Top US cardinal expelled from Catholic priesthood over allegations he abused teenager and solicited sex during confession

Chris Baynes

A disgraced former US cardinal has been expelled from the Roman Catholic priesthood over allegations he abused a teenage boy and solicited sex during confession.

The Vatican announced the defrocking of Theodore McCarrick on Saturday days before the Pope is to lead an extraordinary gathering of bishops from around the world over the sex abuse crisis engulfing the church.

McCarrick, a once-powerful prelate and former Archbishop of Washington, is the highest profile church figure to be dismissed from the priesthood in modern times.

In July last year he became the first cardinal to lose the title in nearly 100 years when he was forced to step down over the abuse allegations.

Last month the Holy See's watchdog, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, found McCarrick guilty of soliticing sex while hearing confession and having sexual contact with children and adults "with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power".

McCarrick took a vow of celibacy, in acccordance with church rules, when he was ordained as a priest in 1958.

The 88-year-old appealed against his dismissal from the priesthood but was notified on Friday that the decision had been upheld, the Vatican announced.

Defrocking means McCarrick, who now lives in a friary in Kansas, will not be allowed to celebrate Mass or other sacraments.

It is a remarkable downfall for a figure known as a globe-trotting powerbroker and influential church fundraiser. McCarrick, who was Archbishop of Washington DC from 2001 to 2006, mingled with presidents and popes but preferred to be called "Uncle Ted" by the young men he courted.

He has responded publicly to only one of the allegations, saying he has "absolutely no recollection" of the alleged sexual abuse of a 16-year-old boy more than 50 years ago.

McCarrick is one of the highest ranking church officials accused of abuse in a scandal has eroded the faith of many of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.

Patterns of widespread abuse have been reported across the United States, as well as in Europe, Chile and Australia, undercutting the church’s moral authority and taking a toll on its membership and finances.

Last year a former top Vatican official urged Pope Francis to resign afer revealing he told him about the allegations against McCarrick as early as 2013. The Pope refused to comment on accusations of a cover-up.