Former US Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has been expelled from the Roman Catholic priesthood after he was found guilty of sexual crimes against minors and adults.
Pope Francis decided the ruling, which followed an appeal by the man who was a power-broker as Archbishop of Washington DC from 2001 to 2006, was now final.
A Vatican statement on Saturday said his crimes were made more serious by “the aggravating factor of the abuse of power”.
McCarrick, who in July became the first Roman Catholic prelate in nearly 100 years to lose the title of cardinal, has now become the highest-profile church figure to be dismissed from the priesthood in modern times.
The decision comes as the church is still grappling with a decades-long sexual abuse crisis that has exposed how predator priests were moved from parish to parish instead of being defrocked or turned over to civilian authorities in countries across the globe, including Australia.
Fall from grace
The ruling was made by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith three days ago.
The allegations against McCarrick, whose fall from grace stunned the US church, date back to decades ago, when he was still rising to the top of the American hierarchy.
One of his victims expressed relief that Pope Francis believed his accusations of years-long sex abuse.
In a statement released by his lawyer on Saturday, James Grein said he participated in the church trial of McCarrick “with profound sadness”.
Grein, the son of a friend of McCarrick, said that while he can’t regain his childhood, “today I am happy that the Pope believed me”.
He accused McCarrick of sexually abusing him for about two decades from age 11, including during confession.
Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said the ruling showed “different treatment for bishops who have committed or covered up abuse in fact represents a form of clericalism that is no longer acceptable”.
McCarrick was also found guilty of the separate crime of solicitation, which refers to when a priest uses the pretext of the sacrament of confession to commit an immoral act with a penitent.
One of men who has claimed that McCarrick abused him when he was a boy said McCarrick, then a priest, touched his genitals during confession.
Separately, several priests and ex-priests have come forward alleging McCarrick used his authority to coerce them to sleep with him when they were adult seminarians studying for the priesthood.
McCarrick, who has been living in seclusion in a remote friary in Kansas, has responded publicly to only one of the allegations, saying he has “absolutely no recollection” of an alleged case of sexual abuse of a 16-year-old boy more than 50 years ago.
McCarrick has not commented publicly on the allegations of misconduct with adults, which was an open secret in the US Church.
Francis ordered a “thorough study” last year of all documents in Holy See offices concerning McCarrick. The four US dioceses where he served – New York, Metuchen, Newark, and Washington DC – have launched independent investigations.
The Pope wanted the case completed before heads of national Catholic churches meet at the Vatican from February 21-24 to discuss the crisis, three sources said.