Archbishop of Washington resigns after sex scandals
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis accepted the resignation Friday of the archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, after he became entangled in two major sexual abuse and cover-up scandals and lost the support of many in his flock.
But in a letter released by Wuerl’s office, Francis 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 among rank-and-file Catholics over the abuse scandal.
The pope’s apparent reluctance to remove Wuerl was evidence of the fraught personnel decisions he has been forced to make as he grapples with the burgeoning global scandal that has implicated some of his closest advisers and allies, including top churchmen in the U.S., Belgium, Honduras, Chile and Australia.
With the resignation, Wuerl becomes the most prominent head to roll after his predecessor as Washington archbishop, Theodore McCarrick, was forced to resign as cardinal over allegations he sexually abused at least two minors and adult seminarians.
A grand jury report issued in August on rampant sex abuse in six Pennsylvania dioceses accused Wuerl of helping to protect some child-molesting priests while he was bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988 to 2006. Simultaneously, Wuerl faced widespread skepticism over his insistence that he knew nothing about years of alleged sexual misconduct by McCarrick.
A Vatican statement Friday said Francis had accepted Wuerl’s resignation as Washington archbishop, but named no replacement.
Wuerl, who turns 78 in November, initially played down the scandal, but then progressively came to the conclusion that he could 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.