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Cardinal Wuerl says he will meet with pope to discuss possible resignation

In this April 17, 2015, file photo, Pope Francis, left, talks with Papal Foundation Chairman Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, D.C., during a meeting with members of the Papal Foundation at the Vatican. On Aug. 14, 2018, a Pennsylvania grand jury accused Wuerl of helping to protect abusive priests when he was Pittsburgh's bishop. (L'Osservatore Romano/Pool Photo via AP)

(RNS) — The archbishop of of Washington, D.C., Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who has faced calls to step down over his handling of sexual abuse cases while serving as bishop of Pittsburgh, said in a letter to priests that he will soon go to Rome to meet with Pope Francis to discuss his possible resignation.

The letter comes after an extraordinary meeting held Labor Day weekend at which the cardinal talked with archdiocesan priests about the best way to address the mounting criticism, spurred by the release in August of a bombshell grand jury report outlining clergy abuse in Pennsylvania.

The report alleges that even though Wuerl argued that parishioners have a right to know if a priest accused of child sex abuse had been reassigned to another parish, he also reassigned priests with histories of abuse, effectively shielding them from accountability.

Since the report was unveiled, a prominent deacon at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington said he would refuse to participate in the Mass alongside the cardinal. At the Labor Day meeting, some priests suggested that Wuerl should resign.

In the letter sent to the D.C. priests on Tuesday (Sept. 11), Wuerl noted that he had prayed with clergy the week before “to discern the best course of action for me to pursue as we face new revelations of the extent of the horror of the clergy abuse of children and the failures of episcopal oversight.”

“At issue,” the cardinal wrote, “is how to begin effectively to bring a new level of healing to survivors” of abuse. He said that “sooner rather than later” he would need to make a decision about his possible resignation.

“As a fruit of our discernment I intend, in the very near future, to go to Rome to meet with our Holy Father,” Wuerl said. The cardinal, who is 77,  handed the pope his resignation when he turned 75, as is standard practice. He did not say whether he expected Francis to accept his resignation.

The Archdiocese of Washington briefly published a website following the publication of the report defending Wuerl and refuting some of the claims, but that website was promptly taken down.

Wuerl has announced plans to launch a six-week-long “Season of Healing” beginning Friday.

About the author

Jack Jenkins

Jack Jenkins is a national reporter for RNS based in Washington, covering U.S. Catholics and the intersection of religion and politics.

26 Comments

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  • There are two questions that need to be answered:
    1) does the holy father make any major statement to the Catholic Church of the United States when accepting (or not accepting) wuerl’s resignation.
    2) is wuerl running to the Vatican to hide from the US authorities that are closing in.

  • This is one of those situations allowed to fester far too long. Now only le grand geste will be enough. Francis should send DiNardo home with an invitation for all US bishops to resign.

  • Including the ones whose dioceses have zero lawsuits, never ordained homosexuals, and got problem priests out of the clergy?

    I believe Catholics are looking for justice, not Stalinism and show trials.

  • From NCR this morning:

    “VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has called all of the presidents of the world’s various conferences of Catholic bishops to Rome for a February meeting on clergy sexual abuse, in the first such global summons by a pontiff.

    Paloma García Ovejero, the vice director of the Vatican press office, announced the decision in a Sept. 12 briefing, saying the pontiff decided to make the move during a meeting of his advisory Council of Cardinals and has already set the dates for the encounter as Feb. 21-24.

  • Wuerl says he knew nothing about McCarrick until recently.

    Apparently, just about everyone else knew about McCarrick, but Wuerl clearly knew nothing. Nothing, I tell you. nothing!

    As my Aunt Tilly used to say, with her usual ability to be bang on while looking like a sweet old lady…

    We know what we want to know.

  • “Apparently, just about everyone else knew about McCarrick, but Wuerl clearly knew nothing. Nothing, I tell you. nothing!”

    There appears to be zero evidence:

    – everyone else knew about McCarrick

    – Wuerl knew anything about McCarrick

    I did run across a website that looks to be right down your alley, where you actually might comment from knowledge rather than ignorance, and from interest rather than malice.

    Check it out!

    http://www.joemygod.com/

    .

  • For those wondering, “Festina lente” is a Latin translation of the classical Greek “speûde bradéos”.

    It is an oxymoronic classical adage meaning “make haste slowly” and a frequent motto by such as the Roman emperors Augustus and Titus, the Medicis, and the Onslow peerage in the UK.

  • There appears to be zero evidence that Wuerl committed any crimes.

    Wuerl is a classic bureaucrat.

    He made pretty much the same mistakes most of the American bishops made:

    – he thought he WAS Canon Law

    – like Francis he has a reputation as a “weasel”, all smiles and unctuous pecksniffian platitudes, but a knife in his hand behind his back ready to strike

    – a reputation as a real pr-ck

    For example, in Pittsburgh he made the mistake of treating abusers as ill rather than as criminals, and did the USCCB two-step of sending offenders off for “treatment” with ONE exception.

    That exception was the late Anthony Cipolla.

    Cipolla made the mistake of insisting on due process and refused to submit to psychiatric evaluation. Wuerl blew his gaskets, summarily fired Cipolla and cut off his support, all contrary to Canon Law.

    Cipolla appealed to the Signatura and won.

    Wuerl refused to recognize the decision and flew to Rome with witnesses.

    In the end Cippola was “defrocked”, but this was the ONLY instance in which Wuerl showed that sort of backbone and ONLy because Cippola had the audacity to suggest Wuerl was not omnipotent.

    The other interesting thing that came out of the Signatura was serious questions about the the use by U.S. bishops of psychiatric facilities to evaluate and “treat”
    accused pedophile priests. The Signatura agree with Cipolla’s canon lawyer
    in Rome that the philosophy underlying St. Luke’s Institute
    – then in Suitland, MD, but now in Silver Spring – was not Christian and was unfit to
    evaluate a priest.

    This little factoid has been buried in the two decades plus since, and I note that the U.S. bishops in considering implementation on the ban on ordaining homosexuals has again considered using psychologists and psychiatrists.

    There is a need for a fresh deal with bishops who:

    – consider abuse a sin, not a mental condition

    – implement Canon Law as written

    – are loyal to the Magisterium

    – have not risen to the episcopate by political maneuvers but by competent performance

    – are neither modernists nor extremists

    Wuerl, and this Pontiff, are not the ones to accomplish this.

  • “The report alleges that even though Wuerl argued that parishioners have a right to know if a priest accused of child sex abuse had been reassigned to another parish, he also reassigned priests with histories of abuse, effectively shielding them from accountability.”

    BINGO!

    See https://cruxnow.com/interviews/2017/03/16/actually-mean-priest-laicized/ , especially the section on “The role of the bishop in cases of abuse”. This section also references http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/motu_proprio/documents/papa-francesco-motu-proprio_20160604_come-una-madre-amorevole.html.

    It’s time for Francis to accept Wuerl’s resignation submitted earlier.

  • “Including the ones whose dioceses have zero lawsuits, never ordained homosexuals, and got problem priests out of the clergy?”

    Are there such hierarchs???

  • Joseph, is Wuerl any worse than most of the other bishops? I can think of others who did far less who face no such call that they step down, especially now “retired” bishops. I can also think of actions taken by Wuerl that have mitigated the overall picture of the Catholic church being just plain hateful, mean, and lacking compassion, especially to LGBT people. I suppose part of my concern for Wuerl is that those who are such nasties are the ones who are so pointedly making an issue out of Wuerl.

    Regarding the McCarrick abuse and what/when Wuerl knew about it – who else knew and acted as if nothing was there. That includes Vigano, but who else at the Vatican???? And here in the U.S.???? We need to know more before thinking that punishing just Wuerl if he was in the know is actually all resolving the issue. Is Wuerl the scapegoat – punish him and everyone else gets to keep their positions, including Vigano, others at the Vatican, and others here in the U.S.?

  • “I suppose part of my concern for Wuerl is that those who are such nasties are the ones who are so pointedly making an issue out of Wuerl.”

    I assume “nasties” means “Catholics who in union with the Magisterium”.

    Wuerl has a reputation among his own clergy as being a tyrant. He’s 78.

    It’s time for to him to exit.

    Allowing him to stay on to accomplish some coup or other against “nasties” rather than considering the good of the Church is part of the dilettantes’ obsession with handicapping bishops and cardinals.

  • If the “excuse” to push a Wuerl resignation is McCarrick, then we need to know who else also knew and acted as if it didn’t matter. I don’t necessarily think Wuerl knew. But it is apparent Vigano did know and acted as if it didn’t matter. Now, suddenly, he is calling for Francis to step down for knowing and doing nothing – while he says nothing about his own “doing nothing” and he says nothing about the ineffectiveness of what Benedict XVI did – if he really did anything.

    We have clerical politics in the midst of this – and discerning what are the motives and what is the truth is important so that everyone is held to the same standard. I suggest Vigano also remove himself from any public life since he certainly and admittedly knew about McCarrick and did nothing, publically acted as if all was just hunky-dory regarding McCarrick.

    Lets just hold people from both sides to the same standards.

  • There is no excuse needed to relieve Wuerl of command.

    Resignation is required at 75, Wuerl tendered his, and the Pontiff can accept it at any time without explanation or “excuse”.

    If we have clerical politics in the midst of this, it’s only because you’re reading the peddlers of vile gossip.

    All of these folks are in the high 70s and up, will be gone soon, and will have no significant role in the repairs, which will take one to three generations.

  • Bob, it is people like Vigano who has made the Wuerl resignation a religious political issue. We should have an answer – Vigano knew as much as Wuerl. The supposed sanctions were supposedly given by Benedict XVI. There were others at the Vatican involved if any sanctions were imposed. Who knew what, when and how many , like Vigano, acted as if there were no sanctions. It wasn’t just Pope Francis and Wuerl. Both are being scapegoated. If a head rolls for this incident so should the head of others who knew and did nothing back when and since such “sanctions” were imposed. That includes the feckless BXVI and probably Cardinal Muller, since he was head of the CDF for a lot of that time. What/when did the former head of the USCCB know; what/when did the current head of the USCCB know? And how many other fellow bishops/archbishops/cardinals here in the US know? If only Wuerl’s actions are held questionable, then we are letting a lot of people off the hook. Support openness, honesty, transparency, and treating people fairly.

  • No, it’s the gossips mentioned that made Wuerl an issue, along of course with Wuerl himself and the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report.

    You don’t need an answer.

    The Church needs to get this under control now and move the next generation into position to begin the repair work.

    Some folks remain focused on the fantasies that will never be:

    http://www.aggiornamento.net/2018/09/12/lgbtq-catholics-a-modest-proposal/

    They’re not part of the solution.

    Other folks are focused in who did what to whom:

    https://disqus.com/home/discussion/bilgrimage/bilgrimage_the_why_im_leaving_and_why_im_staying_statements_after_pennsylvania_report_my_theological/#comment-4089684016

    They’re also not part of the solution.

    Both parties are dilettantes, not Catholics.

  • Hi, ATF – Wuerl is on the hot seat because McCarrick has been in his back yard and he did nothing to keep it from blowing up in all our faces. Add that to the fact that he’s nearly three years past mandatory retirement, and lots of people suspect a deal to keep him in place as a control on McCarrick, hoping the latter would go the way of all flesh.

  • Obviously, we don’t agree. This is a pointed effort by extremist conservatives in the Church to find some excuse to make a moderate look bad. If Wuerl has to go, then so does every bishop who hid a case of sex abuse – including current bishops who have records of past abuse and continue to keep their records hidden. And, if Wuerl is accused of covering up the McCarrick case, then so did Vigano, Pope Benedict XVI, and every person at the Vatican involved in the secret sanctions, and every person within the hierarchy told about McCarrick. Wuerl is being scapegoated so that others equally guilty of the same thing can hide.

  • Yes, we don’t agree.

    What you and William D. Lindsey call “extremist conservatives” are – with some minor exceptions – orthodox Catholics.

    There is no requirement that every bishop who hid a case abuse, or keep their records secret, has to go. There is no method, means, or authority by which to make that occur.

    Since the folks at:

    https://www.ncronline.org/

    http://www.aggiornamento.net/

    and

    bilgrimage.blogspot.com

    for the most part and with few exceptions don’t actually attend, support, and otherwise interact with the Church (taking shots at it on one of the above websites or posting here doesn’t count), they’re not going to have much to say about what happens.

    And since you, I, and most of the folks you’re getting riled up about or support won’t be here within the next decade or so, the issues are moot anyway.

  • Wuerl is doomed because:

    – he is past his sell-by date. Wuerl will be 78 in November. He has, at most, a couple of years left in him. The Archdiocese of Washington, DC, needs a younger leader for the hard work ahead.

    – his clergy do not like or trust him. As the Cippola case in Pittsburgh illustrated, he thinks he IS Canon Law, and will throw any priest who stands up for himself under the bus.

    Unusually both liberal and conservative clergy dislike him.

    – he does not take orders. When the Motu Proprio of Benedict XVI Summorum Pontificum was issued in July 2007, in direct contravention of both the letter and the accompanying guidance, he erected a series of obstacles to its implementation. For example, he required that the celebrant be a virtual Latinist by requiring a rigid test – specifically proscribed by the guidance.

    Eleven years later, in an archdiocese with 139 parishes and over 630,000 Catholics, not one additional Latin Mass has been instituted.

    – he is a company man. Unfortunately that company is not the Catholic Church but the ring-knockers down at the USCCB.

  • Goshes! Here we go again.

    Sex abuse: A report on sexual abuse inside the Catholic Church in Germany says 3,677 people were abused by clergy between 1946 and 2014, two leading German media outlets said Wednesday. Spiegel Online and Die Zeit said the report they obtained — commissioned by the German Bishops Conference and researched by three universities — concludes that more than half of the victims were 13 or younger and most were boys. Every sixth case involved rape and at least 1,670 clergy were involved, both weeklies reported. Die Zeit wrote that 969 abuse victims were altar boys.

  • I don’t want any scapegoats, Wuerl or otherwise. We do need an independent investigation with transparent reporting of results. I think there are too many “unknowns”. This episode seems to be drawing liberal and reactionary Catholics together, no doubt for different reasons, in their quest to learn the facts. I don’t trust Vigano in light of what has been revealed so far about the guy. His motives are far from “clean”.

  • Let’s see … “most were boys”, priests are male … hmm.

    That sounds like predatory homosexuals.

    Are you sure you wanted to post this?

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