Pope Francis on Saturday has accepted the resignation of Theodore McCarrick, a prominent US cardinal from the College of Cardinals following allegations of sexual abuse, including one involving an 11-year-old boy nearly five decades ago, the Vatican said.
McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, was removed from the ministry in June after a review board found there was "credible" evidence that he had assaulted the teen while working as a priest in New York in the early 1970s.
"Yesterday evening the Holy Father received the letter in which Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington (USA), presented his resignation as a member of the College of Cardinals," the Vatican said in a statement.
The allegations against McCarrick, which first surfaced publicly last month, came with Pope 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.
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The Vatican statement said the Pope ordered McCarrick’s suspension from the exercise of any public ministry and ordered him to conduct a life of prayer and penance until the accusations made against him are examined in a regular canonical trial.
"Pope Francis accepted his resignation from the cardinalate and has ordered his suspension from the exercise of any public ministry, together with the obligation to remain in a house yet to be indicated to him, for a life of prayer and penance until the accusations made against him are examined in a regular canonical trial."
McCarrick, 88, 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".
McCarrick’s sudden fall from grace stunned the American Church as he was regarded as one of the most prominent American cardinals active on the international stage. The former archbishop of Washington was widely respected leader for decades and a confidant of popes and presidents.
McCarrick was ordained a priest in 1958 and rose through the ranks in the Archdiocese of New York before being installed as archbishop of Washington in 2001, a post he held until 2006.
The claims against him were made public in June by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the current archbishop of New York.
Dolan said an independent forensic agency "thoroughly investigated" the allegation.
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A review board that included jurists, law enforcement experts, parents, psychologists, a priest and a religious sister then "found the allegations credible and substantiated" and the Vatican ordered McCarrick to stop exercising his priestly ministry.
At the time, McCarrick released a statement maintaining his innocence but added that he "fully cooperated" in the investigation.
Senior US church officials said they had received three allegations of McCarrick's sexual misconduct with adults decades ago, two of which resulted in settlements.
(With inputs from agencies)