McCarrick’s Defrocking Sends Message

Theodore McCarrick, until not long ago, the holder of the most prestigious office in the American Catholic Church, is a Prince of the Church no more.

The first clue that gave it away appeared this morning in the classified ads in L’Observatorio Romano for the Sunday edition:

“For sale: one red galero with matching robes. Some slight staining around the crotch area and neck sweatband but otherwise fine condition. Interested parties should contact the American Nunciature in Washington, DC. No phonies or fakes need apply. Cash sales only.”

Joke. Not real ad.

Sadly, not having a subscription to the Vatican paper, I couldn’t place that ad. Pity. But yep, the word from on high is that the ax has fallen at last. Coming less than a week before the big meeting of the bishops in Rome, it is doubtless intended to send a clear message to prelates of all ranks: no one is now immune.

Here’s the news from AP:

Vatican defrocks former US cardinal McCarrick over sex abuse

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis has defrocked former U.S. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick after Vatican officials found him guilty of soliciting for sex while hearing confession and sexual crimes against minors and adults, the Holy See said Saturday.

McCarrick, 88, is the highest-ranking churchman to be laicized, as the process is called. It means he can no longer celebrate Mass or other sacraments, wear clerical vestments or be addressed by any religious title.

The scandal swirling around him was particularly damning to the church’s reputation in the eyes of the faithful because it apparently was an open secret that he slept with adult seminarians. Francis removed McCarrick as a cardinal in July after a U.S. church investigation determined that an allegation he fondled a teenage altar boy in the 1970s was credible.

The punishment for the once-powerful prelate, who had served as the archbishop of Washington and had been an influential fundraiser for the church, was announced five days before Francis is set to lead an extraordinary gathering of bishops from around the world to help the church grapple with the crisis of sex abuse by clergy and systematic cover-ups by church hierarchy. The decades-long scandals have shaken the faith of many Catholics and threatened Francis’ papacy.

The Vatican’s press office said that on Jan. 11, the Holy See’s doctrinal watchdog office, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, had found McCarrick guilty of “solicitation in the sacrament of confession, and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power.” The commandment forbids adultery.

The officials “imposed on him the penalty of dismissal from the clerical state.”

Dismissal from the clerical state” means that McCarrick has lost his official license to minister. He’s still a priest; just out of the club. According to Roman Catholic theology, once a validly-ordained priest, always a validly-ordained priest, no matter what he does or what befalls him. But he shouldn’t perform any priestly functions, and has lost his pension and the right to be economically supported by the Church.

The only exceptions to this, as far as I know, is that he can still hear confessions and absolve people when they are in imminent danger of death, and like anyone breathing, can still baptize people in that same situation.

The offense was the one that first gave the Inquisition secret jurisdiction over clergy sex abuse across the Church in 1622, because it was a misuse of the sacrament. And of course, Crimes of Solicitation is the title of the Vatican instruction issued in 1962 just months before Vatican II that first revealed the Church’s secret means of dealing with such crimes along with sex with minors and bestiality, when it was discovered amid legal papers in 2003.

It is interesting that he was condemned first for solicitation in the confessional, which is the classic offense by priests. Confessionals were invented to prevent intimate physical contact between confessor and penitent, but it only made verbal seduction that much easier.

The Inquisition, under its modern name, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was removed from dealing with clergy sex abuse. The clergy sex abuse crisis was a result. Their secret, universal jurisdiction was then restored some 35 years later – and by the same man who had largely been responsible for removing it in the first place.

It will be very interesting to see what happens next week. It may well be that the bishops are not assembled to discuss remedies but to hear what Rome has ruled. And the world will be watching.

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