Featured Image
 Archdiocese of Boston / Flickr

WASHINGTON, D.C., January 16, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Embattled Washington D.C. Cardinal Donald Wuerl has penned another explanation — three days after his first — for the dubious accounts he’s given regarding his knowledge of sexual misconduct allegations against his predecessor Theodore McCarrick. He now claims to have had a “lapse of memory” regarding previous knowledge of McCarrick's abuse. 

“I had forgotten,” Wuerl told priests of the Washington archdiocese in a letter Tuesday about the charges of inappropriate conduct with a seminarian against McCarrick which Wuerl had been made aware of in 2004 when he was bishop of Pittsburgh.

“Nonetheless, it is important for me to accept personal responsibility and apologize for this lapse of memory,” Wuerl said. “There was never the intention to provide false information.”

Wuerl apologized Tuesday evening to former priest Robert Ciolek, and then sent the January 15 letter to his priests, the Washington Post reports. 

The cardinal, who was bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988 to 2006, has been besieged by criticism over his handling of some abuse cases in Pittsburgh and criticism over his denials of knowledge of McCarrick’s abuse. 

Ciolek went public last week with information he’d learned of in a Diocese of Pittsburgh file on his 2004 testimony before Pittsburgh’s diocesan review board that showed Wuerl had been made aware of the allegation against McCarrick. Wuerl had in fact forwarded the allegation to the papal nunciature in Washington, the Vatican’s representative office to the U.S.

The first McCarrick allegations that came to light in June were limited to an almost five-decades-old accusation of abuse of a minor when McCarrick was a priest in the Archdiocese of New York. The charges also brought about the revelations of three allegations of sexual misconduct with adults decades ago in the Diocese of Metuchen, where McCarrick was bishop from 1982 to 1986, and the Archdiocese of Newark, where he was archbishop from 1986 to 2000. Two of those allegations resulted in settlements.

Subsequently, two more allegations of abuse of a minor were revealed, along with McCarrick’s serial abuse of seminarians.

Journalists working to report on the abuse scandal have written that McCarrick’s abuse was a widely known secret in the Church and the media.

Wuerl has continually given the impression he lacked prior knowledge of McCarrick’s abuse since news broke June 20 of allegations against McCarrick sexually abusing a minor.

The following day Wuerl made a statement on the matter exclusive to his time in Washington, stating, “I can report that no claim – credible or otherwise – has been made against Cardinal McCarrick during his time here in Washington.”

A July 30 letter to Washington priests from the archdiocese’s vicar general likewise specifically stated that prior to the settlements being made public in June with the McCarrick allegations Wuerl knew nothing about payments made by two New Jersey dioceses in 2005 and 2007 to two men who’d been abused by McCarrick while they were in the seminary and after becoming priests. 

Further, in a July 31 interview, he told his diocesan newspaper the Catholic Standard regarding reports of the rumors of McCarrick’s abuse that surfaced in the month since the first allegation, “I have seen some of those now public reports. But in my years here in Washington and even before that, I had not heard them.” 

On August 14 Wuerl responded with a smile, “No, no,” to a CBS reporter’s question of “Where you aware of the rumor that McCarrick was having relations with other priests?”

Former Papal Nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò in his initial August 25, 2018 testimony had called Wuerl a liar for denying knowledge of McCarrick's abuse. 

“I myself brought up the subject with Cardinal Wuerl on several occasions, and I certainly didn’t need to go into detail because it was immediately clear to me that he was fully aware of it,” Viganò stated. “The Cardinal’s “recent statements that he knew nothing about it … are absolutely laughable. He lies shamelessly.”

Wuerl’s letter to his priests claiming he had forgotten that he'd been made aware of McCarrick’s abuse follows another January 12 letter to the priests of the archdiocese in which he asked for their understanding on the issue of his being made aware of McCarrick.

“Fourteen years later, when the allegation of sexual abuse of a minor was brought against Archbishop McCarrick, I stated publicly that I was never aware of any such allegation or rumors,” he wrote. “This assertion was in the context of the charges of sexual abuse of minors, which at the time was the focus of discussion and media attention.

“While one may interpret my statement in a different context,” Wuerl said, “the discussion around and adjudication of Archbishop McCarrick’s behavior concern his abuse of minors.”

Wuerl said in his latest letter he had apologized to Ciolek.

Ciolek had requested repeatedly to meet with Wuerl for several weeks before going public with the information in the Pittsburgh diocese’s file, but was rebuffed, The Post reports. His requests were denied after the archdiocese had attempted through its lawyer to put limits on their talk, including no “interviewing” of Wuerl, no recording and no note taking.

Ciolek told the news outlet Wednesday he’d been up much of the night thinking about the 45-minute phone conversation he finally had with Wuerl Tuesday. 

Ciolek said he wanted to take Wuerl's call because he was still “holding out hope” that Wuerl would admit to knowing about McCarrick and apologize, which would help him heal and restore some of Catholics’ distrust.

“In the end, it’s lacking in truth and substance,” he said. “I do not believe for one moment that he forgot. I do not.”

In the call, Wuerl had expressed what Ciolek termed sincere sorry and regret for the clergy who’d abused and harassed him. 

“But substantively it doesn’t all add up,” said Ciolek. “He’s shown himself to be better at expressing sorrow for actions of others. But he remains unable or unwilling to acknowledge the truth of his own actions.”

Pope Francis accepted McCarrick’s resignation from the College of Cardinal July 28 of last year. Since then, the disgraced former cardinal has been living in a Kansas friary located adjacent to elementary and high schools. 

McCarrick is undergoing an “administrative penal process” for multiple canonical charges of sexual misconduct and abuse involving both minors and adults, the charges including solicitation in the confessional. A decision from the administrative process is expected before Pope Francis’ abuse summit with episcopal leaders in Rome next month.

Francis accepted Wuerl’s resignation as Archbishop of Washington on October 12 of last year, but Wuerl remains apostolic administrator of the archdiocese until the pope names his successor.


Full Jan 15, 2019 letter from Cardinal Wuerl to his priests

Archdiocese of Washington

January 15, 2019

Dear Brother Priest,

By way of letters to you, I have tried to keep you informed of the issues involving Archbishop McCarrick and be transparent beginning with my statement that I was “shocked and saddened” when on June 20, 2018 the Archdiocese of New York made public that an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor had been made against then-Cardinal McCarrick and it had been investigated and found credible and substantiated by the New York Archdiocesan Review Board. Prior to this public release, no allegations of improper conduct by Archbishop McCarrick had been made to the Archdiocese of Washington.

When the allegation was made public, I responded to questions about whether I was aware of allegations or rumors of the sexual abuse of minors by Archbishop McCarrick. I indicated that I was not. In response to similar questions, I indicated that I was also unaware of rumors or allegations of Archbishop McCarrick’s improper and sexual activities with seminarians or priests.

However, and this I bring to your attention again, in 2004 in the course of an investigation into the allegation of sexual abuse involving a priest of the Diocese of Pittsburgh serving on the faculty of Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary in the Archdiocese of Baltimore and an adult seminarian over an extended period, I did receive a report from the Pittsburgh Diocesan Review Board with a detailed account of the abusive sexual activity involving the faculty member. At the conclusion of this report, the survivor also indicated that he had observed and experienced with the then-Bishop McCarrick what he described as “inappropriate conduct.”

In response to the allegation, the Pittsburgh priest was immediately removed from ministry and, at the same time, the entire report was provided to the Apostolic Nunciature. As I have indicated to you in the past, I believe that I had acted responsibly and hearing nothing more of the matter which at the request of the survivor involved was to be kept confidential, I did not avert to it again. Thus, 14 years later when I was asked if I had any previous knowledge of allegations against Archbishop McCarrick, I said I did not. Only afterwards was I reminded of the 14- year-old accusation of inappropriate conduct which, by that time, I had forgotten.

Nonetheless, it is important for me to accept personal responsibility and apologize for this lapse of memory. There was never the intention to provide false information. In fact, all those years ago the priest in question was immediately removed from ministry and the report was sent to the Nunciature.
Recently, I have also learned of the distress that this whole matter has caused the survivor who first brought to light the charge against the Pittsburgh priest faculty member.

I have apologized to this survivor for any of the pain and suffering he endured in that long abusive relationship with the priest and also for any pain or embarrassment he also endured over the years from the actions of then-Bishop McCarrick.

Mostly, however, I wanted to apologize for any additional grief my failure might have also brought to the survivor. My hope is that now that all of this matter is public and the Holy See is adjudicating the allegations against Archbishop McCarrick, my apologies might be of some help.

I have already spoken to the survivor involved expressing my apologies in the hope that in them he might find some comfort.

With every personal good wish, I am
Faithfully in Christ,
Donald Cardinal Wuerl