Pope ac­cepts Wuerl’s res­ig­na­tion


NORRISTOWN, PENN­SYL­VA­NIA — Amid un­fold­ing sex-abuse scan­dals, Pope Francis has ac­cepted the res­ig­na­tion of Car­di­nal Don­ald Wuerl as arch­bishop of Wash­ing­ton. But the pope’s gen­tle words and lack of con­dem­na­tion an­gered those who feel top Catholic lead­ers con­tinue to shirk re­spon­si­bil­ity for the global cri­sis.

Among those frus­trated by the pope’s an­nounce­ment Fri­day was Penn­syl­va­nia At­tor­ney Gen­eral Josh Shapiro, who over­saw a grand jury re­port is­sued in Au­gust on ram­pant sex abuse in six Penn­syl­va­nia dio­ce­ses. The re­port ac­cused Wuerl of help­ing to pro­tect some child­mo­lest­ing pri­ests while he was bishop of Pitts­burgh from 1988 to 2006.

“It is un­ac­cept­able that then-Bishop Wuerl... over­saw and par­tic­i­pated in the sys­tem­atic coverup that he did when lead­ing the Pitts­burgh Dio­cese and that he is now able to re­tire seem­ingly with no con­se­quences for his ac­tions,” Shapiro said. “We can’t rely on the church to fix it­self.”

Shapiro spoke at a news con­fer­ence af­ter urg­ing the state Se­nate to pass leg­is­la­tion al­low­ing sex­abuse vic­tims to sue in old cases they now can’t pur­sue be­cause of the statute of lim­i­ta­tions.

Wuerl had of­fered his res­ig­na­tion as arch­bishop in late 2015, af­ter he turned 75. Pope Francis ac­cepted the of­fer Fri­day, but 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 over the abuse scan­dal.

“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 to Wuerl. “How­ever, your no­bil­ity has led you not to choose this way of de­fense. Of this I am proud and thank you.”

Wuerl, who turns 78 in Novem­ber, ini­tially played down the grand jury re­port and de­fended his own record, but even­tu­ally con­cluded he should 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 on heal­ing and the fu­ture,” Wuerl said in a state­ment Fri­day. “Once again for any past er­rors in judg­ment I apol­o­gize and ask for par­don.”

With the res­ig­na­tion, Wuerl be­comes the most prom­i­nent Catholic head to roll since his pre­de­ces­sor as Wash­ing­ton arch­bishop, Theodore Mc­Car­rick, was forced to re­sign as car­di­nal this year over al­le­ga­tions he sex­u­ally abused at least two mi­nors and adult sem­i­nar­i­ans.

Wuerl, even as he drew crit­i­cism in the grand jury re­port, also faced wide­spread skep­ti­cism over his in­sis­tence that he knew noth­ing about years of al­leged sex­ual mis­con­duct by Mc­Car­rick.


This Sept. 23, 2015, photo shows Car­di­nal Don­ald Wuerl, arch­bishop of Wash­ing­ton, left, talk­ing with Pope Francis af­ter a Mass in the Basil­ica of the Na­tional Shrine of the Im­mac­u­late Con­cep­tion in Wash­ing­ton.

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