Former US Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has been expelled by Pope Francis from the Roman Catholic priesthood after he was found guilty of sexual crimes against teenage boys and adult males, according to the Vatican.
A Vatican statement on Saturday said the crimes of McCarrick, the Archbishop of Washington, DC, from 2001 to 2006, were made more serious by “the aggravating factor of the abuse of power”.
McCarrick, 88, who resigned from the Vatican’s College of Cardinals in July, became the first Roman Catholic bishop in nearly 100 years to lose the title of cardinal for sex abuse.
He has now become the highest profile church figure to be dismissed from the priesthood in modern times.
With the ruling, Pope Francis appears to be sending a signal that even those in the highest echelons of the hierarchy will be held accountable.
Defrocking means that McCarrick can no longer call himself a priest or celebrate the sacraments, although he would be allowed to administer to a person on the verge of death in an emergency.
The allegations against McCarrick, whose fall from grace stunned the US Church, date back decades to when he was still rising to the top of the hierarchy there.
One of the men who has claimed that McCarrick abused him when he was a boy said the then-priest touched his genitals during confession.
Separately, several priests and ex-priests have come forward alleging McCarrick used his authority to coerce them to sleep with him when they were adult seminarians studying for the priesthood.
The pope wanted the case completed before the heads of national Catholic churches meet at the Vatican from February 21-24 to discuss the crisis, three sources said.
The Catholic Church continues to grapple with a decades-long sexual abuse crisis that has exposed how predator priests were moved from parish to parish instead of being defrocked or turned over to civilian authorities in countries across the globe.