Three Cardinals, Three Countries, Three Convictions

Days before the bishops’ meeting on sexual abuse was set to begin in Rome, Pope Francis announced the first defrocking of a cardinal for sexual abuse of children. Theodore McCarrick, former archbishop of Washington DC, was found guilty of decades of sexual abuse in an expedited canonical trial conducted by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). Francis laicized McCarrick immediately after the guilty verdict was rendered, a move that some viewed as a revolutionary turning point in the church’s response to reports of abuse. Others are calling for criminal charges to be filed against the former cardinal. Following the CDF’s verdict, St. Bonaventure University, College of Mount Saint Vincent, St. John’s University, Providence College, Fordham, Georgetown, Notre Dame, Catholic University, Siena College, University of Portland and the College of New Rochelle rescinded the honorary degrees they had conferred on McCarrick. Several other colleges and universities have yet to follow suit. For several of these institutions, including Georgetown and Catholic University, it is the first time in their history that they have rescinded an honorary degree. For Notre Dame, it is the second, having rescinded Bill Cosby’s honorary degree last year after convictions on multiple sexual assault charges.

While McCarrick was found guilty by a church tribunal, Cardinal George Pell was convicted in Australia’s criminal courts. The Victoria County jury delivered guilty verdicts on five counts of child sexual abuse that occurred in 1996 when Pell was archbishop of Melbourne, only four months after Pell had established the Melbourne Response protocol to respond to abuse allegations and provide compensation to victims. Testimony pertaining to details of the abuse remain under seal, as does the identity of the victim. Before being charged, Pell appeared several times before the Australian government’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse to testify to his handling of abuse allegations against 55 priests when he was archbishop of Sydney. Investigations into his own conduct began in 2013, and the first charges against him were filed in 2017. Most recently, Pell had served as prefect of the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy, but was terminated in December 2018. Defense attorneys have announced their intention to file an appeal. This was Pell’s second trial, the first ending in a hung jury.

In France, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, archbishop of Lyon, stood trial for allegedly covering up reports of abuse by a priest. The court rendered its verdict on March 7; the cover-up verdict being delivered before the trial of the accused priest, Bernard Preynat, which is expected later this year.

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