Pope ac­cepts cardinal’s res­ig­na­tion amid scan­dal

But Fran­cis praises Wuerl, an­ger­ing abuse sur­vivors

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By 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 cover-up 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 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 U.S., 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 he­s­ex­u­ally 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 from1988 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 ul­ti­mately 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 on­heal­ing andthe fu­ture,” Wuerl­said 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 ad­dressed in par­tic­u­lar sur­vivors of abuse. Cardinal Don­ald Wuerl be­comes the most prom­i­nent head to roll af­ter his pre­de­ces­sor as Washington arch­bishop, Theodore McCar­rick, also was forced to re­sign as cardinal.

“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 de­fense. Of this I am proud and thank you.”

Fran­cis’ 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, af­ter the fall­out of the McCar­rick scan­dal and out­rage over the Penn­syl­va­nia grand jury re­port lead­ing to a cri­sis in con­fi­dence in the church hi­er­ar­chy.


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