abuse allegations, according to TheNYT.
McCarrick was previously one of the highest Catholic church officials in the United States, and played a heavy hand in the church’s decades-long response to the priestly sexual abuse scandal.
The cardinal was first removed from public ministry on June 20 after being accused by a church panel of sexually abusing a teenage altar boy nearly 47 years ago while he was a priest in New York. (RELATED: Cardinal Faces Sexual Abuse Allegations From First Person He Baptized)
McCarrick’s case has been seen as a test of Francis’s recently declared promise to handle what he deemed a “culture of cover-up” of abuses in the Catholic church, especially those higher in the hierarchy, The Associated Press stated in a report Saturday.
The Vatican’s announcement did not say where McCarrick would be confined nor when the trial would begin.
One of the victims, identified only as James to protect a sibling, was allegedly the first child that McCarrick baptized two weeks after becoming a priest.
James said McCarrick had singled him out “to be his special boy” when he was a priest in New York and sexually abused him for almost 20 years beginning in 1969.
Reports that the Catholic church had removed McCarrick from the ministry in June over “credible allegations” that he had abused another teen encouraged James to come forward with his story.
“My sadness was deepened when I was informed that the allegations had been determined credible and substantiated,” McCarrick said in a statement after the June removal. “While I have absolutely no recollection of this reported abuse, and believe in my innocence, I am sorry for the pain the person who brought the charges has gone through, as well as for the scandal such charges cause our people.”
McCarrick’s inappropriate behavior was reportedly brought to the Vatican’s attention years ago, even before he was appointed to an archbishop position in 2000 by former Pope John Paul II.
“Basically, truth always prevails,” James told the AP. “Thankfully, everybody in today’s world is more understanding of the harm done by individual priests, and now we can start to heal.”
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