The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Michelle Boorstein, Chico Har­lan and Julie Zauzmer

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.”

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