‘Proud’ pope ac­cepts res­ig­na­tion of car­di­nal

Vat­i­can, crit­ics of abuse scan­dal at odds over move.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - - MORE OF TODAY’S TOP NEWS - By Michelle Boorstein

Pope Fran­cis on Fri­day ac­cepted the res­ig­na­tion of Wash­ing­ton’s arch­bishop, Car­di­nal Don­ald Wuerl, a trusted pa­pal ally who be­came a sym­bol among many Catholics for what they re­gard as the church’s de­fen­sive and weak re­sponse to cler­i­cal sex abuse.

But even as Wuerl be­comes one of the high­est-pro­file prelates to step down in a year of prom­i­nent abuse scan­dals, Pope Fran­cis of­fered the car­di­nal a gen­tle land­ing, prais­ing him in a let­ter and al­low­ing him to stay on as the dayto-day ad­min­is­tra­tor of the Wash­ing­ton arch­dio­cese un­til a suc­ces­sor is found.

In his let­ter, Fran­cis said that Wuerl’s “no­bil­ity” had prompted him to step down, even though he had “suf­fi­cient el­e­ments” to jus­tify his ac­tions.

“Of this, I am proud and thank you,” Fran­cis wrote.

The Vat­i­can’s an­nounce­ment ended Wuerl’s 12-year ten­ure as arch­bishop of Wash­ing­ton and marked the most di­rect con­se­quence to date from a scald­ing Au­gust Penn­syl­va­nia grand jury re­port that de­picted decades of sys­temic sex­ual abuse within the church — some of it oc­cur­ring in Pitts­burgh, where Wuerl served as bishop. The 900page re­port por­trays Wuerl as be­ing in­con­sis­tent in his han­dling of sex­ual abuse, and in the af­ter­math of the re­port’s re­lease, the metic­u­lous cleric — who once had a rep­u­ta­tion as a con­tro­versy-free re­former — faced mount­ing anger and calls for his res­ig­na­tion.

Fri­day, some Catholics said that Fran­cis — with his un­usual de­ci­sion to keep Wuerl in place on an in­terim ba­sis — was be­ing overly pro­tec­tive of an ally, over­look­ing the se­ri­ous­ness of the car­di­nal’s case and un­der­min­ing his own at­tempts to deal force­fully with the con­se­quences of abuse. More than five years af­ter be­com­ing pope, Fran­cis is con­fronting a wave of abuse-re­lated scan­dals that amount to the great­est cri­sis of his pa­pacy.

A Wash­ing­ton dio­cese spokesper­son said that the 77-year-old Wuerl will re­tain his place in the pow­er­ful Con­gre­ga­tion of Bish­ops, the sec­tion of the Ro­man Curia that helps to pick bish­ops.

“It’s very dis­ap­point­ing,” said David Clo­hessy, the for­mer na­tional direc­tor of Sur­vivors Net­work for those Abused by Priests (SNAP). “This con­tin­ues a long, long pat­tern in the church hi­er­ar­chy — a re­fusal to ad­mit what is so clear to the rest of us. Wuerl is guilty of se­ri­ous wrong­do­ing. You can claim other bish­ops are even worse, and there is some truth to that. But the sim­ple fact is that he en­dan­gered chil­dren.”

On Fri­day, the Arch­dio­cese of Wash­ing­ton’s chan­cel­lor and gen­eral coun­sel, Kim Viti Fiorentino, de­scribed Wuerl’s “coura­geous and sac­ri­fi­cial com­mit­ment” to the church in Wash­ing­ton and pushed back at the Penn­syl­va­nia grand jury re­port’s find­ings.

“Un­for­tu­nately, the Car­di­nal’s pi­o­neer­ing lead­er­ship in the en­hance­ment, im­ple­men­ta­tion and en­force­ment of his­tor­i­cally in­no­va­tive and rig­or­ous child pro­tec­tion poli­cies was over­shad­owed by the re­port’s flaws and its in­ter­pre­ta­tion by me­dia,” said Fiorentino, who did not elab­o­rate on those crit­i­cisms.

In a let­ter re­leased Fri­day ad­dressed to the “broth­ers and sis­ters” of the Wash­ing­ton arch­dio­cese, Wuerl wrote that new lead­er­ship was needed so the church could “be­gin to fo­cus on heal­ing and the fu­ture.”

“I am sorry and ask for heal­ing for all of those who were so deeply wounded at the hands of the Church’s min­is­ters,” Wuerl 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.”

STEPHEN CROW­LEY / THE NEW YORK TIMES

Car­di­nal Don­ald Wuerl re­signed Fri­day, say­ing new lead­er­ship was needed so the church could “be­gin to fo­cus on heal­ing.”

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