LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
At one time, Theodore McCarrick was one of the most powerful figures in the U.S. Catholic Church. A former archbishop and cardinal, he has now been expelled from the priesthood for sex abuse. He is the highest-ranking Catholic official to be defrocked. NPR's Jenny Gathright reports from Washington, where McCarrick led the archdiocese from 2001 to 2006.
JENNY GATHRIGHT, BYLINE: The statute of limitations for the crimes McCarrick is accused of has run out, so he likely can't be prosecuted in the U.S. But a church tribunal found McCarrick guilty on two counts - first, solicitation in the sacrament of confession and second, sins against the sixth commandment - the vow of celibacy - with both minors and adults. Last summer, McCarrick lost his title of cardinal after an investigation surfaced evidence that he sexually abused an altar boy. McCarrick's abuse of young men studying to be priests had also been rumored for years. Vatican spokesperson Alessandro Gisotti announced the punishment for McCarrick on Saturday.
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ALESSANDRO GISOTTI: Both abuse and its cover-up can no longer be tolerated.
GATHRIGHT: For a time, there was a cover-up. The New York Times reported last year that two New Jersey dioceses paid settlements to men who had accused McCarrick of abuse. One of those settlements was paid in 2005, while McCarrick was serving as archbishop of Washington. Father Patrick Smith, pastor at St. Augustine Catholic Church in Washington, says he's upset by the news about McCarrick's conduct but grateful for what feels like a turning point.
PATRICK SMITH: It's relief to know that we're dealing with it and doing what needs to be done.
GATHRIGHT: He says in the face of extraordinary vice, it's important to respond with extraordinary virtue.
SMITH: It's a wake-up call to the church to really be who God called us to be. You know, the hope is in doing that, we'll steal the headlines back.
GATHRIGHT: St. Matthew's Cathedral downtown is the seat of the archbishop of Washington's archdiocese. It's the church McCarrick frequented most weeks during his time in Washington. Lawrence Regard (ph) has been going to St. Matthew's for over 25 years. And he says the church has been doing a good job of keeping parishioners updated.
LAWRENCE REGARD: They'll mention it specifically in mass itself. And I'm sure there'll be different groups that will meet to try to discuss this further separately.
GATHRIGHT: Regard was headed into the 5:30 mass. During the service, the congregation offered up a prayer for a summit on sex abuse in the church, which Pope Francis will convene this week. Jenny Gathright, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.