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Pope Francis | Cardinal Wuerl

WASHINGTON, D.C., October 12, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – Pope Francis’ praise of Cardinal Wuerl for his “nobility” and “docility to the Spirit” in his letter accepting the Cardinal’s resignation signals that Francis is “not the Pope to clean out the stables” of the abuse crisis that is rocking the Church, a Catholic scholar said. 

Oxford University’s Dr. Joseph Shaw told LifeSiteNews that Pope Francis’s Oct. 12 letter accepting Cardinal Wuerl’s resignation “makes it very clear” that he doesn’t want to punish his subordinate. 

“In the Roman Curia and in many Bishops' Conferences there is a widespread attitude that bishops and senior officials should never be publicly disgraced: there should be no 'brutta figura' [loss of face],” Shaw explained. “Even when sacked for bad behaviour, they should be allowed to depart in a dignified manner.” 

“One would expect, then, a carefully-worded and diplomatic send-off from the Pope on such an occasion, but Pope Francis' letter goes far beyond this. It sounds like a letter written by a political leader forced to sack an underling very much against his will,” he continued.

It seems remarkable to Shaw that Pope Francis has failed to use this opportunity to distance himself from the “nightmarish, interconnected abuse allegations and convictions” rocking the Catholic Church in the USA. 

“He seems to be sending the signal that he is not the Pope to clean out the stables,” Shaw remarked.

Francis’s warm letter to a prelate implicated in cover-up of abuse of both minors and seminarians seems at odds with his 2014 pledge of “zero tolerance” for sexual predators. It also seems out of tune with his theory that the roots of the sex abuse crisis stem from “clericalism”.

In his letter to Wuerl, the Pope merely mentioned “some mistakes” the Cardinal had made regarding abusive priests, indicating that he did not believe the former archbishop had covered up or ignored abuse. 

“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,” Francis wrote. “However, your nobility has led you not to choose this way of defense. Of this, I am proud and thank you.”

However, Wuerl did indeed justify his actions as Bishop of Pittsburgh. After the Philadelphia Grand Jury Report was released, he published a website that defended his handling of clerical sexual abuse cases. Called “The Wuerl Record”,  it was removed after criticism.   

Wuerl’s resignation comes in the wake of a barrage of allegations that he mishandled and covered up instances of criminal sexual abuse by priests while he was bishop of Pittsburgh, from 1988-2006. In a sweeping grand jury report on criminal sexual abuse released on August 14, Wuerl was mentioned some 200 times.

The cardinal was also accused in August by a former apostolic nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Viganò, of lying “shamelessly” in stating that he did not know about now ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick's abuse of seminarians. 

Columnist Fr. Raymond de Souza suggested that Wuerl was brought down because his priests became tired of a “clerical culture of mendacity.”

Writing in the National Catholic Register, Fr. de Souza posited that Wuerl’s resignation has come about because his priests no longer believed him.  

“When Cardinal Wuerl traveled to Rome to meet with Pope Francis in August about this future, the Holy Father told him to return home and consult with his priests,” De Souza wrote. “The cardinal did so in early September and soon after announced that he would be asking Pope Francis to accept his resignation…” 

De Souza stated that what brought Wuerl down in the eyes of his priests was the McCarrick crisis:  

“Precisely, his repeated insistence that he did not know about Cardinal McCarrick until the Archdiocese of New York announced in June that an allegation of sexual abuse of minor had been ‘substantiated’,” the columnist wrote. 

“His priests did not believe him,” De Souza continued. “They thought that he was lying in public and lying to them. When Archbishop Carlo Viganò wrote that Cardinal Wuerl ‘lies shamelessly’ in his ‘testimony’ published in late August, it confirmed conclusions that many Washington priests had already arrived at.”

De Souza indicated that bishops often hide the truth from — or lie outright to — their priests and guessed that the priests of Washington had tired of this “culture of clerical mendacity”.

“A culture of clerical mendacity can take hold in which violations of the Eighth Commandment no longer have the power to shock and are treated as routine,” he wrote. 

“And when clerical culture accommodates itself to routine violations of the Eighth Commandment, matters violating the Seventh Commandment — embezzlement, fraud, theft — and the Sixth Commandment — failing in chastity of all kinds, including sexual abuse — are not far behind,” he continued. 

“It may be that the priests of Washington, after Pennsylvania, after McCarrick, were just tired of a culture that was less than forthright.”

De Souza hopes that Wuerl’s resignation will help cleanse clerical culture of “one of its most serious vices, the failure to tell the truth.”


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