(CNN) — Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who led the Archdiocese of Washington and was a political force in the nation’s capital, said on Wednesday that he has been removed from public ministry by the Vatican because of a decades-old allegation of sexual abuse.
As a cardinal, McCarrick is one of the highest-ranking American leaders in the Catholic Church to be removed from ministry because of sex abuse charges. He maintains his innocence.
“While I have absolutely no recollection of this reported abuse, and believe in my innocence, I am sorry for the pain the person who brought the charges has gone through, as well as for the scandal such charges cause our people,” McCarrick said in a statement.
The Archdiocese of New York, which led the investigation, said it would not release specific details about the allegation to protect the victim’s privacy. But the archdiocese said a review board composed of jurists, law enforcement experts, parents, psychologists, a priest, and a religious sister found the allegations against McCarrick to be “credible and substantiated.”
McCarrick, who led the Archdiocese of Washington from 2001-2006, was known as a genial and effective advocate for the Catholic Church’s political priorities, particularly focusing on the plight of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East. As the leading Catholic in Washington, he hobnobbed with presidents and other powerful figures, earning a reputation someone who could work with both parties.
As a cardinal, McCarrick participated in the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI, who resigned in 2013.
But McCarrick, 87, said, “I will no longer exercise any public ministry.” The Catholic Church has used removal from public ministry to discipline clergy who are credibly suspected of sexual abuse. It basically means that McCarrick is not allowed to perform priestly functions, like celebrating Mass, in public.
McCarrick said he accepted this decision from the Holy See, though another bishop said he plans to appeal his case through the church’s canonical process.
McCarrick, who lives in a retirement home in Washington, could not be immediately reached for comment. A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Washington said he is “not giving interviews” and referred a reporter to the statements from McCarrick and the archdiocese.
“While saddened and shocked, this archdiocese awaits the final outcome of the canonical process and in the meantime asks for prayers for all involve,” the Archdiocese of Washington said in their statement.
The Archdiocese of New York said “the matter is now in the hands of the Holy See,” which has the final say in how the once-powerful cardinal will dealt with.
“This could range from living a life of prayer and penance, to a dismissal from the clerical state. Cardinal McCarrick has already been directed by the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, that he is no longer to publicly exercise his priestly ministry,” the Archdiocese of New York said in a statement.
McCarrick plans to appeal his case through the Catholic Church’s canonical process, said Bishop James F. Checchio, of Metuchen, New Jersey, where McCarrick was a bishop from 1982-1986.
The Archdiocese of New York said that no other credible accusations of abuse have been made against McCarrick.
Two dioceses in New Jersey, however, where McCarrick was a bishop, said “there have been allegations that he engaged in sexual behavior with adults.”
“This Archdiocese and the Diocese of Metuchen received three allegations of sexual misconduct with adults decades ago; two of these allegations resulted in settlements,” Cardinal Joe Tobin of the Archdiocese of Newark said. Checchio said the same in his statement on Wednesday.
“While Cardinal McCarrick maintains his innocence and the canonical process continues, we must put first the serious nature of this matter with respect and support for the process aimed at hearing victims and finding truth,” Tobin said.
In his statement, McCarrick said he was informed several months ago that the Archdiocese of New York, where he was a priest decades ago, was investigating an allegation of abuse from a teenager “from almost fifty years ago.”
“While shocked by the report, and while maintaining my innocence, I considered it essential that the charges be reported to the police, thoroughly investigated by an independent agency, and given to the Review Board of the Archdiocese of New York,” McCarrick said. “I fully cooperated in the process,” he added.
“My sadness was deepened when I was informed that the allegations had been determined credible and substantiated,” McCarrick said. “I realize this painful development will shock my many friends, family members, and people I have been honored to serve in my sixty years as a priest.”