WASHINGTON — Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Cardinal Donald Wuerl, amid scrutiny and criticism over Wuerl’s handling of sex abuse claims dating back decades, when he led Pittsburgh’s archdiocese.
Wuerl met with the pope at the Vatican two weeks ago, to discuss whether his resignation would be accepted. In continuing the custom for cardinals, Wuerl presented his resignation to the pontiff three years ago, when he turned 75.
Since August, Wuerl has faced calls to resign over his handling of sex abuse allegations by Catholic clergy in Pennsylvania when Wuerl was bishop there, nearly 30 years ago.
In a statement released by the Archdiocese of Washington, Wuerl repeated his hope that his resignation might promote healing:
Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has accepted the resignation I first offered on November 12, 2015, when I reached my 75th birthday. I am profoundly grateful for his devoted commitment to the wellbeing of the Archdiocese of Washington and also deeply touched by his gracious words of understanding.
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. It permits this local Church to move forward. Once again for any past errors in judgment, I apologize and ask for pardon. My resignation is one way to express my great and abiding love for you, the people of the Church of Washington.
In August, Wuerl told WTOP a Pennsylvania grand jury found more than 1,000 children were allegedly abused by Catholic priests.
In a 900-page report, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro detailed alleged abuse by 301 priests in six dioceses, including Pittsburgh, where Wuerl had served as bishop for 18 years.
Wuerl defended how abuse allegations were handled under his watch, but has acknowledged that “doesn’t take away the pain.”
In an extraordinary turn, Pope Francis sent a supportive letter to Wuerl, thanking him for offering to resign, rather than fight to clear his name.
You have sufficient elements to ‘justify’ your actions and distinguish between what it means to cover up crimes or not to deal with problems, and to commit some mistakes. However, your nobility has led you not to choose this way of defense. Of this, I am proud and thank you.
In this way, you make clear the intent to put God’s Project first, before any kind of personal project, including what could be considered as good for the Church.
In a statement, Kim Viti Fiorentino, chancellor and general counsel of the Archdiocese of Washington said Wuerl’s resignation showed his “abundant, sacrificial love for our archdiocese,” in doing what he could to help move past scandals including former archbishop Theodore McCarrick, and allegations from Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano that the pope covered up abuse by McCarrick.
“Unfortunately, the Cardinal’s pioneering leadership in the enhancement, implementation and enforcement of historically innovative and rigorous child protection policies were overshadowed by the report’s flaws and its interpretation by media.”
“As the Holy Father reflects in his letter, although he would have been justified to move forward with challenging many of the assertions that have been lodged against him, Cardinal Wuerl decided to forgo his personal interest out of love for the people entrusted to his care.”
Wuerl will not be doing interviews, said Ed McFadden, secretary of communications for the Archdiocese of Washington.
In a letter released Friday on the archdiocese’s website, Wuerl said in part, “I am sorry and ask for healing for all of those who were so deeply wounded at the hands of the Church’s ministers. I also beg forgiveness on behalf of Church leadership from the victims who were again wounded when they saw these priests and bishops both moved and promoted.”
He also apologized to Catholics “who have had to face the shame of these scandals and witness doubt and perplexity among your family and friends” and to priests “who have sought to live a joyful and faithful priestly life but now face the challenge of distrust.”
Wuerl has been the archbishop of Washington since 2006.