(RNS) — A sexual abuse allegation made against a top retired U.S. Catholic cleric, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, has been deemed “credible and substantiated” by church authorities, who ordered McCarrick to cease all public activities.
The announcement follows an investigation of McCarrick by the Archdiocese of New York to assess an allegation that the cardinal abused a teenager more than 45 years ago while working in that region as a priest.
McCarrick later served as bishop of Metuchen, in New Jersey, and as archbishop of Newark, N.J., before moving to the nation's capital, where he headed the Washington Diocese from 2001 until his retirement in 2006.
On Wednesday (June 20), Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and the Archdiocese of Washington both released statements noting that the Vatican has been involved in the process and that officials have ordered McCarrick to refrain from ministry “at the direction of Pope Francis.” Although retired, McCarrick was previously able to operate in a ministerial capacity, still performing Mass as recently as 2015 and traveling globally at the behest of the Vatican.
In his statement, Dolan said the report of abuse was first given to his archdiocese, which handed it over to police and also had the matter investigated by “an independent forensic agency.” The results of that inquiry were then given to an archdiocesan review board, which declared the allegations credible.
Although McCarrick is facing church discipline, he is unlikely to see legal ramifications, as New York state law does not allow victims of child sexual abuse to press charges after they turn 23. McCarrick, 87, said in a statement that "I have absolutely no recollection of this reported abuse, and believe in my innocence," but agreed with the actions taken against him.
“While shocked by the report, and while maintaining my innocence, I considered it essential that the charges be reported to the police, thoroughly investigated by an independent agency, and given to the Review Board of the Archdiocese of New York,” he said. “I fully cooperated in the process.”
The Archdiocese of Newark also released a statement on Wednesday, noting that McCarrick was charged with sexual misconduct with adults "decades ago."
"This Archdiocese and the Diocese of Metuchen received three allegations of sexual misconduct with adults decades ago; two of these allegations resulted in settlements," the statement read.
Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, offered remarks on the development.
“As clergy in God’s Church, we have made a solemn promise to protect children and young people from all harm," he said in a statement. "This sacred charge applies to all who minister in the Church, no matter the person’s high standing or long service. This morning was a painful reminder of how only through continued vigilance can we keep that promise. My prayers are with all who have experienced the trauma of sexual abuse. May they find healing in Christ’s abundant love."
The news comes on the heels of a renewed push by the Vatican to address sex abuse allegations.
After initially defending Chilean Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno in January after he was accused of covering up a child sex abuse scandal in the region, Francis eventually took a harder line on the scandal and assigned two investigators, who produced a scathing report that alleged widespread attempts to conceal abuse.