Pope Francis personally signed off over the weekend on former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s defrocking, a move that came several months after the disgraced Catholic bishop resigned from the College of Cardinals.
As a result of the defrocking, formally known as laicization, McCarrick can no longer present himself as a Catholic priest in any way, except under the most grave circumstances, the Catholic News Agency reported. The drastic move comes after a Catholic Church trial found him guilty of sexually abusing minors.
Laicization is the most severe punishment the Catholic Church can impose on members of clergy.
The Vatican announced the decision in the following statement:
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, at the conclusion of a penal process, issued a decree finding Theodore Edgar McCarrick, archbishop emeritus of Washington, D.C., guilty of the following delicts while a cleric: 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.
McCarrick’s dismissal came many months after Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, a former top Vatican diplomat in the U.S., filed a bombshell affidavit, in which he alleged the pope knew way back in 2013 about claims McCarrick had sexually abused minors in the past.
In addition to the abuse allegations against him, Pope Francis as well as other Catholic leaders were met with intense backlash, facing accusations they covered up or ignored McCarrick’s sexual misconduct.
The pope stripped McCarrick of his cardinal’s title immediately after the allegations against the prelate surfaced. A statement from the Vatican urged McCarrick to spend the remainder of his life dedicated to “prayer and penance.”
McCarrick’s laicization over the weekend brought to the surface a 2004 interview, during which then-NBC News anchor Tim Russert asked the Catholic leader if there was “a special place in hell” for abusive priests.
At the time, McCarrick said, “There is certainly a special, terrible judgment on someone who would abuse the trust that a priest must have.”
FLASHBACK: Theodore McCarrick was defrocked by the Vatican. In 2004, Tim Russert asked him if there was “a special place in hell” for abusive priests. #MTP
McCarrick: “There is certainly a special, terrible judgment on someone who would abuse the trust that a priest must have.” pic.twitter.com/mkk7TRm0NH
— Meet the Press (@MeetThePress) February 17, 2019
In a statement following McCarrick’s defrocking, the Archdiocese of Washington said the laicization “underscores the gravity of his actions,” CNN reported.
“Our hope and prayer is that this decision serves to help the healing process for survivors of abuse, as well as those who have experienced disappointment or disillusionment because of what former Archbishop McCarrick has done,” the statement read.
McCarrick, for his part, has denied the abuse allegations leveled against him.