VATICAN CITY, July 28 (Reuters) - Pope Francis on Saturday accepted the resignation of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, one of the U.S. Catholic Church's most prominent figures who has been at the center of a widening sexual abuse scandal.
McCarrick, 88, the former archbishop of Washington, D.C., is the first cardinal in living memory to lose his red hat and title. Other Cardinals who have been disciplined in sexual abuse scandals kept their membership in the College of Cardinals and their honorific "your eminence."
The allegations against McCarrick, which first surfaced publicly last month, came with Francis facing an image crisis on a second front, in Chile, where a growing abuse scandal has enveloped the Church in the Latin American country.
RELATED: Former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick through the years
Former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick through the years
Former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick through the years
Chinese President Jiang Zemin (L) meets three American religious leaders in Beijing February 12, Rabbi Arthur Schneier (2nd L), Rev Don Argue (shaking hands) and Archbishop Theodore McCarrick (R) at Zhongnanhai, the Chinese leadership compound in Beijing. The three U.S. clerics are on a mission to investigate religious tolerance in China.
CHINA USA RELIGION
Rabbi Arthur Schneier (2nd R) shares a goodbye hug with Shanghai Mayor Xu Kuang Di (R) at the end of their meeting discussing religion in China, in Shanghai February 19. The meeting was part of a tour of American religious leaders including Dr. Don Argue (L) and Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick (2nd L).
Roman Catholic Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick of Newark has been appointed spiritual leader of the Washington Archdiocese November 21, 2000, [by Pope John Paul II]. McCarrick will succeed [Cardinal James A. Hickey, who resigned from the post he has held for two decades.]
Cardinal-designate Theodore E. McCarrick makes his way past President George W. Bush, first lady Laura Bush (R) and his family as he enters the National Cathedral for a morning church service in Washington January 21, 2001. Pope John Paul, perhaps putting one of his last conservative imprints on the future of his Church, named 37 new cardinals Sunday, including McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington, D.C. Behind Bush L-R are his father, former President George Bush, his mother Barbara.
Archbishop of Washington D.C., Most Reverend Theodore E. McCarrick listens during a Youth Mass prior to an anti-abortion rally in Washington, January 22, 2001. Archbishop McCarrick was among a group of 37 new cardinals named by Pope John Paul II January 21, 2001.
U.S. President George W. Bush (C) introduces his wife Laura to Washington Archbishop Theodore McCarrick as they arrive for dinner at the archbishop's residence in Hyattsville, Maryland, January 25, 2001. McCarrick was recently named a cardinal by the Vatican.
The Archbishop of Washington, D.C., Monsignor Theodore McCarrick (L), greets a worshipper in the city of Izalco, in Sonsonate province, some 70 kilometers west of San Salvador, February 1, 2001. McCarrick is in El Salvador for three days, assessing damages from the earthquake that struck the region last month and bringing aid for those affected by the disaster.
American new cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick kisses Pope John Paul II after he received the red berretta, a four-cornered red hat, during the Consistory ceremony in Saint Peter's Square February 21, 2001. Putting one of his final stamps on the group that will elect his successor, the Pope elevated 44 new cardinals.
U.S. President George W. Bush shakes hands with Cardinal James Hickey, former Archbishop of Washington (second from right) as Cardinal William Keeler, Archbishop of Baltimore (L) and Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington (R) look on during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, March 21, 2001. The president hosted a reception for Catholic Cardinals, Bishops and church leaders in the White House.
- FILE PHOTO 21FEB01 - Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick attends the Cardinal's Consistory in the Vatican, Rome. Cardinal McCarrick is from the US. Picture taken February 21, 2001.
U.S. Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick (C) talks with journslists in front
of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome April 22, 2002. Boston Cardinal Bernard
Law, the main figure in the priest sex scandals that have rocked the
U.S. Catholic Church arrived in the Italian capital for crisis meetings
at the Vatican, said he hoped the meetings would help set a course to
formulate a united anti-paedophile policy. REUTERS/Vincenzo Pinto
U.S. Boston Cardinal Bernard Law (L) and his Washington counterpart Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick sit in their car as they arrive at Rome's Fiumicino Airport April 22, 2002.[ Law, the main figure in the priest sex scandals that have rocked the U.S. Catholic Church who arrived in the Italian capital for crisis meetings at the Vatican, said he hoped the meetings would help set a course to formulate a united anti-paedophile policy.]
CARDINAL McCARRICK AND CARDINAL DULLES LOOK OUT FROM THE BACK OF THEIR
CAR AS THEY ARE DRIVEN TO THE VATICAN.
U.S. Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick (L) and Cardinal Avery
Dulles look out from the back window of their car as they are driven
for a meeting at the Vatican April 24, 2002. U.S. Catholic leaders,
told by Pope John Paul that he will no longer tolerate any more
paedophile priests, resumed talks on Wednesday at the Vatican to draw
up a battle plan against child sex scandals. REUTERS/Alessia
U.S. Washington Cardial Theodore McCarrick faces the press in the
shadow of Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican April 24, 2002. U.S.
Catholic leaders, told by Pope John Paul II that he will no longer
tolerate any more paedophile priests, resumed talks at the Vatican on
Wednesday to draw up battle plans against child sex scandals. REUTERS/
U.S. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of the Archdiocese of Washington (L)
and Bishop Wilton Gregory, of Belleville, Ill., head of the U.S.
Conference of Bishops look on during a news conference at the Vatican
press center April 24, 2002. U.S. Catholic leaders, told by Pope John
Paul II that he will no longer tolerate any more paedophile priests,
resumed talks at the Vatican on Wednesday to draw up battle plans
against child sex scandals. REUTERS/Vincenzo Pinto REUTERS
U.S. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of the Archdiocese of Washington
gestures during a news conference at the Vatican press center April 24,
2002. U.S. Catholic leaders, told by Pope John Paul II that he will no
longer tolerate any more paedophile priests, resumed talks at the
Vatican on Wednesday to draw up battle plans against child sex
scandals. REUTERS/Vincenzo Pinto REUTERS
Cardinals pose for the American Cardinals Dinner in Philadelphia, April
26, 2002. Seated from left: The Most Rev. William J. Levada of San
Francisco, Cardinal Avery Dulles of Fordham University, The Very Rev.
David M. O'Connell of Catholic University, Cardinal James Hickey,
retired archbishop of Washington, and The Most Rev. Gabriel Montalvo,
the Apostolic Nuncio to the U.S. Standing in rear left: Cardinal
Anthony Bevilacqua of Philadelphia, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of
Washington, Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, Cardinal Francis George of
Chicago, and Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore. REUTERS/POOL/Dan
U.S. President George W. Bush meets with inter-faith religious leaders
in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, September 6, 2002. From L-R
are: Iman Faizuk Khan, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Bush, Bishop George
McKinney and Rabbi Joel Tessler. REUTERS/Larry Downing
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick applauds during the U.S. Conference of
Catholic Bishops (USCCB) annual meeting in Washington, November 11,
2002. The USCCB will be meeting in Washington until Thursday and is to
address such topics as sexual abuse problems that have plagued the
Catholic Church lately. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Cardinal Bernard Law of the Boston Archdioceses (R) talks with Cardinal
Theodore McCarrick (C) of the Washington Archdioceses during a break at
the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in Washington, November 12,
2002. The meeting is focusing on the recent sexual abuse problems that
have plagued the Catholic Church. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington, D.C. (C), celebrates a Youth Mass for Life for thousands of people, held at the MCI Center in Washington, January 22, 2004. Today marks the 31st anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion and both Pro Life and Pro Choice groups will be rallying in the U.S. capitol. McCarrick was assisted by Cardinal William Keeler, Archbishop of Baltimore (L) and Cardinal Justin Rigali, Archbishop of Philadelphia. REUTERS/Mannie Garcia MG/HB
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington, D.C. waves as he attends a Youth Mass for Life held at the MCI Center in Washington, D.C., January 22, 2004. Today marks the 31st anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion and both Pro Life and Pro Choice groups will be rallying in the U.S. capitol. REUTERS/Mannie Gracia MG/JDP
U.S. President George W. Bush, accompanied by first lady Laura Bush, is greeted by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick (L), arch bishop of Washington, after attending a mass honoring the late Pope John Paul II, at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle in Washington, DC, April 2, 2005. The 84-year-old Pontiff, who had headed the Roman Catholic Church for 26 years, died Saturday in Rome. REUTERS/Mannie Garcia mg/SV
Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick of the U.S. (C) attends a mass presided by German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican April 18, 2005. Cardinals will meet later today in the Sistine chapel for the start of the papal conclave. REUTERS/Jerry Lampen JFL/CRB/
U.S. Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick (2nd L) arrives for the general congregation meeting in Vatican City April 15, 2005. [The conclave that starts on Monday to elect Pope John Paul's successor in the Vatican's Sistine Chapel will be steeped in age-old traditions -- cardinals in red cassocks, Latin chants and ballots written on the finest quality paper.]
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, D.C. gestures while asking a question during the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops general meeting in Chicago June 16, 2005. Over 300 leaders of the United States Catholic Church, including Archbishop William Levada, of San Francisco, whom the Pope appointed last month to succeed him in the Roman Catholic Church's top doctrinal position he held before elected pontiff. REUTERS/Frank Polich FJP/KS
Archbishop Donald Wuerl greets priests and bishops before his Mass of Installation at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington June 22, 2006. Wuerl is replacing Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, who has resigned. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts (UNITED STATES)
Theodore Cardinal McCarrick stands before the Mass of Installation for Archbishop Donald Wuerl at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington June 22, 2006. Wuerl is replacing Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, who has resigned. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts (UNITED STATES)
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick arrives for a meeting at the Synod Hall in the Vatican March 4, 2013. REUTERS/Max Rossi/Files - GM1E9341IRH01
EDITORS' NOTE: Reuters and other foreign media are subject to Iranian restrictions on their ability to film or take pictures in Tehran.
Roman Catholic Cardinal Emeritus Theodore McCarrick, part of a U.S. clerical delegation, looks on during a meeting with the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran September 17, 2011. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl (IRAN - Tags: POLITICS PROFILE RELIGION)
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 08: Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop emeritus of Washington, speaks during a news conference with senators and national religious leaders to respond to attempts at vilifying refugees and to call on lawmakers to engage in policymaking and not 'fear-mongering' at the U.S. Capitol December 8, 2015 in Washington, DC. Following last week's mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calinfornia, leading Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump called on Monday for the United States to bar all Muslims from entering the country. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 18: Six-year-old Sophie Cruz (C) of Los Angeles speaks to members of the media in front of the U.S. Supreme Court as Executive Director of National Immigration Law Center Marielena Hincapie (2nd R), supporter Jose Antonio Vargas (3rd R) and former Archbishop of Washington Theodore McCarrick (L) look on April 18, 2016 in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of United States v. Texas, which is challenging President Obama's 2014 executive actions on immigration - the Deferred Action for Children Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of American and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) programs. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, USA - OCTOBER 23: Former Archbishop of Washington Theodore Cardinal McCarrick speaks to other religious leaders from all faiths as they gather to issue a call to religious freedom and hopeful action at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, USA on October 23, 2015. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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A Vatican statement said the pope ordered McCarrick's suspension from the exercise of any public ministry. This means he remains a priest but will be allowed to say Mass only in private.
Francis also ordered McCarrick to go into seclusion "for a life of prayer and penance until the accusations made against him are examined in a regular canonical trial."
McCarrick's sudden fall from grace stunned the American Church because he was a widely respected leader for decades and a confidant of popes and presidents.
Last month, American Church officials said allegations that he sexually abused a 16-year-old boy almost 50 years ago were credible and substantiated..
Since then, another minor has come forward with allegations that McCarrick abused him when he was 11 years old, and several men have come forward to allege that McCarrick forced them to sleep with him at a beach house in New Jersey when they were adult seminarians studying for the priesthood.
McCarrick has said that he had "absolutely no recollection" of the alleged abuse of the teenager 50 years ago but has not commented on the other allegations.
The New York Times reported last week that two dioceses in New Jersey, where McCarrick served as bishop before being promoted to Washington in 2000, had reached financial settlements in 2005 and 2007 with men who said they were abused by McCarrick as adults decades ago.
Some U.S. Catholics have said the Vatican should send an inspector to the United States to determine who in the U.S. Church hierarchy knew of the alleged incidents and why McCarrick's rise was not impeded.
Last Tuesday, Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston said he was "deeply troubled" by the McCarrick case, saying it and others pointed to "a major gap" in Church policy on sexual conduct and sexual abuse by bishops or other top officials.
In 2013, Cardinal Keith O'Brien of Scotland recused himself from participating in the conclave that elected Francis after he was caught up in a sexual abuse scandal involving seminarians. He later renounced rights and privileges of being a cardinal but kept his red hat and title until his death earlier this year.
The last person to resign from the College of Cardinals is believed to be French theologian Louis Billot, who left over a disagreement with Pope Pius XI in 1927, according to the U.S. newspaper, National Catholic Reporter. (Reporting by Philip Pullella Editing by Mark Heinrich)