The Vatican has defrocked the ex-archbishop of Washington, Theodore McCarrick, over numerous charges of sex abuse. Pope Francis has called the expulsion "definitive" after an appeal by the ex-cardinal.
The Vatican says the former archbishop of Washington, Theodore McCarrick, has been dismissed from the priesthood after a disciplinary panel found him guilty of soliciting sex from adults and minors.
McCarrick is the highest-profile figure in the Catholic Church to be defrocked in modern times.
According to a Vatican statement, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith found McCarrick 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."
Defrocking is the most severe ecclesiastical punishment for a priest, meaning among other things that he is no longer allowed to hold Mass. McCarrick could, however, also still face civil suits in the US.
The US Conference of Catholic Bishops said the decision was a "clear signal that abuse will not be tolerated." Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the bishops' conference, said in a statement on Saturday: "No bishop, no matter how influential, is above the law of the Church."
The Conference also appealed to other victims: "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," the statement continued. "Victims Assistance Coordinators are available to help. We are committed to healing and reconciliation."
McCarrick, 88, was a leading figure in the Catholic Church in the US. He was ordained as a priest in 1958, served as the archbishop of Washington from 2001 to 2006 and was made a cardinal in 2001. He resigned in 2018 in the wake of numerous sexual abuse charges.
The allegations of sexual misconduct against him going back decades were made public last year. Pope Francis was also embroiled in the ensuing scandal, but accusations by a former Vatican ambassador that the pontiff had covered up McCarrick's crimes have not been backed up by evidence so far.
The defrocking comes just days before Francis is due to host a summit on preventing child abuse within the church, which has been severely shaken in recent years as numerous cases of sexual abuse committed by clergy have come to light in several countries.
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tj/jm (dpa, Reuters, AFP)