NATION D.C.’S CARDINAL WUERL RETIRES
Pope Francis accepts the retirement of Washington’s archbishop, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, amid criticism of Wuerl’s handling of abuse claims when he was the bishop of Pittsburgh.
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 highestprofile 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 daytoday 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 12year tenure as archbishop of Washington, and it 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 be ing 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 controversyfree 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 abuserelated scandals that amount to the greatest crisis of his papacy.
A Washington diocese spokesperson said the 77yearold 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, former national director of Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests. “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 . ... The simple fact is that he endangered children.”