By Christopher White, The Tablet’s National Correspondent
ROME – Pope Francis’s historic decision to defrock former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick Saturday (technically, to dismiss him from the clerical state) prompted an immediate wave of responses from U.S. prelates, who lauded the decision as an important step in the Church’s broader reforms on clergy sex abuse.
Both the current heads of Metuchen and Newark, New Jersey, where McCarrick served as bishop and archbishop respectively, issued statements.
“It is profoundly disheartening and disturbing to know that a Church leader, who served and led our Archdiocese of Newark for 14 years, acted in a way that is contrary to the Christian way of life as well as his vocation as a priest of Jesus Christ,” wrote Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark.
“I am grateful to Pope Francis for his leadership throughout this difficult investigation and decision. His determination reflects his resolve to protect the weak and vulnerable, respect human dignity, accept responsibility, and reinforce the Church’s commitment to healing, reconciliation, and solidarity with victims,” he continued.
“We unite in prayer, support, and service with our Holy Father as he leads the Church to console our brothers and sisters in their suffering,” Tobin said.
Bishop James Checchio of Metuchen said, “It is difficult to find the right and appropriate words to share with you after hearing the news this morning from the Holy See about the removal from the priesthood of our founding bishop.”
“Theodore McCarrick will always be associated with the history of our diocese, and his legacy has become one of scandal and betrayal. However, I was reminded in prayer that our diocese is not founded on Theodore McCarrick, but Christ the Lord, who renews His Church in every age,” he continued.
“The announcement of his removal from the priesthood by the Church is a just response to the hidden destructive life that he apparently led, and a signal to the Church throughout the world that everyone in the Church is called to the integrity of the Gospel. I am grateful for the leadership of Pope Francis in acting decisively, in expediting this process and coming to this appropriate conclusion,” wrote Bishop Checchio.
The statement from the Archdiocese of Washington, where McCarrick ended his career in 2006 as its cardinal archbishop, said that the pope’s decision “underscores the gravity of his action.”
The statement from Washington, however, was left unsigned by a particular individual, as the archdiocese is still waiting for a successor to Cardinal Donald Wuerl, whose resignation was accepted by Francis last October following criticism of his handling of sex abuse cases as bishop of Pittsburg in the late 1980s and 1990s.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), said the move “is a clear signal that abuse will not be tolerated. No bishop, no matter how influential, is above the law of the Church.”
“For all those McCarrick abused, I pray this judgement 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,” he wrote.
In addition, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, who heads the pope’s Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, said, “The seriousness of the final dismissal notwithstanding, it cannot in and of itself provide healing for those so terribly harmed by the former archbishop’s scandalous violations of his ministry or for their families.”
“Also, the Holy Father’s action, by itself, will not bring about the healing needed in the Catholic community and our wider society; both are justifiably appalled and outraged that the former archbishop could have for so long inflicted harm on minors and young adults vulnerable in the life of the Church.”
“As leaders for the Church, as cardinals and bishops, we are rightfully judged by our actions and not our words,” he wrote.
Both Cardinal O’Malley and Cardinal DiNardo will be in Rome this week to participate in the pope’s high stakes summit on clerical sex abuse, convening all of the heads of bishops’ conferences around the globe beginning February 21.
Other bishops throughout the U.S. also weighed in.
Bishop Michael Olson in Forth-Worth, Texas, said, “I am supportive and grateful to our Holy Father, Pope Francis, for his irrevocable decision to dismiss Theodore McCarrick from the clerical state after due process…Justice entails that anyone who assisted him in these actions or covered them up also be held accountable.”
Bishop Don Kettler of Saint Cloud, Minnesota, took to Twitter to write, “I hope the Vatican’s decision to remove Theodore McCarrick from the priesthood helps bring healing to the victims & all hurt by the sin of sexual abuse. It’s a positive step toward increased accountability as the Holy Father prepares to convene this coming week’s abuse summit.”
In addition to members of the hierarchy, the University of Notre Dame, widely considered the nation’s preeminent Catholic institution of higher education, announced it is rescinding its honorary degree bestowed to the now former cardinal and priest in 2008.
James Grein, one of McCarrick’s victims, issued a statement saying that “there are no winners here.”
“I am happy that the Pope believed me,” Grein said. “His great historical and holy situation is giving rise to all Catholics and victims of abuse across the world.”