Arch­bishop re­signs; will re­main as care­taker

Wash­ing­ton leader re­signed but will be church care­taker

Albany Times Union - - FRONT PAGE - By Ja­son Horowitz, El­iz­a­beth Dias and Lau­rie Good­stein

A Catholic of­fi­cial ac­cused of con­ceal­ing or mis­han­dling sex­ual abuse cases gives up of­fice but not his in­flu­ence af­ter the pope praised him, stun­ning many.

Pope Fran­cis Fri­day ac­cepted the res­ig­na­tion of Car­di­nal Don­ald Wuerl, arch­bishop of Wash­ing­ton, a mo­ment many vic­tims of cler­i­cal abuse had hoped would demon­strate his com­mit­ment to hold­ing bish­ops ac­count­able for mis­man­ag­ing cases of sex­ual mis­con­duct.

But in­stead of mak­ing an ex­am­ple of Wuerl, who was named in a re­cent Penn­syl­va­nia grand jury re­port that ac­cused church lead­ers of cov­er­ing up abuse, Fran­cis held him up as a model for the fu­ture unity of the Ro­man Catholic Church. The pope cited Wuerl’s “no­bil­ity” in vol­un­teer­ing to re­sign and an­nounced that the 77-year-old prelate would stay on as the arch­dio­cese’s care­taker un­til the ap­point­ment of a suc­ces­sor.

In an in­ter­view, Wuerl said he would con­tinue to live in Wash­ing­ton and that he ex­pected to keep his po­si­tion in Vat­i­can of­fices that ex­ert great in­flu­ence, in­clud­ing one that ad­vises the pope on the ap­point­ment of bish­ops.

For some Catholics, Fri­day’s de­ci­sion was a deep dis­ap­point­ment on an is­sue that has shad­owed Fran­cis’s pa­pacy and threat­ened his legacy.

Af­ter he be­came pope in 2013, Fran­cis ap­pointed a com­mis­sion to ad­vise him on safe­guard­ing chil­dren from abuse, agreed to cre­ate a tri­bunal to try neg­li­gent bish­ops and spoke of “zero tol­er­ance” for of­fend­ing priests.

But crit­ics say Fran­cis has been more talk than ac­tion. By mak­ing it clear he thought Wuerl had served the church well, they said, Fran­cis sent yet an­other mixed mes­sage on a topic that has shaken faith in the church’s lead­er­ship around the world.

“It doesn’t sound like the pope has gone far enough at all,” said Mary Pat Fox, pres­i­dent of Voice of the Faith­ful, a na­tional group that ad­vo­cates for abuse vic­tims and church ac­count­abil­ity. “They’re re­mov­ing him from this sit­u­a­tion where peo­ple feel be­trayed, but he’s still got all the power pretty much that he ever had.”

Un­til a few months ago, Wuerl was seen as a re­former and a leader in the church’s re­sponse to sex­ual abuse. Then, in Au­gust, a grand jury in Penn­syl­va­nia de­tailed cler­i­cal abuse over many decades, in­clud­ing ac­counts of Wuerl’s poor han­dling of ac­cu­sa­tions against priests when he was the bishop of Pitts­burgh.

The re­port, which men­tioned Wuerl’s name more than 200 times, said he had re­lied on the ad­vice of psy­chol­o­gists to per­mit priests ac­cused of sex­u­ally abus­ing chil­dren to re­main in the min­istry.

Still, the Arch­dio­cese of Wash­ing­ton Fri­day re­leased a let­ter from Fran­cis, say­ing Wuerl had suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence to “jus­tify” his ac­tions as a bishop and to “dis­tin­guish be­tween what it means to cover up crimes or not to deal with prob­lems, and to com­mit some mis­takes.”

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

The ero­sion of Wuerl’s stand­ing was com­pounded by his as­so­ci­a­tion with his pre­de­ces­sor as arch­bishop of Wash­ing­ton, Theodore Mccar­rick. He re­cently stepped down from the Col­lege of Car­di­nals over ac­cu­sa­tions that he had mo­lested an al­tar boy decades ago and co­erced sem­i­nary stu­dents to share his bed.

In an ex­tra­or­di­nary let­ter re­leased in Au­gust, the Vat­i­can’s for­mer am­bas­sador to the United States, Arch­bishop Carlo Maria Vi­ganò, ac­cused Fran­cis of cov­er­ing up in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­ior by Mccar­rick and called on the pope to re­sign.

In the weeks since, Fran­cis has al­luded to Vi­ganò’s let­ter, to which he has said he will not re­spond, by speak­ing of the devil’s role in try­ing to di­vide the church. He seemed to do so again in Fri­day’s let­ter, warn­ing against the “ster­ile di­vi­sion sown by the fa­ther of lies who, try­ing to hurt the shep­herd, wants noth­ing more than that the sheep be dis­persed.”

Fran­cis saw Wuerl as that shep­herd, a force for unity. The car­di­nal’s Sept. 21 re­quest that the pon­tiff ac­cept his res­ig­na­tion re­flected his ded­i­ca­tion to “pro­cure the good of the peo­ple en­trusted to your care,” Fran­cis wrote.

Wuerl called the pope’s let­ter a “very, very beau­ti­ful” recog­ni­tion of his ef­fort to put his flock be­fore him­self, but added that the pope, in choos­ing his re­place­ment, would se­lect a bishop who be­gan serv­ing af­ter the Amer­i­can church adopted new guide­lines in 2002 to pre­vent and pun­ish abuse.

He said he was “step­ping aside to al­low for new lead­er­ship that doesn’t have this bag­gage.”

In ac­cept­ing his res­ig­na­tion, Fran­cis asked that Wuerl re­main as apos­tolic ad­min­is­tra­tor of the arch­dio­cese.

Wuerl, who is con­sid­ered a mod­er­ate and a sup­porter of Fran­cis’ style of pa­pacy, spoke in the in­ter­view about the con­struc­tive role he hoped to play at the an­nual meet­ing of Amer­i­can bish­ops in Novem­ber.

And as a mem­ber of the Con­gre­ga­tion for Bish­ops, Wuerl will still shape the Amer­i­can church for decades to come by help­ing to pick its bish­ops.

Ed­ward Mcfad­den, a spokesman for Wuerl, said that dur­ing the car­di­nal’s 12 years in Wash­ing­ton, “not a sin­gle priest of the Arch­dio­cese of Wash­ing­ton has faced a cred­i­ble claim, and there is not to­day a sin­gle priest in min­istry in Wash­ing­ton who has faced a cred­i­ble claim.”

As­so­ci­ated Press file photo

Car­di­nal Don­ald Wuerl, arch­bishop of Wash­ing­ton, left, seen with Pope Fran­cis af­ter a Mass in Wash­ing­ton in 2015, has re­signed his po­si­tion af­ter he be­came en­tan­gled in two ma­jor sex­ual abuse and cover-up scan­dals.

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