Pope Defrocks Theodore McCarrick, Ex-Cardinal Accused of Sexual Abuse
This deserves more than just a headline link.
Francis has done something here that hasn't happened in history -- he has laicized a cardinal archbishop for committing sexual abuse, and not just any cardinal archbishop but one of the three most powerful in the country. This is the man who ran the Diocese of Washington, D.C., which includes Georgetown University and Catholic University -- you can't tell me that the guy at the top of the hierarchy has no input on decisionmaking at Catholic universities. (The other two most powerful dioceses are New York and Chicago; sometimes Boston get in there too.) Also, quoting the article:
Mr. McCarrick was long a prominent Catholic voice on international and public policy issues, and a champion for progressive Catholics active in social justice causes.
Which means he had a voice in what happened on the Hill.
What does it mean to laicize someone? Let me provide a comparison to the military, since in many ways the Catholic hierarchy is based on the Roman hierarchy at the time of Constantine.
Suppose you have a general who screws up really badly. Whoever's above him can bust him down a few ranks, remove him from power -- but he's still in the military. He's still subject to its rules. But if it's bad enough, and more is discovered, he might get kicked out all the way -- dishonorable discharge, not entitled to anything more in terms of military benefits, and possibly barred from some other jobs.
In McCarrick's case, the Pope removed him from ministry in June (took him away from the ordinary contact with people and the rights and privileges of being a cardinal archbishop). A month later McCarrick resigned from the Council of Cardinals (there goes his power and influence over the powerful) and suspended him from all priestly duties (can't celebrate the Mass, can't hear confessions, can't marry people, etc.) But being suspended doesn't mean he was out of the picture. He was still there, he just couldn't do anything. Now, by defrocking him, laicizing him, the Pope has taken away his identity and given him a new one: a known malefactor who has been punished after the accusations against him were proven true.
There is a financial side as well: a defrocked cleric at any level loses church-provided housing and financial benefits. McCarrick is 88; I suspect he lives in a church-sponsored residence. If so, not for long. Any stipend he received as retirement pay is gone. He might end up having to pay his own way in a small apartment with his Social Security, if he wasn't good at investing.
Some take-aways from this:
-- If the Pope will kick out a cardinal archbishop, a "prince of the church", those who have been abusers are due for their own reckoning.
-- I have not heard anything at all about the possibility of Church-backed (as in paying, not influencing) counseling for victims of abuse and their families. This should happen.
-- This should make it a little easier for people who have been abused and mistreated to come forward.
-- Abuse of power will now come at a high price.
Do I think this is the end of it all? No. This is the beginning, only the tip of it. More will come. The house needs cleaning; this is only beginning to clean one shelf in one closet, even if it's the top one.