The Vatican announced on Feb. 16 that Pope Francis, at the conclusion of a process conducted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, imposed on Theodore McCarrick the penalty of his dismissal from the clerical state, thus prohibiting him from functioning in any type of priestly ministry.

The Catholic News Service reported that in its announcement, the Vatican said McCarrick, the 88-year-old former cardinal and archbishop of Washington, was found guilty of "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."

The CNS report said that according to the Vatican, a panel of the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith found McCarrick guilty Jan. 11, and his appeal of the decision was rejected Feb. 13 by the congregation. McCarrick was informed of the decision Feb. 15 and Pope Francis "recognized the definitive nature of this decision made in accord with law," making a further appeal impossible.

Following the Vatican announcement of the pope’s action in the McCarrick case, the Archdiocese of Washington issued the following statement:

“The imposition on former Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick of the penalty of his dismissal from the clerical state, thus prohibiting him any type of priestly ministry, underscores the gravity of his actions.

“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. We also pray that the Church may be guided to move forward in her mission.”

The archdiocese statement noted that according to Church law, one who has lost the clerical state cannot function in any way as a bishop, priest, or deacon. He cannot celebrate the sacraments nor wear clerical attire or be addressed by his former title.

The penalty against former Archbishop McCarrick marked a dramatic fall for a man who had been a popular churchman known for traveling around the world on humanitarian and other Church missions and for his fundraising ability and media appearances. The CNS report noted that the penalty on McCarrick “was the toughest meted out to a cardinal by the Vatican in modern times.” 

After the Church penalty against McCarrick was announced, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, the archbishop of Galveston-Houston and the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued a statement saying, "The Holy See’s announcement regarding Theodore McCarrick is a clear signal that abuse will not be tolerated. No bishop, no matter how influential, is above the law of the Church.  For all those McCarrick abused, I pray this judgement will be one small step, among many, toward healing. For us bishops, it strengthens our resolve to hold ourselves accountable to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I am grateful to Pope Francis for the determined way he has led the Church’s response."

Cardinal DiNardo concluded his statement by noting, "If you have suffered sexual abuse at the hands of someone within the Catholic Church, I urge you to contact local law enforcement and your local diocese or eparchy.  Victims Assistance Coordinators are available to help.  We are committed to healing and reconciliation.”

On June 20, 2018, then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick acknowledged that he had been informed “that an allegation of sexual abuse of a teenager from almost 50 years ago had been made against me. At the time, I was a priest of the Archdiocese of New York.”

The retired archbishop in a statement then said he was “shocked by the report,” and maintained his innocence, and added that he fully cooperated in the process, which included reporting the matter to police, having it investigated by an independent agency, and given to the Review Board of the Archdiocese of New York.

That review board found those allegations to be credible and substantiated, and McCarrick said in obedience he accepted the Holy See’s decision “that I no longer exercise my public ministry.”

The retired archbishop, who turned 88 that July, added in his initial statement that, “I realize this painful development will shock my many friends, family members and people I have been honored to serve in my 60 years as a priest. 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.”

In a statement then, the Archdiocese of Washington noted, “While saddened and shocked, this archdiocese awaits the final outcome of the canonical process and in the meantime asks for prayers for all involved. At the same time, we renew our commitment to care for the victims who have suffered abuse, to prevent abuse before it occurs, and to identify and report child abuse once it has happened.”

In a letter that June addressed to the Archdiocese of Washington community that was shared by pastors, Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl added, “While the Archdiocese of New York investigated this claim, at the same time, I requested that a similar review be made of all Archdiocese of Washington’s records.  Based on that review, I can report that no claim – credible or otherwise – has been made against Cardinal McCarrick during his time here in Washington.”

Then-Cardinal McCarrick served as the archbishop of Washington from January 2001 until May 2006, when he retired. A New York native, he was ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of New York in 1958. During his years as a priest of New York, he served from 1958-65 as assistant chaplain, dean and director of development at The Catholic University of America, from 1965-69 as president of the Catholic University of Puerto Rico, from 1969-71 as that archdiocese’s associate secretary for education and as a parochial vicar of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Manhattan, as secretary to New York Cardinal Terence Cooke from 1971-77, and as a New York auxiliary bishop from 1977-81.

He was installed as the founding bishop of the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey, in 1982, and served there for four years. Then from 1986-2000, he served as the archbishop of Newark, until his appointment as archbishop of Washington, where he was installed in 2001 and made a cardinal that year.

In his years as the archbishop of Washington, then-Cardinal McCarrick opened the Redemptoris Mater Seminary for diocesan missionary priests and advocated for expanding educational opportunities for children from low-income families. He also launched a capital campaign to support archdiocesan outreach and ministries. 

Also on June 20, Newark Cardinal Joseph Tobin issued a statement about the case, noting, “In the past, there have been allegations that he (then-Archbishop McCarrick) engaged in sexual behavior with adults. This Archdiocese and the Diocese of Metuchen received three allegations of sexual misconduct with adults decades ago; two of these allegations resulted in settlements.”

Newark’s archbishop noted then that many in that archdiocese “developed strong relationships with him and appreciate the impact of his service. Those feelings are likely hard to reconcile with the news of a credible and substantiated claim of abuse of a minor. While Cardinal McCarrick maintains his innocence and the canonical process continues, we must put first the serious nature of this matter with respect and support for the process aimed at hearing victims and finding truth.” 

In July, the New York Times published stories detailing alleged abusive behavior toward seminarians by McCarrick while he was a bishop in New Jersey, and the story of a man who said he was the first child McCarrick baptized after ordination and claimed that from the time he was 11, the churchman sexually abused him over a period of about two decades. 

On July 28, Pope Francis announced that he had accepted the resignation from the College of Cardinals of Cardinal McCarrick and ordered him to maintain “a life of prayer and penance” until a canonical trial examined accusations that he sexually abused minors.

In August 2018, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganó, a former apostolic nuncio to the United States, published a “testimony” in which he claimed that Pope Benedict XVI had imposed sanctions on then-Cardinal McCarrick. 

Cardinal Wuerl issued a statement categorically denying that information was communicated to him while he was archbishop of Washington. The Catholic News Service reported that Archbishop Viganó subsequently issued another statement clarifying that those “sanctions” against then-Cardinal McCarrick were “private” and neither he nor now-retired Pope Benedict XVI ever was able to enforce them.

Following the publicized allegations against then-Archbishop McCarrick and after the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report issued in August detailing clergy sexual abuse in six Catholic dioceses in that state over the past seven decades, parishes in the Archdiocese of Washington and across the country held prayer services for those who had been abused and for healing in the Church and listening sessions to hear Catholics’ concerns, including questions about how McCarrick was promoted when Church officials allegedly knew or heard rumors of his misconduct. Many bishops stressed the need for accountability and transparency as the Catholic Church addressed the abuse crisis that roiled the Church in the United States.

In mid-September, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis was calling the presidents of all the world’s bishops’ conferences to a Feb. 21-24, 2019 meeting at the Vatican to address the sexual abuse crisis.

Also in September, the Archdiocese of Washington announced that then-Archbishop McCarrick was living at a Franciscan Capuchin friary in Kansas.

In October, the Catholic News Service reported that the Vatican promised a thorough review of how it handled allegations of sexual misconduct by then-Archbishop McCarrick and noted that Pope Francis had said, “We will follow the path of truth wherever it may lead.”