WASHINGTON • News of the resignation of disgraced archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, a long-time globe-trotting diplomat for the Catholic Church and a public face for efforts to end clergy sexual abuse, has roiled the local Catholic community and the wider Church.
Cardinal McCarrick, accused of sexually abusing adults and minors for decades, resigned from the College of Cardinals last Saturday, becoming the first cardinal in history to step down due to sexual abuse allegations and magnifying the abuse crisis that Pope Francis is grappling with around the globe.
Pope Francis ordered Cardinal McCarrick to remain in seclusion, and in prayer, until a church trial considers further sanctions.
Cardinal McCarrick's fall is "gut-wrenching" for local Catholics, said Mr John Gehring, a Catholic author who worked for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops while Cardinal McCarrick led the Washington archdiocese.
"Most Catholics, including myself, are just sickened by the fact that it seems like so much was known about his behaviour, and he still climbed the ranks of the Church. He never should have been made a cardinal... It can never happen again."
Cardinal 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 additional victims include one then minor and three adults, who were young priests or seminarians when Cardinal McCarrick allegedly abused them.
Most Catholics, including myself, are just sickened by the fact that it seems like so much was known about his behaviour, and he still climbed the ranks of the Church. He never should have been made a cardinal... It can never happen again.
MR JOHN GEHRING, a Catholic author who worked for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops while Cardinal Theodore McCarrick led the Washington archdiocese, on the reports of abuse.
Cardinal McCarrick is the highest ranked US Catholic clergy member to ever be removed from ministry due to sexual abuse allegations, and the first cardinal to fully resign his position since 1927.
The Vatican said Cardinal McCarrick will face a canonical trial, though it did not provide details about when the trial would be conducted.
Professor Kurt Martens, who specialises in canon law at Catholic University, noted that the Catholic Church has typically punished people by ordering them to conduct a life of "prayer and penance". In Cardinal McCarrick's case, the Vatican has imposed that penalty before the trial has even started - raising pressure on the Church to find a stronger form of punishment.
"Because you're running out of options if you want to impose a further penalty," Prof Martens said. "I would not be surprised if he gets dismissed from the clerical state."
That would mean that after spending most of his life as a church leader, Cardinal McCarrick would be defrocked entirely - becoming a lay person, not a Catholic priest.
The now-60-year-old Virginia man who alleged that Cardinal McCarrick abused him beginning when he was around 11, said he was very emotional upon learning last Saturday that Pope Francis had accepted Cardinal McCarrick's resignation, signalling that the Church believes the accusers.
"The Vatican now knows everything, realises the depth of his destruction in the Church and that it's time to clean house," said Mr James, who spoke on condition that his last name not be used to protect his family. As for Cardinal McCarrick, "he's been guilty since the beginning of his life. And he's now realised he's cornered and can't come out".
Pope Francis' decisive action regarding Cardinal McCarrick comes as he also contends with a massive case of abuse and cover-up in Chile, a country where the Argentinian pontiff dispatched Vatican investigators.
The country's 34 bishops offered to step down en masse after meeting Pope Francis in May; so far, he has accepted five of those resignations.