The decision comes after a Vatican trial found former US cardinal Theodore McCarrick guilty of sexually abusing minors and adults. He is the highest profile figure in the Catholic church to be dismissed in nearly 100 years.
Pope Francis has defrocked former US Cardinal Theodore McCarrick after Vatican officials found him guilty of soliciting for sex while hearing confession and of sexual crimes against minors and adults, the Holy See said Saturday.
McCarrick, 88, is the highest-ranking Catholic churchman to be laicized, as the process is called. It effectively means he's been kicked out of the priesthood.
It means he can no longer celebrate Mass or other sacraments, wear clerical vestments or be addressed by any religious title. He is the first churchman who reached the rank of cardinal to be defrocked in the church's sex abuse scandals.
The punishment for the once-powerful prelate, who had served as the archbishop of Washington, spent years in New Jersey dioceses and had been an influential fundraiser for the church, was announced five days before Francis leads an extraordinary gathering of bishops from around the world to help the church grapple with the crisis of sex abuse by clergy and the systematic cover-ups by church hierarchy.
The decades-long scandals have shaken the faith of many Catholics and threaten Francis' papacy.
The scandal swirling around McCarrick was particularly damning to the church's reputation because it apparently was an open secret in some church circles that he slept with adult seminarians. Francis removed McCarrick as a cardinal in July after a US church investigation determined that an allegation he fondled a teenage altar boy in the 1970s was credible.
TRT World's Natasha Hussain reports.
The Vatican's press office said the Holy See's doctrinal watchdog office, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, found McCarrick on Jan. 11 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." It considered his appeal on Wednesday and upheld its ruling, telling McCarrick Friday of that decision, the Vatican said.
McCarrick, when he was ordained a priest in his native New York City in 1958, took a vow of celibacy in accordance with church rules on priests.
The pope "has recognised the definitive nature of this decision made in accordance with (church) law, rendering it as 'res iudicata,'" the Vatican said, using the Latin phrase for admitting no further recourse.
One victim, James Grein, the son of a family friend of McCarrick's, had testified to church officials that, among other abuses, McCarrick had repeatedly groped him during confession. He said the abuse, which went on for decades, began when he was 11.
"Today I am happy that the pope believed me," Grein said in a statement issued through his lawyer.
Grein also expressed hope that McCarrick "will no longer be able to use the power of Jesus' church to manipulate families and sexually abuse children."
Adding that it's "time for us to cleanse the church," Grein said pressure needs to be put on state attorney generals and senators to change the statute of limitations for abuse cases.
"Hundreds of priests, bishops and cardinals are hiding behind man-made law," he said.
McCarrick's civil lawyer, Barry Coburn, told The Associated Press that for the time being his client had no comment on the defrocking. Coburn also declined to say if McCarrick was still residing at the Kansas friary where he had moved to when Francis ordered him to live in penance and prayer while the investigation continued.