WASHINGTON — Cardinal Donald Wuerl says he is prepared to step down in the wake of an intense firestorm of criticism over his handling of sex abuse claims dating back decades.
“Those called to serve the Church in a leadership capacity must recognize that we are to lead not only by word, but also by personal action,” Wuerl wrote in the Sept. 13 letter posted on the Archdiocese of Washington’s website. “We must be prepared to do whatever is needed, including stepping aside. This action on my part is an essential aspect of the healing so that this archdiocesan Church we all love can move forward.”
In a letter to priests sent earlier this week, Wuerl said he planned to meet with Pope Francis “in the near future” to discuss his possible resignation. Wuerl, 77, submitted his resignation nearly three years ago when he turned 75, which is customary.
In the Sept. 13 letter, Wuerl also called for a special mass on Sept. 14 that would begin a six-week “season of healing.” The mass aims to “give voice to the pain and suffering of the survivors of clergy sexual abuse and failures in episcopal oversight, while also recognizing the pain and wound of the whole Church,” he wrote.
Wuerl has faced calls to resign, including from a local deacon at St. Matthew’s Cathedral and many other D.C.-area Catholics over his handling of sex abuse allegations by Catholic clergy in Pennsylvania when Wuerl was bishop there nearly 30 years ago.
“For my shortcomings of the past and of the present I take full responsibility and wish that I could wipe away all the pain, confusion and disillusionment that people feel, and I wish that I could redo some decisions I have made in my three decades as a bishop and each time get it right,” Wuerl said in the Sept. 13 letter.
In the letter, Wuerl said he’s asking himself what is the best way he can serve the church and said he has heard that the archdiocese of Washington “would be well served by new leadership to help move beyond the current confusion, disappointment and disunity.”