Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington and a prominent Roman Catholic voice in international and public policy, has been suspended from ministry after an investigation found credible allegations that he abused a teenager almost 45 years ago while he was a priest in New York, the New York archdiocese said in a statement Wednesday.
He is the first American cardinal ever to be publicly accused of sexually abusing a minor, according to Terence McKiernan, president of BishopAccountabilty.org, an advocacy group that tracks abuse charges in the church. Cardinals from other countries have previously faced public accusations and one, Cardinal George Pell of Australia, is facing trial there.
The news comes at a time when Pope Francis has endeavored to overcome criticism that he has turned a blind eye to child sexual abuse by clergy in Chile and elsewhere. The New York archdiocese said in its statement about McCarrick that the Vatican was informed and involved in the investigation and that the cardinal has ceased his public ministry "at the direction of Pope Francis."
McCarrick, 87, said in a statement that he was innocent, but that he cooperated with the process and accepted the Vatican's decision.
Separately on Wednesday, the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J., where McCarrick served as archbishop before he was elevated to his post in Washington, released a statement saying that it and the Diocese of Metuchen in New Jersey had received "three allegations of sexual misconduct with adults decades ago."
The statement said that two of those allegations resulted in settlements, though it did not specify when those settlements were made.
The allegations against McCarrick of sexually abusing a minor are beyond the statute of limitations in New York state, so he cannot be criminally prosecuted.
He could face further punishment by the Vatican, including being ordered to spend the rest of his life in prayer and penance, or dismissed from the priesthood entirely.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, said in his statement that the allegation was turned over to law enforcement officials and then "thoroughly investigated by an independent forensic agency." He said that McCarrick cooperated with the investigation. The results of the investigation were then given to the sexual abuse review board of the archdiocese, made up of experts on sexual abuse, parents, a priest and a nun.