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Pope Francis | Cardinal Wuerl

Washington, D.C., August 17, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – Cardinal Wuerl tendered his resignation over two years ago, but the Pope did not accept it at that time.

Donald Cardinal Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington, is now facing pressure to step down after allegations that he protected priests accused of sexually abusing minors. He has told national media that he will not resign. But Wuerl, who is 77, tendered his resignation on his 75th birthday, as all Catholic bishops are expected to do.  

A grand jury report released August 14 revealed Church officials in six Pennsylvania dioceses engaged in a decades-long “systematic” cover-up of priestly sex abuse. 301 priests were found to have abused more than 1,000 children.

Wuerl, who served as bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988 until 2006, is mentioned by name more than 200 times in the report. Wuerl is successor of now-disgraced ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

As bishop of Pittsburgh, Wuerl knew about predatory priests and shuffled them to different dioceses, putting more children at risk. While he wrote to the Vatican about the liability these priests posed to the Church, he kept their actions hidden from parishioners.

It is true that technically Wuerl could once again offer his resignation, but Pope Francis would have to accept it. No-one except Pope Francis can force Wuerl to resign–which means that the ball of Wuerl’s ecclesiastical career is in Pope Francis’ court.

Cardinal Wuerl needs to resign Sign the petition here.

Meanwhile, there are calls for Wuerl to step down, including in the Washington Post. In a column published yesterday, former presidential speechwriter Mark A. Theissen reported that the former Bishop of Pittsburgh did act against some abusive priests, but failed in other respects. 

“Wuerl, who served as the bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988 to 2006, did discipline some priests — and even went to the Vatican to fight an order that he reinstate one,” Theissen wrote. “But the grand jury also wrote that he reassigned other predator priests — including the one who “groomed” [a boy] and introduced him to the [pedophile] ring that photographed him. In at least one case, Wuerl required a victim to sign a “confidentiality agreement” barring him from discussing his abuse with any third party as part of a settlement. That is a coverup.”

Theissen noted also that while Wuerl was in charge, the diocese of Pittsburgh failed to report allegations of abuse to the police, advocated for a guilty priest at sentencing, and then gave the man $11,542.68 when he was released from prison. 

The columnist recalled Wuerl’s interview with Salt + Light’s Fr Rosica, in which Wuerl downplayed the scandal of disgraced ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick, stripped of his red hat after “credible allegations” came to light that he had abused an altar server. 

“After the McCarrick allegations, Wuerl declared, ‘I don’t think this is some massive, massive crisis,’” Theissen wrote. “Excuse me, Your Eminence? It is a massive, massive crisis. How was McCarrick allowed to rise through the hierarchy despite the countless warnings to both his fellow bishops and the Vatican that he was a sexual predator? Who knew? Who helped him?”

Theissen answered his own questions: 

“The same conspiracy of silence that allowed sexual predators to flourish in Wuerl’s Pittsburgh diocese for decades also allowed McCarrick to become, until just a few weeks ago, one of the most powerful American cardinals, even in retirement.”

The columnist recommended a thorough and independent investigation of the Catholic hierarchy, to uncover any overlooked abuse and to root out anyone who either was himself abusive or enabled it. Underscoring the catastrophic failures of the bishops, the columnist called for penance, accountability and, yes, Wuerl’s resignation.

 “This must be a time of repentance,” Theissen wrote. “Repentance requires accountability. And accountability requires resignations — starting with Wuerl’s.”

But there is only one way this can be assured, and canonist Ed Peters has explained why Wuerl is still, today, Archbishop of Washington, DC. 

“I guess the point needs to be made expressly,” Peters posted on Twitter today. “If Cdl. Wuerl is still the Archbishop of Washington it is because Pope Francis wants him to be the Archbishop of Washington. Wuerl’s resignation from that office was submitted more than two years ago.” 

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Dorothy Cummings McLean is a Canadian journalist, essayist, and novelist. She earned an M.A. in English Literature from the University of Toronto and an M.Div./S.T.B. from Toronto’s Regis College. She was a columnist for the Toronto Catholic Register for nine years and has contributed to Catholic World Report. Her first book, Seraphic Singles,  was published by Novalis (2010) in Canada, Liguori in the USA, and Homo Dei in Poland. Her second, Ceremony of Innocence, was published by Ignatius Press (2013). Dorothy lives near Edinburgh, Scotland with her husband.