Pope ac­cepts U.S. cardinal’s res­ig­na­tion

A re­port ac­cused Don­ald Wuerl of help­ing to pro­tect child-mo­lest­ing priests

Waterloo Region Record - - Canada & World - DAVID CRARY AND NICOLE WIN­FIELD

VATICAN CITY — Pope Fran­cis ac­cepted the res­ig­na­tion Fri­day of the arch­bishop of Washington, Cardinal Don­ald Wuerl, af­ter he be­came en­tan­gled in two ma­jor sex­ual abuse and coverup scan­dals and lost the sup­port of many in his flock.

But in a let­ter re­leased by Wuerl’s of­fice, Fran­cis asked Wuerl to stay on tem­po­rar­ily un­til a re­place­ment is found and sug­gested he had un­fairly be­come a scape­goat and vic­tim of the mount­ing out­rage among rank-and-file Ro­man Catholics over the abuse scan­dal.

The Pope’s ap­par­ent re­luc­tance to re­move Wuerl was ev­i­dence of the fraught per­son­nel de­ci­sions he has been forced to make as he grap­ples with the bur­geon­ing global scan­dal that has im­pli­cated some of his clos­est ad­vis­ers and al­lies, in­clud­ing top church­men in the United States, Bel­gium, Hon­duras, Chile and Aus­tralia.

With the res­ig­na­tion, Wuerl be­comes the most prom­i­nent head to roll af­ter his pre­de­ces­sor as Washington arch­bishop, Theodore McCar­rick, was forced to re­sign as cardinal over al­le­ga­tions he sex­u­ally abused at least two mi­nors and adult sem­i­nar­i­ans. A grand jury re­port is­sued in Au­gust on ram­pant sex abuse in six Penn­syl­va­nia dio­ce­ses ac­cused Wuerl of help­ing to pro­tect some child-mo­lest­ing priests while he was bishop of Pitts­burgh from 1988 to 2006. Si­mul­ta­ne­ously, Wuerl faced wide­spread skep­ti­cism over his in­sis­tence that he knew noth­ing about years of al­leged sex­ual mis­con­duct by McCar­rick.

A Vatican state­ment Fri­day said Fran­cis had ac­cepted Wuerl’s res­ig­na­tion as Washington arch­bishop, but named no re­place­ment; in his let­ter, the pope asked him to stay on in a tem­po­rary ca­pac­ity un­til a new arch­bishop is found.

Wuerl, who turns 78 in Novem­ber, ini­tially played down the scan­dal and in­sisted on his own good record, but then pro­gres­sively came to the con­clu­sion that he could no longer lead the arch­dio­cese.

“The Holy Fa­ther’s de­ci­sion to pro­vide new lead­er­ship to the arch­dio­cese can al­low all of the faith­ful, clergy, religious and lay, to fo­cus on heal­ing and the fu­ture,” Wuerl said in a state­ment Fri­day. “Once again for any past er­rors in judg­ment I apol­o­gize and ask for par­don.”

In a let­ter to the Washington faith­ful, which Wuerl asked to be read aloud at mass this week­end, Wuerl di­rected him­self in par­tic­u­lar at sur­vivors of abuse.

“I am sorry and ask for heal­ing for all those who were so deeply wounded at the hands of the church’s min­is­ters,” he wrote. “I also beg for­give­ness on be­half of church lead­er­ship from the vic­tims who were again wounded when they saw these priests and bish­ops both moved and pro­moted.”

In his let­ter ac­cept­ing the res­ig­na­tion, Fran­cis said he rec­og­nized that, in ask­ing to re­tire, Wuerl had put the in­ter­ests and unity of his flock ahead of his own am­bi­tions. He once again re­ferred obliquely to the devil be­ing at work in ac­cus­ing bish­ops of wrong­do­ing, say­ing the “fa­ther of lies” was try­ing to hurt shep­herds and di­vide their flock.

“You have suf­fi­cient el­e­ments to jus­tify your ac­tions and dis­tin­guish be­tween what it means to cover up crimes or not to deal with prob­lems, and to com­mit some mis­takes,” Fran­cis wrote. “How­ever, your no­bil­ity has led you not to choose this way of de­fence. Of this I am proud and thank you.”

Fran­cis’s praise for Wuerl alarmed sur­vivors’ ad­vo­cates, who said it was ev­i­dence of the cler­i­cal cul­ture Fran­cis him­self de­nounces in which the church hi­er­ar­chy con­sis­tently pro­tects its own.

Ter­rence McKier­nan, pres­i­dent of the on­line abuse data­base Bish­opAc­count­abil­ity, said it showed that for Fran­cis, “Cardinal Wuerl is more im­por­tant than the chil­dren he put in harm’s way. Un­til Pope Fran­cis re­verses this em­pha­sis on cod­dling the hi­er­ar­chy at the ex­pense of chil­dren, the Catholic Church will never emerge from this cri­sis.”

Wuerl had sub­mit­ted his res­ig­na­tion to Fran­cis nearly three years ago, when he turned 75, the nor­mal re­tire­ment age for bish­ops. But Fran­cis kept him on, as popes tend to do with able-bod­ied bish­ops who share their pas­toral pri­or­i­ties.

But Wuerl made a per­sonal ap­peal to Fran­cis last month to ac­cept the res­ig­na­tion, fol­low­ing the fall­out of the McCar­rick scan­dal and out­rage over the Penn­syl­va­nia grand jury re­port that has led to a cri­sis in con­fi­dence in the church hi­er­ar­chy.

Wuerl was also named promi­nently in the 11-page de­nun­ci­a­tion of the McCar­rick coverup that was penned by the Vatican’s for­mer am­bas­sador to the U.S., Arch­bishop Carlo Maria Vigano, who ac­cused a long line of U.S. and Vatican church­men of turn­ing a blind eye to McCar­rick’s pen­chant for sleep­ing with sem­i­nar­i­ans.

Wuerl has not been charged with any wrong­do­ing but was named nu­mer­ous times in the Penn­syl­va­nia re­port, which de­tails in­stances in which he al­lowed priests ac­cused of mis­con­duct to be re­as­signed or re­in­stated.

In one case cited in the re­port, Wuerl — act­ing on a doc­tor’s rec­om­men­da­tion — en­abled the Rev. Wil­liam O’Mal­ley to re­turn to ac­tive min­istry in 1998 de­spite al­le­ga­tions of abuse lodged against him in the past and his own ad­mis­sion that he was sex­u­ally in­ter­ested in ado­les­cents. Years later, ac­cord­ing to the re­port, six more peo­ple al­leged that they were sex­u­ally as­saulted by O’Mal­ley, in some cases af­ter he had been re­in­stated.

In an­other case, Wuerl re­turned a priest to ac­tive min­istry in 1995 de­spite hav­ing re­ceived mul­ti­ple com­plaints that the priest, the Rev. Ge­orge Zir­was, had mo­lested boys in the late 1980s.

Wuerl apol­o­gized for the dam­age in­flicted on the vic­tims but also de­fended his ef­forts to com­bat clergy sex abuse.

His de­fend­ers have cited a case that sur­faced in 1988, when a 19-year-old for­mer sem­i­nar­ian, Tim Bendig, filed a law­suit ac­cus­ing a priest, An­thony Cipolla, of mo­lest­ing him. Wuerl ini­tially ques­tioned Bendig’s ac­count but later ac­cepted it and moved to oust Cipolla from the priest­hood. The Vatican’s high­est court or­dered Wuerl to re­store Cipolla to priestly min­istry, but Wuerl re­sisted and, af­ter two years of le­gal pro­ce­dures, pre­vailed in pre­vent­ing Cipolla’s re­turn.

The Rev. Thomas Reese, a Je­suit priest who writes for Re­li­gion News Ser­vice, de­scribed Wuerl as an ide­o­log­i­cal mod­er­ate.

“He was to­tally en­thu­si­as­tic about John Paul II, and then Pope Bene­dict, and now he’s to­tally en­thu­si­as­tic about Pope Fran­cis,” Reese said. “There are not many peo­ple in the church who are to­tally en­thu­si­as­tic about all three of them.”


Cardinal Don­ald Wuerl has re­signed as arch­bishop of Washington, D.C. He spoke to The Washington Post about his ca­reer in March.

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