As U.S. Roman Catholic bishops prepare for a meeting in Dallas this week to adopt a national policy on sexual abuse of minors by priests, two more bishops resigned yesterday as a result of charges of sexual misconduct.
In New York, Auxiliary Bishop James F. McCarthy, 59, resigned as bishop and pastor of a suburban parish after admitting to having had "a number of affairs with women over the course of several years," officials of the Archdiocese of New York announced.
In Lexington, Ky., Bishop J. Kendrick Williams, 65, who has been accused of molesting three boys between the ages of 12 and 18, announced that Pope John Paul II had accepted his resignation. Williams, who earlier had relinquished his pastoral duties pending the outcome of a church investigation, denied the allegations against him.
The resignations brought to four the number of bishops who have resigned this year amid allegations of sexual misconduct. They are likely to deepen the sense of urgency surrounding what the bishops themselves have described as "a crisis without precedent in our times." That description is from the first sentence of a draft document that the bishops will consider at their meeting as the church's response to the sex abuse scandal that has shaken the U.S. Catholic Church.
The scandal has centered on the sexual abuse of minors by pedophile priests, but as it has gained momentum during the year it has also ensnared others, such as McCarthy, who have been accused of other forms of sexual misconduct. New York archdiocese officials said their information indicated that none of the women involved with McCarthy was a minor at the time of the affair, but that they were still gathering information.
Joseph Zwilling, spokesman for the New York archdiocese, said church officials first learned of the allegations against McCarthy in a letter they received Saturday. Zwilling would not say who sent the letter to the archdiocese, but he said McCarthy later confirmed the charges outlined in the letter.
In a statement, the archdiocese said, "It is not known if the affairs raise any legal issues, but the archdiocese will cooperate with the district attorney if there is an investigation."
New York Archbishop Cardinal Edward Egan also issued a statement expressing his "personal care and concern for all involved in this situation, in particular any women and their families who may have been hurt, and Bishop McCarthy as well." Referring to the Dallas meeting, Egan asked for prayers "that we will see a return to holiness and sanctity on the part of all clergy and that we might begin to heal the wounds that have been inflicted."
Large archdioceses such as New York are led by an archbishop, assisted by auxiliary bishops. McCarthy was appointed to the job in 1999 and Zwilling said his resignation would be effective when it is accepted by the pope. He said McCarthy also resigned as pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Shrub Oak, N.Y., and had been instructed by Egan not to function as a priest.
Williams became the first bishop of the newly created Lexington diocese in 1988. The charges against him involved an alleged molestation in 1969 and two other alleged molestations in 1981.
Williams announced May 23 that he was temporarily stepping aside as bishop pending the outcome of an investigation into the first of the allegations against him, which he denied. But in a statement yesterday, the Lexington diocese said that Williams submitted his resignation to the Vatican a week later, on May 31.
"I do not want my resignation to give any credence to the allegations made against me," Williams said in a statement. "I offered my resignation to the Holy Father, stating that I believe that by my stepping down, the diocese can rid itself of the cloud which hangs over it and me at this time."
Williams said he agonized over the decision but finally decided that it was best if a new bishop was appointed as soon as possible. "The Holy Father concurs," he said, "and my resignation is effective today."
Last month Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland of Milwaukee resigned after the disclosure of a $450,000 settlement the archdiocese made in 1998 with a man who had accused Weakland of sexually abusing him as an adult more than 20 years ago. In March, Bishop Anthony O'Connell of Palm Beach, Fla., resigned after admitting he abused an underage student when he was the rector of a Missouri seminary.