Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington and longtime globe-trotting diplomat of the Catholic Church, resigned his position as a cardinal, the Vatican announced Saturday.
McCarrick, 88, was found by the church in June to be credibly accused of sexually abusing a teenager nearly 50 years ago. Since then, additional reports of sexual abuse and harassment by the cardinal, over a span of decades, have been reported. The victims include one then-minor and three adults, who were young priests or seminarians when McCarrick allegedly abused them.
Pope Francis ordered McCarrick to remain in seclusion, and in prayer, until a church trial considers further sanctions against him.
McCarrick is the highest ranked U.S. Catholic clergy member to ever be removed from ministry due to sexual abuse allegations.
In June, McCarrick was removed from ministry when a church review board found that he had been credibly accused of abusing a teenager early in his career, when he was a priest in New York. The youth was helping prepare for a Christmas service when McCarrick allegedly put his hands in the boy’s pants. When he was removed from ministry, McCarrick said he had no memory at all of that incident and he maintained his innocence, but accepted the Vatican’s decision.
Then came more allegations. A Virginia man now 60 years old told The New York Times and then The Washington Post that McCarrick, a friend of his father, abused him for nearly 20 years, starting when he was an 11-year-old boy and McCarrick urged him to show him his genitals while changing clothes after a swim party.
The diocese of Metuchen and the archdiocese of Newark, both of which McCarrick led before he was promoted to archbishop of Washington in 2001, revealed that they had reached settlements in the 2000s with two men who accused McCarrick of sexually harassing them when they were adults. In one case, former priest Robert Ciolek says that McCarrick would invite him and other seminarians to a beach house, where there was always one bed too few, so one man would have to sleep with the bishop. Ciolek, who said McCarrick never kissed him or touched him below the waist, but did give and demand unwanted back rubs, reached an $80,000 settlement with the New Jersey dioceses for McCarrick’s conduct and the abuse he also suffered at the hands of a high school teacher when he was a teenager in Catholic school.
Ciolek said the church imposed an agreement that he not speak to the media about McCarrick’s abuse, which it released him from this year.
In the second case, which The Washington Post learned about after examining extensive church files, a former priest said McCarrick abused him while on a fishing trip and again on a trip to New York City, where McCarrick made him sleep with him and rubbed his crotch. The New York Times reported that the church settled with that former priest — who was removed from ministry in the mid-2000s, about a decade after he admitted that he himself had touched two teenage boys — for $100,000. That priest has not returned requests for comment.
A third man brought a lawsuit over McCarrick’s harassment in 2011 but then withdrew it from the court system. According to files obtained by The Washington Post, that man — a priest from Brazil — also alleged McCarrick forced unwanted sexual acts on him while at a trip to a beach house.
The wave of allegations has startled Catholics, especially in Washington, where McCarrick was the well-liked local archbishop from 2001 to 2006. McCarrick stepped down from the Washington archdiocese in 2006, when he reached retirement age, but continued to remain an active diplomat for the church — traveling around the world at the behest of the Vatican and occasionally the U.S. State Department to advocate for religious freedom and intervene in conflicts.