National News

American Cardinal Accused of Sexually Abusing Minor Is Suspended From Ministry

Posted June 20, 2018 3:21 p.m. EDT
Updated June 20, 2018 3:24 p.m. EDT

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington and a prominent Roman Catholic voice in international and public policy, has been suspended from ministry after an investigation found credible allegations that he abused a teenager over 45 years ago while he was a priest in New York, the New York archdiocese said in a statement Wednesday.

The news comes at a time when Pope Francis has endeavored to overcome criticism that he has turned a blind eye to child sexual abuse by clergy in Chile and elsewhere. The New York archdiocese said in its statement about McCarrick that the Vatican was informed and involved in the investigation and that the cardinal has ceased his public ministry “at the direction of Pope Francis.”

McCarrick, 87, said in a statement that he was innocent, but that he cooperated with the process and accepted the Vatican’s decision.

McCarrick is the highest American prelate to be publicly accused of sexually abusing a minor since 1993, when an allegation was made against Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, then archbishop of Chicago, who strongly denied it. The accuser later retracted his allegation, saying it stemmed from an “unreliable” memory recovered under hypnosis. Cardinals from other countries have previously faced public accusations and one, Cardinal George Pell of Australia, is facing trial there.

Separately, on Wednesday, the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, where McCarrick served as archbishop before he was elevated to his post in Washington, released a statement saying that it and the Diocese of Metuchen in New Jersey had received “three allegations of sexual misconduct with adults decades ago.”

The statement said that two of those allegations resulted in settlements, though it did not specify when those settlements were made.

The news amounts to a sudden fall for the retired archbishop. The allegations against McCarrick of sexually abusing a minor are beyond the statute of limitations in New York state, so he cannot be criminally prosecuted.

He could face further punishment by the Vatican, including being ordered to spend the rest of his life in prayer and penance, or dismissed from the priesthood entirely.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, said in his statement that the allegation was turned over to law enforcement officials and then “thoroughly investigated by an independent forensic agency.” He said that McCarrick cooperated with the investigation. The results of the investigation were then given to the sexual abuse review board of the archdiocese, made up of experts on sexual abuse, parents, a priest and a nun.

“The review board found the allegations credible and substantiated,” Dolan said in his statement. “This archdiocese, while saddened and shocked, asks prayers for all involved, and renews its apology to all victims abused by priests.”

The New York archdiocese said in an additional statement Wednesday that the allegations had been reported through its Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program, which it set up two years ago to resolve sexual abuse claims and compensate survivors out of court. It said that the archdiocese, out of respect for privacy, will not release any details about the victim.

McCarrick, in a statement released by the Archdiocese of Washington, said, “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, who served as archbishop of Washington from 2000 to 2006, was known for his engagement with religious leaders of other faiths on issues often related to human rights and peace.

He was ordained a priest to the archdiocese of New York in 1958 and in 1977 was made an auxiliary bishop there. He advanced to become bishop of Metuchen and then archbishop of Newark, where he served for 14 years. Pope John Paul II made him a cardinal in 2001 and Pope Benedict XVI accepted his resignation as archbishop of Washington when he reached the retirement age of 75.