FORT WORTH, Texas — Former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s alleged crimes have prompted action from Pope Francis — and they might merit removing him from the clergy entirely and require accountability for all Church leaders who knew of his alleged misconduct and did nothing, Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth, Texas, has said in a letter to the faithful of his diocese.
“The Church needs to do more than have a serious conversation about these issues; it needs to discern in light of the truth and to act intentionally,” Bishop Olson told CNA July 28. “If conversation does not lead to decision, it quickly devolves into chatter.”
“An important ministry for us as bishops is to ‘see, judge and act.’ It’s not enough to see. Yet, seeing clearly leads to sound judgment that requires fortitude for us to act,” he added. “If we don’t do that as pastors, we sell our vocation as shepherds in exchange for a career as hirelings.”
The Pope accepted Cardinal McCarrick’s resignation from the College of Cardinals Friday, with the announcement coming Saturday. The Pope directed McCarrick, the 88-year-old former archbishop of Washington, to observe “a life of prayer and penance in seclusion” until the end of the canonical process against him.
A substantial and credible allegation of child sexual abuse against McCarrick was made public in June.
In recent weeks, McCarrick has faced several additional allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct. These include charges that he pressured seminarians and priests into sexual relationships and another reported allegation that he had a serially sexually abusive relationship with a child.
Bishop Olson’s July 28 letter said the former cardinal’s alleged crimes have caused “such further damage to the integrity of the hierarchy and mission of the Church” that his prompt laicization — moving him from the clergy entirely — should be “strongly deliberated.” Such a move would serve “reconciliation and healing in the light of the justice and merciful redemption as won by Christ and promised to all who are alienated by the corruption of sin.”
“Justice also requires that all of those in Church leadership who knew of the former cardinal’s alleged crimes and sexual misconduct and did nothing be held accountable for their refusal to act thereby enabling others to be hurt,” the bishop continued.
Bishop Olson’s letter said McCarrick’s alleged crimes were “scandalous” and resulted in violation of trust and “grave damage” to the lives and health of his reputed victims.
“This scandal and pain are compounded by the horrific fact that reportedly one of his victims was his first baptism after his priestly ordination,” he continued, noting that the claims also include crimes against his subordinates, including priests, seminarians and lay Catholics.
“The evil effects of these actions were multiplied by the fact that financial settlements were arranged with victims without transparency or restrictions on the former cardinal’s ministry,” Bishop Olson said.
“Please continue to pray for the reported victims and the families who have been hurt by the alleged crimes and sins of former Cardinal McCarrick and others. Pray also that we can work together to respond not only in word but in action to prevent further crimes and transgressions.”
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, Saturday morning thanked Pope Francis for “his leadership in taking this important step” of accepting the cardinal’s resignation and ordering him to prayer and penitence.
“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,” Cardinal DiNardo said.
A letter sent this week to priests of the Archdiocese of Washington claims that its current archbishop, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, did not know until recently about settlements made by two New Jersey dioceses in response to allegations of misconduct on the part of McCarrick. The letter was sent by archdiocese’s vicar general, Msgr. Charles Antonicelli.
Sources close to the Archdiocese of Washington have told CNA that Cardinal Wuerl was not informed of settlements until June.
The two New Jersey legal settlements involving McCarrick were reached in 2005 and 2007 by the Diocese of Metuchen and the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, and two men who claim they were sexually assaulted by McCarrick while they were seminarians and young priests.
McCarrick was bishop of Metuchen 1981-1986, archbishop of Newark 1986-2000, and archbishop of Washington 2000-2006.
In his letter, Bishop Olson stressed the Fort Worth Diocese’s “zero-tolerance” for sexual abuse against minors and vulnerable adults perpetrated by clergy, staff and volunteers, “including me, as bishop.” He said he has taken prompt action in response to credible allegations and added that the diocese has sought transparency in calling for victims to come forward, showing respect for protecting victims’ identities.
“Our seminarians, priests, deacons and religious and lay staff are taught to recognize and to report boundary violations without fear of retribution, no matter the status of the perpetrator,” the bishop said.
Pope Francis named Bishop Olson to head the Fort Worth Diocese in November 2013. He was ordained and installed as bishop in January 2014.