By Agence France-Presse
WASHINGTON (AFP) – Pope Francis’s decision to defrock former cardinal Theodore McCarrick “is a clear signal that abuse will not be tolerated,” the US Conference of Catholic Bishops said Saturday.
McCarrick, 88, who resigned from the Vatican’s College of Cardinals in July, is the first cardinal ever to be defrocked for sex abuse.
“No bishop, no matter how influential, is above the law of the Church,” Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the bishops conference, said in a statement.
“For all those McCarrick abused, I pray this judgment will be one small step, among many, toward healing.
“For us bishops, it strengthens our resolve to hold ourselves accountable to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I am grateful to Pope Francis for the determined way he has led the Church’s response.”
The church has long been criticized for protecting predatory priests from the law — but the bishops’ statement appeared to signal a shift.
“If you have suffered sexual abuse at the hands of someone within the Catholic Church, I urge you to contact local law enforcement and your local diocese or eparchy,” it said.
“Victims Assistance Coordinators are available to help. We are committed to healing and reconciliation.”
McCarrick was found guilty in January by a Vatican court of sexually abusing a teenager, a decision confirmed by the pope in February, with “no further recourse,” according to the Vatican statement.
It said McCarrick was guilty of “sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power.”
Defrocking is the most severe ecclesiastical punishment for a priest, who is reduced to the status of a lay person and no longer allowed to lead mass.