U.S. archbishop resigns with papal praise amid scandal
The archbishop of Washington stepped down over the handling of sex-abuse cases but received fulsome praise from the Pope, drawing criticism from campaigners who said it showed the Catholic Church cared more for its leaders than abuse victims.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, a loyal ally of Pope Francis, was criticized in a U.S. grand jury report in August for failing to halt abuse in his previous role as archbishop of Pittsburgh.
He becomes one of the highest-ranking Catholic leaders to step aside over global accusations that the church harboured sex abusers. His resignation also further exposes a rift between Francis and members of the church’s conservative wing, some of whom say the Pope him- self should quit over the sexabuse crisis.
In a glowing letter of support, Francis made clear that he accepted Cardinal Wuerl’s resignation reluctantly, at Cardinal Wuerl’s insistence, and believed he was not guilty of trying to conceal abuse. “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. However, your nobility has led you not to choose this way of defence. Of this, I am proud and thank you,” the Pope wrote.
Victims’ advocacy groups were outraged.
“The Pope’s letter to Cardinal Wuerl sends a clear message that for Pope Francis, Cardinal Wuerl is more important than the children he put in harm’s way,” said Terence McKiernan, president of BishopAccountability.org.
“Until Pope Francis reverses this emphasis on coddling the hierarchy at the expense of children, the Catholic Church will never emerge from this crisis,” he said in a statement.
Cardinal Wuerl has come under fire since the release in August of a U.S. Grand Jury report on sexual abuse which found evidence that at least 1,000 people, mostly children, had been sexually abused by some 300 clergymen over the course of 70 years.
The report covered six diocese in Pennsylvania, including Pittsburgh, where Cardinal Wuerl served as archbishop from 19982006. The report mentioned Cardinal Wuerl’s name more than 200 times. Cardinal Wuerl has defended his record in Pittsburgh.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, attends a presidential signing ceremony in the Rose Garden at the White House in May, 2017.