Pre­late ac­cused of abuse cover-up re­signs

Pope draws crit­i­cism for cit­ing ‘no­bil­ity’ of car­di­nal’s ac­tion

Houston Chronicle - - NATION | WORLD - By Ja­son Horowitz, El­iz­a­beth Dias and Lau­rie Goodstein

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Fri­day ac­cepted the res­ig­na­tion of Car­di­nal Don­ald Wuerl, the arch­bishop of Wash­ing­ton, a mo­ment many vic­tims of cler­i­cal abuse had hoped would demon­strate his com­mit­ment to hold­ing bish­ops ac­count­able for mis­man­ag­ing cases of sex­ual mis­con­duct.

But in­stead of mak­ing an ex­am­ple of Wuerl, who was named in a re­cent Penn­syl­va­nia grand jury re­port that ac­cused church lead­ers of cov­er­ing up abuse, Francis held him up as a model for the fu­ture unity of the Ro­man Catholic Church. The pope cited Wuerl’s “no­bil­ity” in vol­un­teer­ing to re­sign and an­nounced that the 77year-old pre­late would stay on as the arch­dio­cese’s care­taker un­til the ap­point­ment of a suc­ces­sor.

In an in­ter­view, Wuerl said that he would con­tinue to live in Wash­ing­ton and that he ex­pected to keep his po­si­tion in Vatican of­fices that ex­ert great in­flu­ence, in­clud­ing one that ad­vises the pope on the ap­point­ment of bish­ops.

For some Catholics, Fri­day’s de­ci­sion was a deep dis­ap­point­ment on an is­sue that has shad­owed Francis’s pa­pacy and threat­ened his le­gacy.

Af­ter he be­came pope in 2013, Francis ap­pointed a com­mis­sion to ad­vise him on safe­guard­ing chil­dren from abuse, agreed to cre­ate a tri­bunal to try neg­li­gent bish­ops and spoke of “zero tol­er­ance” for of­fend­ing pri­ests.

But crit­ics say Francis has been more talk than ac­tion. By mak­ing it clear he thought Wuerl had served the church well, they said, Francis sent yet an­other mixed mes­sage on a topic that has shaken faith in the church’s lead­er­ship around the world.

“It doesn’t sound like the pope has gone far enough at all,” said Mary Pat Fox, pres­i­dent of Voice of the Faith­ful, a na­tional group that ad­vo­cates for abuse vic­tims and church ac­count­abil­ity. “They’re re­mov­ing him from this si­t­u­a­tion where peo­ple feel be­trayed, but he’s still got all the power pretty much that he ever had.”

Ed­ward McFad­den, a spokesman for Wuerl, said that dur­ing the car­di­nal’s 12 years in Wash­ing­ton, “not a sin­gle priest of the Arch­dio­cese of Wash­ing­ton has faced a cred­i­ble claim, and there is not to­day a sin­gle priest in min­istry in Wash­ing­ton who has faced a cred­i­ble claim.” And dur­ing the car­di­nal’s 18 years as bishop of Pitts­burgh, he said, “there were no cover-ups of claims of abuse.”

Wuerl was first seen as a ris­ing star in the Catholic hi­er­ar­chy decades ago, when he ap­peared to risk his ca­reer to re­port an abuse case.

He ar­rived in Pitts­burgh, a pos­si­ble step­ping­stone to greater things, in 1988, just as the dio­cese had re­moved two pri­ests ac­cused of mo­lest­ing al­tar boys. In his first months as bishop, af­ter the pri­ests were charged with more than 100 counts of abuse, he formed a re­view board at the dio­cese level.

Wuerl ini­tially tried to de­fend him­self from charges in the Penn­syl­va­nia re­port, post­ing an on­line re­but­tal on TheWuer­lRecord.com that was quickly taken down af­ter draw­ing crit­i­cism and ridicule. He gave an in­ter­view to a lo­cal tele­vi­sion sta­tion, say­ing that the cases had oc­curred in the 1980s and 1990s, be­fore the church had de­vel­oped clear poli­cies on clergy sex­ual abuse.

“I think I did ev­ery­thing that I pos­si­bly could,” Wuerl said.

But it soon be­came clear that he would be­come the big­gest tar­get of out­rage over the Penn­syl­va­nia re­port.

“The grand jury re­port showed that Car­di­nal Wuerl over­saw and par­tic­i­pated in the cover-up,” the Penn­syl­va­nia at­tor­ney gen­eral, Josh Shapiro, said in an in­ter­view. “It is well doc­u­mented.”

Wuerl

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