From The Washington Post:
In Catholic Church law, being forcibly laicized is sometimes called the death penalty for priests. A dismissal from the priesthood is permanent — something that can’t even be said of excommunication. Even priests who request laicization are told to move away and, unless necessary, to keep quiet about what happened to avoid scandalizing other Catholics. No working in parishes, seminaries, Catholic schools. Your previous identity is wiped out.
But, in the eyes of the church, the mark of priestly ordination can never be removed. Something metaphysical changes that can’t be undone.
Theodore McCarrick is believed to be the first cardinal — a title he held until sexual abuse allegations against him surfaced in the summer — laicized for sexual misconduct. He is one of just six bishops accused of similar crimes and dismissed, according to the abuse-tracking group BishopAccountability. But in an era of rampant clergy scandals, experts predicted that many Catholics won’t see the rare defrocking as sufficient justice for McCarrick’s alleged victims.
“The reality is that, leaving aside the issue of embarrassment, and I’d be cautious on that, what difference does it make to McCarrick?” said Jennifer Haselberger, a canon lawyer who represented the archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis until 2013, when she quit over what she described as the office’s mishandling of abusive priests. “Realistically, when we think of justice, what will he experience? And he will know in his heart of hearts that he’s still a priest.”
However, on Saturday, Francis’ decision felt like swift vindication to Robert Ciolek, a former priest to whom the church paid a settlement, in part based upon his accusations that McCarrick pressured him into back rubs and into sleeping in the same bed with him when Ciolek was a seminarian and young priest in McCarrick’s diocese. Ciolek said he was “ecstatic” about the decision, in particular its precedent-setting punishment of abuse of adults.
“There is, in my view, very little worse that could have happened to him from his own lens than this, given the power to which he had risen in the church, his standing, his influence,”Ciolek said. “You know, to be called Mr. McCarrick the rest of his life and be barred from celebrating any of the sacraments is personally devastating — but more important, deserved, given his conduct.”
There is a lot of debate in Catholicism about the value of defrocking abusive clerics, an action that is extremely rare and somewhat new in Catholicism.