POPE Francis has accepted on Friday the resignation of Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington, who had mismanaged cases of sexual misconduct by Catholic priests.
Wuerl resignation came after a damning grand jury report in August that detailed many acts of sexual abuse carried out by priests which were covered up by the Catholic church leaders.
The report included accounts of Cardinal Wuerl’s poor handling of accusations against priests when he was the bishop of Pittsburgh. His name was mentioned in the report 206 times.
The report said Wuerl had relied on the advice of psychologists to permit priests accused of sexually abusing children to remain in the ministry.
His role in the sex scandal compounded when a former top Vatican official wrote a letter to Wuerl accusing him of covering up Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, his predecessor, sexual misconduct. McCarrick recently stepped down from the College of Cardinals over accusations that he had molested an altar boy decades ago and coerced seminary students to share his bed.
Cardinal Wuerl had previously offered his resignation at age 75, as it is customary in the church, but he was allowed to stay on in Washington, where he had served since 2006. Pope Francis accepted his resignation on Friday, after being a subject of criticisms in the last months.
In a letter to Wuerl obtained by the Catholic News Agency (CNA) on Friday, Pope Francis told the cardinal: “Your renunciation is a sign of your availability and docility to the Spirit who continues to act in his Church. Your nobility has led you not to choose this way of defence. Of this, I am proud and thank you.”
The pope announced that the 77-year-old Wuerl would stay on as the Archdiocese’s caretaker until the appointment of his successor.
“In accepting your resignation, I ask you to remain as Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese until the appointment of your successor,” Francis said.
As an apostolic administrator, Wuerl will continue to lead the day-to-day activities of the Archdiocese, but will not be permitted to make any major changes.
But if a successor is not appointed and installed before November 13, Wuerl will attend the bishops’ conference annual meeting as the representative of the Archdiocese of Washington.
Cardinal Wuerl said in an interview with The Times that he would miss his role in planning the future of the Archdiocese and that in his new role as administrator, “You just keep everything in place.”
“If I can take the focus off of myself, my mistakes, and focus, and help us focus on survivors, healing, the future, then that’s why I’m doing this,” he said of his resignation. “One of the needed things today is transparency and accountability. We have to get that into the regular way in which the church does business, does ministry.”
Cardinal Wuerl called the Pope’s letter a “very, very beautiful” recognition of his effort to put his flock before himself, but added that the Pope, in choosing his replacement, would select a bishop who began serving after the American church adopted new guidelines in 2002 to prevent and punish abuse.
He said he was stepping aside to allow for new leadership that does not have sex scandal baggage.