By Alan Cooperman and Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, April 20, 2006; B03
Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick said yesterday that he expects to retire soon as archbishop of Washington, a post in which he has been a prolific fundraiser, helped shape the church's response to the sex abuse crisis and taken a nonconfrontational approach to Roman Catholic politicians who support abortion rights.
McCarrick submitted his resignation when he turned 75 in July, as required by church law. But he will remain in the job, overseeing an archdiocese of 560,000 Catholics and 115 parochial schools in the District and Maryland, until Pope Benedict XVI formally accepts it.
Although the Vatican has not announced a date for his departure or given any clues to who his successor might be, McCarrick said, "I am getting the sense that this is going to happen soon."
Benedict, who marked his first anniversary as pope yesterday, earned a reputation during 23 years as the Vatican's guardian of doctrinal orthodoxy for strictly adhering to church rules, large and small. Unlike his predecessor John Paul II, who allowed some bishops to remain in their posts long after reaching 75, Benedict is expected to stick more closely to the official retirement age.
In a wide-ranging interview yesterday over lunch with Washington Post editors and reporters, McCarrick discussed his achievements and regrets, his concerns about a decline of civility in U.S. politics and his hopes for his successor.
McCarrick took over the Washington archdiocese five years ago. He previously had served as archbishop of Newark from 1986 to 2000 and as bishop of Metuchen, N.J., from 1982 to 1986.
He indicated that he is ready to retire, noting that although bishops sometimes ask the pope in their resignation letters for time to finish particular projects, he did not. "I'll be just as happy to go," he said.
McCarrick, speaking in a soft voice, said he felt at peace because he accomplished several goals. The archdiocese will ordain 12 priests next month, he noted, the highest number since 1973. It also completed a three-year, $185 million capital fundraising campaign in 2005. Although three U.S. dioceses are in Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings and the Boston archdiocese said yesterday that it is running a $46 million deficit, the Washington archdiocese is solvent.
But McCarrick said he wished he had engaged earlier in an effort to build up leadership among lay people. "I'm not the ideal archbishop," he said.
When McCarrick steps down, he will remain a cardinal. He said he plans to divide most of his time between Catholic Relief Services, of which he is a board member, and the Papal Foundation, a charity he helped establish. He said he also wants to learn Arabic, his sixth language.
At the height of the scandal over sexual abuse of minors by priests that erupted in Boston in 2002, McCarrick was among the first prelates to call publicly for the "zero tolerance" policy toward abusers that the U.S. bishops adopted in Dallas that June.
He also was at the center of controversy during the 2004 presidential race over whether the Democratic nominee, Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), should be denied Communion because of his support for abortion rights. The cardinal said the church should speak clearly and unequivocally against abortion but should avoid turning the issue into a "confrontation at the altar" -- a stand that drew fire from some antiabortion activists but was supported by a majority of bishops.
McCarrick said yesterday that "the life issues are primary." But he said he worries about a "loss of civility" in politics and rising stridency among religious leaders in telling politicians, and even voters, how they must act, not just on broad moral issues but on particular legislation or in particular races.
"I'm afraid there are a lot more people in the church who think that things are black and white," he said. "No one can really read another person's conscience. . . . I hope it is not cowardice, I hope it is prudence -- we must always give people the benefit of the doubt."
McCarrick declined to speculate on his successor but set a high bar. "The fellow who comes should be a great leader. He should not be afraid of you people," he said, referring to the news media. "He should be a holy man. He should be a great teacher, and he should teach more by example than with words. And he should be funny."