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America’s highest-ranking Catholic official suspended for alleged child sex abuse

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, former archbishop of Washington, has been suspended from ministry.

Pope Francis Meets President Obama At The White House Jonathan Newton-Pool/Getty Images

The former archbishop of Washington, DC, has been suspended from ministry after allegations that he sexually abused a minor almost half a century ago.

According to a statement by the New York archdiocese, an investigation found credible a report that Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, then a parish priest in New York, had molested a minor 45 years ago.

”The Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, at the direction of Pope Francis, has instructed Cardinal McCarrick that he is no longer to exercise publicly his priestly ministry,” the report said, adding that McCarrick, while maintaining his innocence, accepted Parolin’s decision. Since his 2006 retirement as archbishop, McCarrick, now 87, has nevertheless maintained an active profile as a Catholic voice in global policy debate.

The statement continued: “This archdiocese, while saddened and shocked, asks prayers for all involved, and renews its apology to all victims abused by priests. We also thank the victim for courage in coming forward and participating in our Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program, as we hope this can bring a sense of resolution and fairness.”

McCarrick is the highest-ranking American, and only American archbishop, to be accused of child sex abuse. According to the Washington Post, he has previously been accused of sexual misconduct in other archdioceses, but these charges exclusively concerned other adults. Due to the statute of limitation in New York, it is unlikely that McCarrick will face criminal charges.

In 1993, an accusation was made against the then-archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Josephine Bernardin, but it was later retracted. Overall, at least 3,000 priests have been accused of abuse worldwide.

The clerical sex abuse scandal has rocked the Catholic Church worldwide. Recently, the entire senior church hierarchy of Chile resigned en masse after Francis condemned the seeming cover-up of abuse by a Chilean bishop, Rev. Fernando Karadima, by other ecclesiastical officials. In Australia, the Vatican’s third-highest-ranking official, Cardinal George Pell, currently awaits trial on the charge of numerous “historic sexual offenses” — the full details of which have not been shared publicly.

Pope Francis’s approach to the child sex abuse scandal has maddened some of his critics. Earlier this year, for example, Francis appeared to defend those Chilean bishops accused of covering up Karadima’s abuses, dismissing charges against them as “calumny” (he later walked back his comments).

The Vatican has not provided further comment on McCarrick’s case.

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