Archbishop resigns in wake of scandal
Accused of covering up sex abuse, steps down
ATICAN CITY — U.S. Cardinal Donald Wuerl, accused of covering up sex abuse crimes by priests, has stepped down as Archbishop of Washington, the Vatican said Friday.
The high-profile resignation was another blow for Pope Francis, who in recent months has been confronted with mounting clergy sex abuse scandals across the globe.
Francis accepted Wuerl’s request to go, a Vatican statement said. However, he also asked the cardinal to stay on in a caretaker role until a replacement is found.
“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 posted on the Washington archdiocese’s website.
“Once again, for any past errors in judgment, I apologize and ask for pardon. My resignation is one way to express my great and abiding love for you the people of the Church of Washington,” he added.
Wuerl, 77, had been under growing pressure to resign since the publication in August of a Pennsylvania grand jury report on the abuses committed by 301 priests over a period of 70 years.
The cardinal, who was bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988-2006, was not accused of any crimes, but was named as having been excessively lenient toward some child-abusing priests.
Becky Ianni, treasurer of Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said the organization is thankful that Pope Francis accepted Wuerl’s resignation.
“We hope that this action will bring healing to victims of clergy sexual abuse and relief to Catholics in the Archdiocese of Washington,” Ianni said in a statement emailed to Deutsche Presse-Agentur.
But she also said it was insulting to all victims that Francis called Wuerl a “shepherd” who made “some mistakes.”
“This is another knife in the heart of those who have already suffered at
Vthe hands of the Catholic Church,” she said in the statement. “If the Pope truly wants to protect children and help victims to heal, he needs to fire and publicly admonish any bishop that has enabled perpetrators by concealing their crimes from law enforcement and the public.”
She also called on Francis to turn over all Vatican records on child sex crimes to secular authorities and demand that every cardinal and bishop post the names of all the accused on diocesan websites.
“Cardinal Wuerl’s removal is a good first step, but Pope Francis should not stop there,” Ianni said.
Nicholas Cafardi, a Canon Law professor who has advised the U.S. Catholic Church on child protection, said Wuerl “never failed to react to a complaint of child sexual abuse.”
Speaking to the National Catholic Reporter, Cafardi called the resignation “an undeserved end to a really fine churchman, a fine bishop.”
Wuerl’s office published a letter in which the Pope also came to the cardinal’s defence.
“You have sufficient means to ‘justify’ your actions and distinguish what it means to cover up crimes or not to deal with problems, and to commit some mistakes. However, your nobility has led you not to choose this way of defence. Of this I am proud and thank you,” Francis wrote to Wuerl.
Wuerl is the second U.S. cardinal to resign as head of an archdiocese over sex abuse coverups: Cardinal Bernard Law quit in 2002 as Archbishop of Boston in the wake of a major sex abuse scandal there.
There was another resignation in July, when Wuerl’s predecessor as Archbishop of Washington, Theodore McCarrick, had his cardinal title revoked by the Pope. This was after McCarrick was outed as a serial abuser of young priests and seminarians.
A former Vatican ambassador to the U.S. has accused Francis of actively shielding McCarrick from punishment for years, and issued an unprecedented call for the Pope to resign.
The accuser, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, provided no evidence for his charges. Several commentators have framed his act of insubordination as part of a conservative attack against Francis and his reforms.
On Sunday, a senior Vatican official, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, dismissed Vigano’s accusations as a “political manoeuvre,” a day after the Vatican promised further investigations into why it took so long to discipline McCarrick.
Former Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl says he hopes new leadership for the Washington archdiocese will allow for a ‘focus on healing and the future.’