On July 28, it was announced that Pope Francis has accepted the resignation from the College of Cardinals of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington. The retired cleric was ordered to live a life of prayer and penance until a canonical trial examines accusations that he sexually abused minors. (CNS PHOTO BY BOB ROLLER)
On July 28, it was announced that Pope Francis has accepted the resignation from the College of Cardinals of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington. The retired cleric was ordered to live a life of prayer and penance until a canonical trial examines accusations that he sexually abused minors. (CNS PHOTO BY BOB ROLLER)

Pope Francis has accepted the resignation from the College of Cardinals of Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, and has ordered him to maintain “a life of prayer and penance” until a canonical trial examines accusations that he sexually abused minors.

The announcement came first from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and a few minutes later from the Vatican press office.

The press office said July 28 that the previous evening Pope Francis had received Cardinal McCarrick's letter of “resignation as a member of the College of Cardinals.”

“Pope Francis accepted his resignation from the cardinalate and has ordered his suspension from the exercise of any public ministry, together with the obligation to remain in a house yet to be indicated to him, for a life of prayer and penance until the accusations made against him are examined in a regular canonical trial,” the Vatican statement said.

In late June, then-Cardinal McCarrick, the 88-year-old retired archbishop of Washington, said he would no longer exercise any public ministry “in obedience” to the Vatican after an allegation he abused a teenager 47 years ago in the Archdiocese of New York was found credible. Archbishop McCarrick said he was innocent in that case, but he did not respond to subsequent allegations made against him.

In the weeks that followed the announcement, another man came forward claiming he was abused as a child by Archbishop McCarrick, and several former seminarians have spoken out about being sexually harassed by the cardinal at a New Jersey beach house he had while he was a bishop serving in that state. The Archdiocese of Newark and Diocese of Metuchen in New Jersey disclosed that financial settlements had been made in two cases alleging that Archbishop McCarrick, when he was bishop there, had engaged in sexual misconduct with adult seminarians.

Although unusual, withdrawal from the College of Cardinals in such circumstances is not unheard of. Just 10 days before then-Pope Benedict XVI retired in 2013, Scottish Cardinal Keith O'Brien announced he would not participate in the conclave to elect Pope Benedict XVI's successor because he did not want media attention focused on him instead of the election of a new pope.

Pope Benedict XVI had accepted the cardinal's resignation as archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh after reports that three priests and a former priest had accused the cardinal of "inappropriate conduct" with them going back to the 1980s.

One week after the conclave that elected Pope Francis, the Vatican announced the new pope accepted Cardinal O'Brien's decision to renounce all “duties and privileges” associated with being a cardinal. He died March 19.

The day that the New York allegations against Archbishop McCarrick were made public, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, wrote a letter to local Catholics, expressing shock and sadness at the news, and noting that the final determination of the case would now come from Rome. He said a review of the Archdiocese of Washington’s records found that no claim of abuse had been made against Archbishop McCarrick during his time in Washington.

Cardinal Wuerl noted, “Our first priority as a Church is to continue to offer spiritual and pastoral support for the survivors of abuse and their families, and to provide assistance to help them heal and find peace.” He noted that the archdiocese would continue to work diligently to ensure that parishes, schools and youth programs remain safe and secure for the young entrusted to the Church’s care, and he encouraged local Catholics to pray for “all those who have been victimized by abuse, and for our Church, that everyone may experience the healing power of God’s grace.”

In a July 29 interview with WTOP Radio in Washington, Cardinal Wuerl said that Pope Francis’s acceptance of Archbishop McCarrick’s resignation from the College of Cardinals “was a big step forward in trying to act quickly, decisively, even though the whole procedure isn’t concluded yet. The pope is saying that we need to show that we are hearing these things, paying attention and acting.”

Cardinal Wuerl said the action in the case demonstrated that the Catholic Church’s child protection reforms are working. He told WTOP that “we’re talking about things that happened decades ago, and people are now coming forward and saying, ‘I know I’m going to get a hearing in the Church.’”

Archbishop McCarrick had served as archbishop of Washington from 2001 until his retirement in 2006. After his ordination to the priesthood in 1958, he served as a priest and auxiliary bishop in New York, and later as bishop of Metuchen and archbishop of Newark in New Jersey.

After it was announced that Pope Francis had accepted Archbishop McCarrick's resignation as a cardinal, that action was praised by Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, the archbishop of Galveston-Houston and president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. In a statement, Cardinal DiNardo said, "I thank the Holy Father for his leadership in taking this important step. It reflects the priority the Holy Father places on the need for protection and care for all our people and the way failures in this area affect the life of the Church in the United States.”