Vatican officials will meet next week to decide the fate of disgraced former U.S. cardinal Theodore McCarrick over allegations of sexual abuse, Vatican sources said on Friday.
Vatican sources told Reuters last month that McCarrick will almost certainly be dismissed from the priesthood, which would make him the highest profile Roman Catholic figure to be defrocked in modern times.
Cardinal Luis Francisco Ladaria, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the Vatican department that will rule on the case, met Pope Francis on Thursday, according to a public Vatican schedule.
The Vatican did not say what was discussed but one source said it was likely that Ladaria briefed the pontiff on the final stages of the McCarrick case. The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorised to discuss the case.
Francis, who will have to sign off on any dismissal decision, wants the McCarrick case over before heads of national Catholic churches meet at the Vatican from Feb. 21-24 to discuss the global sexual abuse crisis, three Vatican sources told Reuters last month.
In July, McCarrick, 88, became the first Catholic prelate in nearly 100 years to lose the title of cardinal. The allegations against him date back to decades ago when he was still rising to the top of the U.S. Church hierarchy.
McCarrick, who rose to be a power broker in the American Church as Archbishop of Washington, D.C. from 2001 to 2006, is living in seclusion in a remote friary in Kansas.
He has responded publicly to only one of the allegations, saying he has “absolutely no recollection” of an alleged case of sexual abuse of a 16-year-old boy more than 50 years ago.
He has not responded publicly to separate allegations by several priests and ex-priests who have come forward alleging he used his authority to coerce them to sleep with him when they were adult seminarians studying for the priesthood.
McCarrick has already received one of the most severe punishments short of defrocking. When the pope accepted his resignation as cardinal last July, he also ordered him to refrain from public ministry and to live in seclusion, prayer and penitence.
The Vatican summit later this month offers a chance for Pope Francis to respond to criticism from victims of abuse that he has stumbled in his handling of the crisis and has not done enough to make bishops accountable..
Recently, the Church also has come under scrutiny over sexual abuse of nuns by priests and bishops. On Tuesday, Francis publicly acknowledged such abuse for the first time.
Speaking to reporters on the plane returning from a trip to Abu Dhabi, Francis used the term “sexual slavery”, but the Vatican later sought to clarify his remarks, saying in a statement that he meant “manipulation or a type of abuse of power that is reflected in sexual abuse.”