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 almost 45 years ago while he was a priest in New York, the New York archdiocese said in a statement Wednesday.
He is the first American cardinal ever to be publicly accused of sexually abusing a minor, according to Terence McKiernan, president of Bishop Accountabilty.org, an advocacy group that tracks abuse charges in the church. Cardinals from other countries have previously faced public accusations and one, Cardinal George Pell of Australia, is facing trial there.
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 Cardinal 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.”
Cardinal McCarrick, 87, said in a statement that he was innocent, but that he cooperated with the procedure and accepted the Vatican’s decision.
The news amounts to a sudden fall for the retired archbishop.
Separately, on Wednesday, the Archdiocese of Newark, where Cardinal 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 did not specify when those settlements were made.
The allegations against Cardinal 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 Cardinal 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,” Cardinal 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 on 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.
Cardinal 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.”
Cardinal 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.