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Former Washington, D.C., Cardinal Removed From Public Ministry After Sex Abuse Allegation


One of the most high-profile archbishops in the Catholic Church has been removed from public ministry. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop emeritus of Washington, is accused of sexually abusing a teenager almost 50 years ago while he was a priest in New York. The allegations were found to be credible and substantiated.

McCarrick, who is 87, says he is innocent and that he doesn't remember abusing anyone. For more on this, I'm joined by Father Thomas Reese of Religion News Service. And, Father Reese, start here just by telling us a little bit more about these allegations against Cardinal McCarrick.

THOMAS REESE: Well, these allegations were made by someone who came forward to the Archdiocese of New York. And these are something that occurred almost 50 years ago. And it's the only case of sexual abuse of a minor that was alleged against Cardinal McCarrick.

KELLY: And what exactly is alleged?

REESE: Well, this we don't know. There's no details on that. The victim has not come forward.

KELLY: No statute of limitations on this?

REESE: There would be statute of limitations in terms of criminal prosecution in the state of New York. But with regards to the Catholic Church, our concern is primarily the protection of minors. And if someone is found guilty of having abused a minor, that person can never act as a priest again.

KELLY: What do we know about the consequences? Will this removal from public ministry be permanent?

REESE: We're not sure of that yet. This is an extraordinary case because normally when a cardinal is accused of something, the pope acts as the judge. Only the pope can judge a cardinal. But what the pope did in this case was to delegate to Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York the responsibility for investigating this case. So he investigated, he reported it to the police and then he submitted the information to an archdiocesan review board.

And this group found that the accusations were credible. And the result was that the pope told Cardinal McCarrick he could no longer act as a priest. So now we have to wait and see if anything further will happen.

KELLY: And I suppose we note again that he's 87 years old so it would have been at the end of a long career. I want to note an irony here, which is that Cardinal McCarrick was actually one of the people who helped create the child protection policy that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote in 2002 when all those abuse cases came to light in Boston.

REESE: Yes, he was among those who were involved in drawing up the procedures that we now have in place, and now he's been subjected to those procedures. What this shows is that no one in the Catholic Church is above the law. No one can abuse a child and expect to have the church cover it up or be allowed to continue as a priest.

When you see someone like Cardinal McCarrick, who is so highly respected and so important a player in the Catholic Church, being told that he can no longer act as a priest, this is a message that no one is above the law.

KELLY: When you say how highly respected he was, give me some sense of the significance of someone at his level being removed from public ministry.

REESE: Well, the simple fact that he was not only an archbishop but also a cardinal shows that, I mean, you can't get much higher than that in the Catholic Church. Not only that, he was used by the Vatican on all sorts of diplomatic missions. And he was highly respected not only within the church but also by government officials around the world, including in the United States.

KELLY: Father Thomas Reese of Religion News Service, thank you very much for speaking with us.

REESE: Good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.