Pope Francis Accepts Cardinal Wuerl's Resignation

Larry Hoffman
October 14, 2018

Francis' praise for Wuerl alarmed advocates for abuse survivors, who said it was evidence of the clerical culture Francis himself denounces in which the church hierarchy consistently protects its own.

Wuerl said Friday that he was deeply touched by the pope's "gracious words of understanding" in Friday's letter, and he asked for forgiveness for "past errors".

Last month, Wuerl announced his upcoming retirement, saying he meant to travel to Rome to discuss with Pope Francis his departure from the Washington Archdiocese. He removed some accused priests from ministry, and lobbied for some of the changes the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted in 2002. Three years ago, Wuerl submitted his formal resignation when he turned 75, which is customary.

Francis ordered McCarrick to retire to a life of prayer and penitence after American Church officials said as part of a separate investigation that allegations that McCarrick had sexually abused a 16-year-old boy nearly 50 years ago were credible and substantiated. But Francis kept him on, as popes tend to do with able-bodied bishops who share their pastoral priorities.

Wuerl's tumble was far less dramatic than another episode in June, when Pope Francis ordered retired Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Wuerl's predecessor, to cease all public activities following allegations he abused a teenager more than 45 years ago while working in New Jersey as a priest.

On this day of the announcement that the Holy Father has accepted Cardinal Wuerl's resignation and appointed him as Apostolic Administrator, I convey my prayerful support to His Eminence and to all the clergy, consecrated religious and lay faithful in the Archdiocese of Washington.

"I think it's fair to say that the Catholic Church, in the U.S.at least, is in a crisis that it's not seen for a long time", Hornbeck said.

Wuerl was born in Pittsburgh, attended Catholic University and received a doctorate in theology from the University of Saint Thomas in Rome.

"It was clear that some decision, sooner rather than later, on my part is an essential aspect so that this archdiocesan Church we all love can move forward", wrote Wuerl in a September 11 letter to priests in the diocese.

In the report, Mr. Wuerl, who was Bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988 to 2006, is repeatedly cited as one of the church leaders who helped to cover up the scandal. For his part, Bishop Wuerl was sent back to his native Pittsburgh, where he was installed as the diocesan bishop in March 1988. Pope Francis has asked that Wuerl remain in his role as archbishop of Washington until a successor can be named. Wuerl at times acted with authority to deal with abusive priests (more on this below), but in several cases allowed such priests to escape scrutiny and in a few to continue as priests in good standing elsewhere - and to continue abusing others.

"I think he's been a very good bishop for the Archdiocese of Washington", said Patricia McGuire, president of Trinity Washington University, in an August 21 interview with NPR member station WAMU.

"Cardinal Wuerl did many good things over the years". In the immediate aftermath of the report's release, the archdiocese published a website attempting to defend Wuerl's record, a move that brought widespread condemnation.

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