Six months after the Archdiocese of New York first announced it had received a “credible” accusation of sexual abuse against then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the disgraced former archbishop of Washington could soon find himself dismissed from the clergy altogether.
But instead of conducting a full-blown trial, complete with procedural niceties and room for legal back-and-forth between prosecution and defense lawyers, sources at the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith confirmed that McCarrick’s case is being handled via a stripped-down administrative process, expected to conclude within the next few weeks.
Such an “administrative penal process,” which in canon law is reserved for cases where the evidence is so strong that a full trial is deemed unnecessary, suggests that the chances of a conviction are very high indeed. But even with a quick “result” that strips McCarrick of his clerical status, the case could still cast a shadow over the Vatican’s next phase of reform efforts on sexual abuse in the church.
The pressure to deliver a swift verdict has been high ever since Pope Francis accepted McCarrick’s resignation from the College of Cardinals in July. In response to abuse scandals in the United States and abroad, the pope has called a special summit of church leaders in Rome next month. It is well known in church circles that both Francis and senior American cardinals want McCarrick out of the news — and out of ministry — before that meeting begins.
Even though a conviction of McCarrick seems likely, much may depend on what Rome is willing to say about the charges on which he is convicted. In addition to allegations that he abused three boys — with one as young as 11 — McCarrick is also accused of molesting as many as eight seminarians in the dioceses he formerly led. What Rome does with those allegations could weigh heavy on future reforms.
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