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'Essentially The Death Penalty': Vatican Defrocks Former Cardinal McCarrick

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now to that very disturbing story from the Vatican, another warning that this may be upsetting for some to hear. The former U.S. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was defrocked by Pope Francis today. Vatican officials found him guilty of sexual crimes against children and adults, including soliciting sex during confession. McCarrick is the highest ranking person to be expelled from the Catholic Church in response to the clerical abuse scandals. John Allen is the editor of Crux. That's an online newspaper that specializes in coverage of the Vatican and the Catholic Church. We reached him in Rome. John Allen, thank you so much for speaking with me.

JOHN ALLEN: It's my pleasure.

MARTIN: And I'm going to start by asking you what it means that McCarrick was defrocked. And I'm going to ask you what it means for him, personally, and I'd like to ask you what it means on a broader scale.

ALLEN: Well, you have to understand that for a cleric that is a priest or a deacon in the Catholic Church to be dismissed from the clerical state or, in layman's terms, to be defrocked is, essentially, the death penalty. It is the most severe penalty that the church can impose. It means that Theodore McCarrick cannot say Mass. He cannot hear confessions. He cannot perform baptisms, I mean, all of these things that priests do over the arc of their entire career and are sort of foundational to their identities. So it is an extraordinarily serious and severe form of censure from the church. That's what it means for him, personally.

In terms of the sort of policy dimension of this, quite clearly, imposing the death penalty on a cardinal is intended to send a signal of strength and resolve by Pope Francis and the Vatican about seriousness with regard to the clerical sexual abuse scandals that have been such a cancer for the Catholic Church over the last 30 years. We should say that all of this comes on the eve of a keenly anticipated summit for presidents of bishops' conferences from all over the world and other senior church officials that will be opening in Rome on Thursday, precisely focused on those clerical sex abuse scandals and designed to sort of move the ball towards resolution. So, quite clearly, this is calculated by the pope and his Vatican team to sort of set the table for the discussion in that summit.

MARTIN: I wonder if the decision to rebuke McCarrick in this very serious way, as you have described, affects the experiences of survivors moving forward.

ALLEN: Based on what I have been picking up, the censure of Cardinal McCarrick that was announced today, while it is welcome - because survivors, above all, want to see justice for the crimes that were committed against them. But I think they would say it's not enough. It's not enough to impose accountability for the crime of sexual abuse. There also has to be accountability for the cover-up of that crime. And the question that remains unanswered today is - who was aware of the kind of behavior that ex-Cardinal McCarrick was engaged in? And why didn't they do anything about it? That question has not been answered by the verdict that was delivered by the Vatican on Saturday. And, until it is answered, I suspect most survivors and most reformers are going to say that the church has not yet completed the job.

MARTIN: That is John Allen. He's the editor of the online newspaper Crux. He's also written a number of books on the Vatican and Catholic affairs. He's a former senior correspondent for The National Catholic Reporter. We reached him via Skype in Rome. John Allen, thank you so much for talking to us.

ALLEN: You are very welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARVO TO ME'S "MND WRKS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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