While Georgetown continues to consider revoking the honorary degree awarded to former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Pope Francis expelled McCarrick from the priesthood Feb. 16.
The expulsion follows the conclusion of a canonical trial dealing with allegations of sexual abuse, according to a Feb. 16 statement by the Vatican. Since October 2018, McCarrick has been under investigation by the Vatican after allegations surfaced that he groped an altar boy, as well as allegations by seminarians of sexual abuse.
McCarrick, who was stripped of his honors as a priest, is the first member of the College of Cardinals, a body which advises the papacy and currently has 223 members, to be removed from the clergy for sexual abuse, according to The New York Times. McCarrick is the highest clerical official to fall as part of the abuse crisis that has rocked the church for decades.
McCarrick received an honorary degree from the university for his humanitarian work in 2004 when he was archbishop of Washington, D.C. He has maintained connections to Georgetown through frequently holding Mass and attending speaking events until 2013. McCarrick also served as an adviser to the university’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life.
Pope Francis’ choice to defrock McCarrick should motivate the university to rescind McCarrick’s honorary degree, according to Erica Lizza (SFS ’19), president of Catholic Women at Georgetown. (Full disclosure: Lizza is a former member of The Hoya’s editorial board.)
“The Vatican’s decision to remove McCarrick from the priesthood should spur Georgetown to rescind the honorary degree it bestowed on the former priest years ago,” Lizza wrote in an email to The Hoya. “It should serve as an impetus for both clergy and lay leaders within the Church to redouble their efforts to prevent and punish sexual abuse, as well as to re-examine the legacy of those involved in the crisis.”
Lizza has been part of a effort that has been pushing the university since August 2018 to revoke the degrees given to McCarrick and Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who was implicated in a Pennsylvania grand jury report last August for covering up abuse. The group of students delivered a petition Sept. 14 urging the university to revoke the degrees given to McCarrick and Wuerl. The petition has 1,733 signatures at the time of press.
The university said later that month it was considering revoking the degree given to McCarrick and announced in October 2018 it was assembling a working group to deliberate on the matter as well as the meaning of honorary degrees more broadly. However, the university has never before rescinded an honorary degree it has given out.
The working group consists of members of the Georgetown board of directors: Ann Sarnoff (MSB ’93), who serves as President of BBC America; Antoine Garibaldi, president of University of Detroit Mercy; Fr. John Fitzgibbons, S.J., president of Jesuit Regis University in Colorado; and Kathleen Hugin (COL ’82), a philanthropist who has donated to Georgetown’s Kennedy Institute of Ethics.
Pope Francis’ decision means McCarrick should no longer hold an honorary degree from the university, according to Grace Laria (SFS ’19) and Julie Bevilacqua (COL ’19), two students who voiced their support of revoking degrees to the working group in early November. (Full disclosure: Laria is a former member of The Hoya’s editorial board.)
“Considering the forced laicization of Mr. McCarrick, we believe now more than ever Georgetown must revoke his honorary degree,” Laria and Bevilacqua wrote in a joint statement to The Hoya. “The Church has made it clear that McCarrick cannot hold the title of Cardinal, Bishop, or priest, and Georgetown must follow suit by no longer calling him an ‘honored’ member of our community.”
The university was not available to provide comment on McCarrick’s expulsion as of press time. Representatives for Garibaldi, Fitzgibbons and Sarnoff declined to comment, while Hugin could not be reached for comment.
Other universities who granted honorary degrees to McCarrick have handled the question of revoking such degrees on a different, often quicker, timeline than Georgetown. Fordham University rescinded in June 2018 the honorary degree given to McCarrick, and Catholic University of America did the same the following month.
The University of Notre Dame declined in August 2018 to revoke its honorary degree given to McCarrick, citing the lack of a judiciary process, but reversed its decision in a statement Saturday following the conclusion of the Vatican’s investigation.
Saint Peter’s University, the University of Portland, the College of New Rochelle, St. Bonaventure University and the College of Mount Saint Vincent all revoked degrees they gave to McCarrick between July 2018 and October 2018.
The Georgetown Knights of Columbus, a service-based fraternal Catholic organization, called for the university to rescind McCarrick’s honorary degree in August 2018.
The expulsion of McCarrick, also known as defrocking, means the university has more grounds than ever to rescind an honorary degree, said Ryan Anderson (NHS ’20), speaking on behalf of Georgetown’s chapter of the Knights of Columbus.
“The defrocking now gives Georgetown ample reason to rescind an honorary degree for the first time,” Anderson wrote in an email to The Hoya.
The university also awarded an honorary degree to Cardinal Donald Wuerl in 2014. Pope Francis accepted Wuerl’s resignation as archbishop of Washington, D.C., in October. Francis appointed Wuerl to serve as an interim leader until a successor, who has not yet been chosen, is found.
McCarrick’s expulsion from the priesthood serves as a testament to the church’s dedication to survivors, the archdiocese of Washington said in a statement Saturday.
“Our hope and prayer is that this decision serves to help the healing process for survivors of abuse, as well as those who have experienced disappointment or disillusionment because of what former Archbishop McCarrick has done,” the statement read.
Referring to an upcoming summit called by the Pope to discuss sexual abuse, Anderson said the expulsion is a positive step that should motivate stricter policies by the Vatican against sexual abuse.
“Hopefully, more actions will come from the Vatican’s Summit this week to make sure this does not happen again,” Anderson wrote.