Cardinal Wuerl acknowledges calls for leadership change
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the embattled archbishop of Washington, has acknowledged calls for new leadership in his archdiocese and says in a letter to local Catholic priests he plans to kick off a “season of healing” with a Mass on September 14.
Wuerl, who is facing increasing scrutiny both over what he may have known about abuse allegations against his predecessor, former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick in Washington, and how he handled abusive priests while he headed the Diocese of Pittsburgh, didn’t address calls for his resignation by Catholics in the letter.
Wuerl writes that he met with area priests at a cookout on Labor Day and discussed the sexual abuse scandal that has engulfed the church and his future.
Though Wuerl writes in Thursday’s correspondence that “Among the many observations was that the archdiocese would be well served by new leadership to help move beyond the current confusion, disappointment and disunity,” he does not say what his plans are other than the Mass next Friday.
Wuerl has “categorically denied” that any information about accusations against McCarrick was ever brought to him. He has also defended his overall record handling clerical abuse in Pittsburgh, even while acknowledging “errors in judgment.”
The archdiocese is also trying to plan a one-day retreat for sexual abuse survivors, he wrote. The retreat would include prayer and professional counseling.
Meeting with Pope
The letter comes after Wuerl’s recent trip to Vatican City to meet with the Pope about his situation, according to a source familiar with the archbishop’s presentation to local priests in Washington.
The source said Wuerl told the priests about the papal meeting, including Francis’ advice that the cardinal should consult with his priests as Wuerl discerns his future.
That was part of a larger conversation between the Pope and Wuerl, the source said.
Protests at Mass
On Sunday, as Wuerl addressed the sexual abuse scandal at a Washington church, one Catholic yelled “Shame on you!” while another turned her back on the cardinal in protest.
Wuerl addressed Washington’s Annunciation Catholic Church, where the cardinal was installing a new pastor. In a short speech after the Mass, Wuerl asked the 200 or so people in the congregation to forgive his “errors in judgment” and “inadequacies.”
Wuerl also urged the parish to pray for and remain loyal to Pope Francis, as “increasingly it is clear that he is the object of considerable animosity.”
One of the protesters said he was upset about Wuerl’s response to a damning grand jury report from Pennsylvania, which found that more than 300 Catholic priests had abused more than 1,000 children since 1947 in six dioceses, including Pittsburgh.
The grand jury report, along with a separate scandal involving McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, have rocked the Catholic Church in the United States and sparked a high-stakes power play at the Vatican, with some pushing for the Pope’s removal.