Last fall, I reported that Pope Francis held an emergency summit with U.S. bishops over the growing sex abuse crisis and cover-up scandal that has impacted the Roman Catholic Church after revelations by a Pennsylvania grand jury and the details offered in a letter published by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, who served a a Vatican diplomat in Washington DC from 2011 to 2016.

In the wake of that meeting, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston requested a full Vatican investigation into the charges against former U.S. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, stating he wanted answers to allegations church officials ignored accusations of McCarrick’s sexual abuse and harassment of seminarians and teens while continually promoting and supporting him.

As a result of that investigation, Pope Francis has expelled McCarrick, also the former archbishop of Washington, from the priesthood.

The move appears to be the first time any cardinal has been defrocked for sexual abuse — marking a critical moment in the Vatican’s handling of a scandal that has gripped the church for nearly two decades. It is also the first time an American cardinal has been removed from the priesthood.

In a statement on Saturday, the Vatican said Mr. McCarrick had been dismissed after he was tried and found guilty of several crimes, including soliciting sex during confession and “sins” with minors and with adults, “with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power.”

While the Vatican has defrocked hundreds of priests for sexual abuse of minors, few of the church’s leaders have faced severe discipline. The decision to laicize, or defrock, Mr. McCarrick is “almost revolutionary,” said Kurt Martens, a professor of canon law at the Catholic University of America.

Defrocking is the harshest penalty that can be enacted on a Catholic priesto by the church. The church-related punishments include McCarrick being barred from celebrating Mass or other sacraments including confession, wearing clerical garb, and using honorific titles reserved for the Catholic clergy.

McCarrick’s defrocking comes just five days before the Pope leads a landmark summit of bishops from around the globe. The summit is aimed at addressing the sexual abuse crisis.

Victims rights advocates intend to converge on Rome to follow-up on the McCarrick case.

“The pope has known from the earliest days of his papacy, or he should have known, that ex-cardinal McCarrick was a sexual predator,” said Anne Barrett Doyle, an advocate at

“He has a resistance to removing bishops and he also has a tolerance for bishops who are sexual wrongdoers,” Doyle told The Associated Press on Saturday near St. Peter’s Square.

Of the defrocking, Doyle said: “Let McCarrick be the first of many. I can think of 10 other bishops who are substantively, credibly accused of sexual abuse with minor and sexual misconduct with adults, who should be laicized.”

John L. Allen, Jr., editor of The Crux notes that McCarrick’s defrocking doesn’t end the quest for justice.

What’s angered people from the beginning about the McCarrick scandal isn’t simply the pattern of behavior that’s been exposed, which may be especially galling because it involves an ex-cardinal but which, in itself, is sadly familiar. What’s created the deep sense of frustration one senses at the Catholic grassroots is the perception that senior authority figures in the Church were aware of concerns about McCarrick but continued to move him up the ladder, often for reasons of politics and self-interest….

…If Francis and his advisers want the McCarrick case to be wrapped up before the summit later this month, therefore, just laicizing him won’t do the trick. They’ll also need to explain how we got to a point where such a move is necessary – and, of course, offer some reason to believe we won’t be here again.

Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, whose letter helped trigger the outcry from the laity, is not optimistic about the likely results from the summit.

Looking ahead to next week’s sex abuse summit in Rome, Viganò expressed little hope the bishops’ gathering will solve the ongoing predator priest scandal, noting conference organizers are ignoring the roots of the crisis.

“I am praying intensely for the success of the February summit,” said the archbishop, adding he “would rejoice greatly if the summit were successful.”

But, he noted, “there is no sign of a genuine willingness to attend to the real causes” of the crisis.