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.’

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