By Elisabetta Povoledo and Yonette Joseph
Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington and prominent diplomat at the center of a mushrooming sexual abuse scandal dating back decades, has resigned, the Vatican announced on Saturday.
In a statement, the Vatican said: “Yesterday evening the Holy Father received the letter in which Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop emeritus of Washington (U.S.A.), presented his resignation as a member of the College of Cardinals.
“Pope Francis accepted his resignation from the cardinalate and has ordered his suspension from the exercise of any public ministry.”
The statement said the cardinal would remain in seclusion “for a life of prayer and penance until the accusations made against him are examined in a regular canonical trial.”
Cardinal McCarrick, a prominent Roman Catholic voice in international and public policy, was removed from public ministry on June 20, after an investigation found credible accusations that he had sexually abused a teenager 47 years ago while serving as a priest in New York.
Cardinal McCarrick, now 88, said in a statement at the time that he was innocent.
Subsequent interviews by The New York Times revealed that some in the church hierarchy had known for decades about accusations that he had preyed on several men who wanted to become priests, sexually harassing and touching them.
At least one man said he was abused by Cardinal McCarrick when he was a New Jersey bishop in the 1980s. The Times investigation discovered settlements amounting to tens of thousands of dollars over the years, paid to men who had made allegations of abuse against Father McCarrick, then a rising star in the Roman Catholic church.
Cardinal McCarrick’s resignation from the College of Cardinals is the first since Father Louis Billot tendered his resignation in 1927 because of political tensions with the Holy See.
Keith Patrick O’Brien, a former archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, waived his rights as a cardinal in 2013, after accusations emerged of inappropriate sexual behavior with junior clergy. But he remained in the College of Cardinals until his death in March this year.
“The relevant point is that he is no longer a cardinal,” a Vatican spokesman, Greg Burke, said on Saturday of Cardinal McCarrick.
In recent months, the pope has worked to address concerns that he had a blind spot when it came to child sexual abuse by members of the clergy.
After a Vatican envoy confirmed this year that the Roman Catholic church in Chile had for decades allowed sexual abuse to go unchecked, the pope apologized, met with victims and accepted the resignation of some bishops — after the country’s clerical hierarchy offered to quit in May.
On Monday, prosecutors in Chile said they were investigating 36 cases of sexual abuse against Catholic priests, bishops and lay persons.
In April, Cardinal George Pell of Australia, who as the Vatican’s finance chief is one of the Holy See’s highest officials, was ordered to stand trial on several charges of sexual abuse. In May, Philip Wilson, the archbishop of Adelaide, was convicted of covering up a claim of sexual abuse in the 1970s.
Victims and their advocates have long held that bishops have not been held accountable for hiding sexual abuse. With his conviction, Archbishop Wilson became the highest-ranking Catholic official in the world to be convicted of concealing abuse crimes.
Last month, Msgr. Carlo Alberto Capella, a former Vatican diplomat, was found guilty and sentenced to five years in prison by a Vatican tribunal for possessing and distributing child pornography.
He will now face a canonical trial, which could lead to his removal from the priesthood. The trial was the first time in modern history that the Vatican’s own tribunal had handed down a sentence in a clerical abuse case.
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