Vatican Announces Laicization of Former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick

Confirming what has been widely-rumored in recent weeks, the Vatican has announced today that former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who stands at the center of the Church’s re-awakened clerical sex abuse crisis, has been stripped of the clerical state following an investigation into allegations of longstanding abuse of priests, seminarians, and minors.

When levied as a disciplinary measure, laicization is considered one of the most severe forms of punishment for those who have received Holy Orders; for a cleric of McCarrick’s stature, it is unprecedented in modern history.

In a statement released by the Holy See press office this morning, it was announced that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith “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.” Due to this finding, “The Congresso imposed on him the penalty of dismissal from the clerical state.” The decision was, according to the Holy See Bulletin, communicated to McCarrick yesterday, February 15, 2019. According to the statement, “The Holy Father has recognized the definitive nature of this decision made in accord with law, rendering it a res iudicata (i.e., admitting of no further recourse).” In other words, the decision is not subject to appeal.

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Earlier this week, the Catholic News Agency (CNA) reported that according to sources close to McCarrick, he has “private means” of financial support, and “never drew either a salary or a pension from any of the three dioceses he led.” If he is financially self-sufficient, it may have been a factor in the decision by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith to reduce him to the lay state. According to CNA, “clerical offenders of advanced age or poor health are often kept in a penitential assignment, in recognition that they might otherwise have no means of support.”

On the contrary, however, “If McCarrick were known to be able to provide for his own living outside of Church support, it could weigh against him in any deliberation about imposing a penalty of laicization.”

Laicization also means that McCarrick will no longer hold any ecclesiastical title or office, and will no longer have any legitimate exercise of priestly powers or authority. He will no longer be allowed to preach, teach at a seminary, wear clerical garb or offer Mass or administer sacraments. Because the sacrament of Holy Orders is among those that leave an indelible character on the soul of the recipient, however, he will always retain the sacramental powers of the priesthood, though these may not be used licitly with the exception of an emergency.

As a laicized bishop, he will most likely also be denied a funeral at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington D.C., where he last served as bishop.

Having been reduced to the lay state and stripped of all ecclesiastical offices, the 88-year-old former prelate — until recently one of the most powerful cardinals in the Catholic Church — will be known formally only as “Mr. McCarrick.”

As of this writing, there is no additional information on whether he will continue to live in the monastery in Kansas where he currently resides, or if he will be forced to seek other accommodation.

UPDATE: See more on this breaking story from Vatican News.

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