Donald Wuerl

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Donald William Wuerl
Archbishop Emeritus of Washington
Cardinal Donald William Wuerl in 2015.jpg
Wuerl in 2015
AppointedMay 16, 2006
InstalledJune 22, 2006
Term endedOctober 12, 2018
PredecessorTheodore McCarrick
SuccessorWilton Daniel Gregory
Other postsCardinal-Priest of San Pietro in Vincoli
Chancellor of the Catholic University of America
OrdinationDecember 17, 1966
by Francis Frederick Reh
ConsecrationJanuary 6, 1986
by John Paul II, Agostino Casaroli, and Bernardin Gantin
Created cardinalNovember 20, 2010
by Benedict XVI
Personal details
Birth nameDonald William Wuerl
Born (1940-11-12) November 12, 1940 (age 80)
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
DenominationRoman Catholic
Previous post
MottoThy kingdom come
Styles of
Donald William Wuerl
Coat of arms of Donald Wuerl.svg
Reference style
Spoken styleYour Eminence
Informal styleCardinal
Ordination history of
Donald Wuerl
Episcopal consecration
Consecrated byJohn Paul II
DateJanuary 6, 1986
Episcopal succession
Bishops consecrated by Donald Wuerl as principal consecrator
William J. WinterFebruary 13, 1989
Thomas Joseph TobinDecember 27, 1992
David ZubikApril 6, 1997
Paul J. BradleyFebruary 2, 2005
Herbert BevardSeptember 3, 2008
Barry Christopher KnestoutDecember 29, 2008
Mario E. DorsonvilleApril 20, 2015
Roy Edward CampbellApril 21, 2017

Donald William Wuerl (born November 12, 1940) is an American prelate of the Catholic Church, and was Archbishop of Washington, D.C., from 2006 to 2018. He was elevated by Pope John Paul II to serve as Auxiliary Bishop of Seattle (1986–1987), and Bishop of Pittsburgh (1988–2006). He was named Archbishop of Washington by Pope Benedict XVI and made a cardinal by him in 2010.

Wuerl was widely regarded as a theological moderate, and was well respected in the Church for his ability to forge consensus between different factions. However, accusations in 2018 that Wuerl had failed to adequately deal with allegations of sexual abuse damaged his reputation. He was the subject of a 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report that largely criticized how he handled sexual abuse cases during his time in Pittsburgh. Wuerl has denied mishandling the cases. On October 12, 2018, Pope Francis accepted his resignation as Archbishop of Washington. Wuerl remained in charge of the archdiocese as its apostolic administrator until Pope Francis appointed his successor, Wilton Daniel Gregory, in 2019. He remains a member of the College of Cardinals, and was eligible to vote in a papal election until November 2020.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Donald Wuerl was born on November 12, 1940, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was the second of four children of Francis and Mary Anna (née Schiffauer) Wuerl.[2] He has two brothers, Wayne and Dennis, and a sister, Carol. His father worked nights weighing freight cars for the Pennsylvania Railroad, and served in the navy during World War II.[3] His mother died in 1944 and his father married Kathryn Cavanaugh in 1946.[3] Wuerl expressed an interest in becoming a priest early in life. He even held pretend masses for his brothers and sisters at home.[4]

Wuerl received his early education at the parochial school of St. Mary of the Mount Church in the Mount Washington neighborhood of Pittsburgh, graduating in 1958.[5] He attended St. Gregory Seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio for his freshman and sophomore years of college from September 1958 thru May 1960. He then attended the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., where he was a Basselin Scholar at Theological College,[6] earning a bachelor's degree (1962) and master's degree (1963) in philosophy.[7]

He continued his studies at the Pontifical North American College in Rome.[2] He earned a master's degree in theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in 1967. After ordination, Wuerl was sent to Rome for further theological study. He is an alumnus of the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas Angelicum where he obtained a Doctor of Sacred Theology in 1974.[4]

While a student in Rome, Wuerl had the chance to observe the proceedings of the Second Vatican Council.[4]

Early career[edit]

He was ordained a priest on December 17, 1966.[8] His first assignment was as assistant pastor at St. Rosalia parish in Pittsburgh's Greenfield neighborhood and as secretary to Pittsburgh's Bishop John Wright. After Wright was elevated to cardinal in 1969, Wuerl was his full-time secretary in Vatican City from 1969 until Wright's death in 1979. Because Wright was recovering from surgery and confined to a wheelchair, Wuerl, as Wright's secretary, was one of three non-cardinals permitted inside the conclave that selected Karol Wojtyla as Pope John Paul II in 1978.[9][10][11] (Wright had missed the first of the two 1978 conclaves.)

In 1976, he, with Thomas Comerford Lawler and Ronald David Lawler, co-wrote a catechism for adults, The Teaching of Christ, which has since appeared in several editions and has been widely translated.[12]

Wuerl was rector at Saint Paul Seminary in Pittsburgh from 1981 to 1985. In 1982, he was made executive secretary to Bishop John Marshall of Burlington, Vermont, who was leading a Vatican-mandated study of US seminaries.[13][14]

Episcopal career[edit]

Auxiliary Bishop of Seattle[edit]

On December 3, 1985, Wuerl was appointed titular bishop of Rosemarkie and auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Seattle. Wuerl was consecrated bishop on January 6, 1986,[8] at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, Italy, by Pope John Paul II. Wuerl and Seattle Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen worked in adjoining offices without conflict for several months until, in May 1986, they found themselves with opposing positions on proposed state legislation to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in employment.[15] At that point Hunthausen learned for the first time that Wuerl had been charged with responsibility—"complete and final decision-making power"—for several key areas normally within the Archbishop's control: worship and liturgy; the archdiocesan tribunal that considers requests for marriage annulment; seminarians, priestly formation and laicized priests; moral issues; and issues of health care and ministry to homosexuals.[16] The division of authority only became public when Hunthausen announced it in September 1986.[17]

While some chancery officials expressed support for Wuerl, some questioned his role and saw little impact a year after his appointment.[15] In November, Hunthausen won support for his objections to the Vatican's restrictions on his authority from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.[18]

In February 1987, the Vatican announced that a commission of US bishops would investigate the situation in Seattle, and Wuerl met privately with Pope John Paul II and declined to comment, saying "I'm just going to wait and see what the commission does".[18] In May 1987, following a review by the commission headed by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, Pope John Paul II restored Hunthausen's full authority as bishop, and appointed Thomas Joseph Murphy as coadjutor to assist and succeed Hunthausen.[19]

Wuerl resigned as auxiliary bishop of Seattle on May 26, 1987. He later said the arrangement had been "unworkable". Following the restoration of Hunthausen's authority, Wuerl moved to a Pittsburgh suburb to await his next posting.[20]

Wuerl and Hunthausen eventually became friends. Wuerl said that Hunthausen taught him a great deal about the work of being a bishop.[21]

Bishop of Pittsburgh[edit]

Wuerl was appointed the eleventh bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh on February 12, 1988 and installed on March 25, 1988.[8]

One of the biggest problems facing the diocese was financial in nature and came from its school system. Many of the parishes were built when Catholic immigrants were swelling the population of Pittsburgh to work in the steel mills. During this era, parishes were established along ethnic lines so that parishioners could attend services in their native tongues and maintain their national traditions. This resulted in having as many as six-to-eight parishes within blocks of each other. After World War II, there was a major effort to build a school for every parish. These schools were usually staffed by nuns who were given nominal compensation. This system began to break down in the 1970s. First, the Baby Boom subsided, resulting in a reduction in student population. Second, Catholics became less likely to send their children to Catholic schools. Third, during this period there was a massive culture shift among nuns, partially in response to Vatican II, that resulted in many sisters choosing missions unrelated to education. They had to be replaced as teachers with lay staff paid market salaries.[22]

Bishop Wuerl asked his committee of lay advisors to address the debt and deficit spending associated with Catholic education in Pittsburgh. In 1988, that committee determined that 48 of the then 333 parishes owed a total of $5.6 million. A rescue plan was made public in February 1989, Bishop Wuerl announcing that $1.1 million owed to the diocese for insurance and the Parish Share Program would be forgiven. Indebted parishes would be given low-interest loans to refinance their other obligations. Despite the financial condition of the diocese, Bishop Wuerl decided to expand health services. Bishop Wuerl worked with hospitals and community groups to create a group home for people suffering from AIDS, this when AIDS was little understood and almost always fatal. In 2003, Bishop Wuerl conducted a successful $2.5 million fundraising campaign to create the Catholic Charities Free Health Care Center. The clinic primarily serves the uninsured working poor.[22]

In 1989, Wuerl merged Sacred Heart and St. Paul Cathedral High Schools to establish Oakland Catholic High School (all three female-only schools) in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh, using the buildings of St. Paul Cathedral High School.[23]

Wuerl launched and hosted a television program, The Teaching of Christ, in 1990 and wrote an adult catechism with the same name. He taught at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh as a distinguished service professor. Wuerl has served as a chaplain since 1999 for the Order of Malta, Federal Association USA, attached to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, commonly referred to as the Knights of Malta.[24] Wuerl has also written regular columns in Columbia, the major publication of the Knights of Columbus in the United States.[25]

Under Bishop Wuerl, the diocese had to reorganize itself in response to demographic changes, the decline of the steel industry, and the Church's weakened financial position. That process was officially completed in March 1994. Wuerl closed 73 church buildings, which included 37 churches, and reduced 331 parishes by 117 through merging. The diocese of Pittsburgh was operating 214 parishes when Bishop Wuerl left in June 2006 to take up a May 16 appointment as Archbishop of Washington.[26] Wuerl's plan, The Parish Reorganization and Revitalization Project,[27] is now used as a model for other dioceses seeking parish suppression.[citation needed]

President Bush and wife Laura with outgoing Archbishop McCarrick (left) and incoming Wuerl (right), welcome papal nuncio Pietro Sambi to the White House

The mansion that housed Wuerl for over two decades, as well as his four predecessors in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, was sold since the new bishop David Zubik decided to live at St. Paul's Seminary.[28][29]

Under Bishop Wuerl, the diocese began to emphasize placing women into positions of responsibility and authority. Rosemarie Cibik, a former superintendent of public instruction, became the first lay superintendent of Catholic schools in Pittsburgh. Rita Joyce, a canon and civil lawyer, became the first lay member of the diocesan marriage tribunal. Sister Margaret Hannan was appointed to the position of associate general secretary of the diocese. Later she rose to the position of chancellor, the highest canonical post that can be occupied by one who is not ordained.[22]

Archbishop of Washington[edit]

Pope Benedict XVI appointed Wuerl Archbishop of Washington on May 16, 2006.[30] He was installed on June 22 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception[31] and received the pallium from Pope Benedict XVI on June 29, 2006.

In April 2008 Wuerl, as Archbishop of Washington, hosted the apostolic visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the District of Columbia, which included a visit to the White House, the celebration of Vespers at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Mass at the new Nationals Park, and an address at the Catholic University of America.

Wuerl and President Obama welcome Pope Francis to United States, 2015

Wuerl was chairman of the board of directors of the National Catholic Educational Association from December 12, 2005,[32][33] and was also chancellor of The Catholic University of America. In September 2010, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith named Wuerl its delegate in the United States for facilitating the implementation of the apostolic constitution Anglicanorum coetibus issued by Pope Benedict XVI in November 2009 to provide for those Anglican faithful who desire to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church in a corporate manner.[34] He also heads the US bishops' ad hoc committee to support that implementation.[35]

Commitment to priestly formation[edit]

From 1994 until 2003, as Bishop of Pittsburgh, Wuerl served as a member of the board of governors of the Pontifical North American College in Rome (Chairman, 1998–1999), representing the Pennsylvania-New Jersey Region (Region III) of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. In 2008, as Archbishop of Washington he was again elected to the college's board of governors, this time representing the Washington DC-Delaware-Maryland-Virginia-West Virginia region of the conference (Region IV).


On November 20, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI elevated Wuerl to the College of Cardinals in a public consistory held at Saint Peter's Basilica in Vatican City.[36] He was created Cardinal-Priest of S. Pietro in Vincoli.[37]

Pope Benedict XVI appointed Wuerl to the following: member of the Congregation for the Clergy and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (December 2010);[citation needed] Relator-General (recording secretary) of the 2012 World Synod of Bishops meeting on the New Evangelization (October 24, 2011);[38] member of the Pontifical Council for Culture for a five-year renewable term (December 10, 2011);[39] member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (April 21, 2012);[40] and by Pope Francis, member of the influential Congregation for Bishops (December 16, 2013).[41]

In 2011, Wuerl faced widespread criticism for his role in the U.S. bishops' criticism of St. Joseph Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, one of the "most prominent and respected theologians" in the U.S.[42] In a July 2011 letter to theologian John Thiel, then the president of the Catholic Theological Society of America, Timothy Cardinal Dolan then president of the USCCB, explained that the bishops' administrative committee, made up of 36 bishops, mostly conference committee heads, had unanimously approved of the doctrine committee's statement regarding Johnson's book.[43] Wuerl stated that he had offered to meet Johnson but she did not respond to his invitations.[44]

Wuerl was one of the cardinal electors who participated in the 2013 papal conclave that elected Pope Francis.[45]

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops[edit]

Wuerl worked as a consensus builder in order to mediate ideological conflicts over issues such as liturgical translation and communion for pro-choice political leaders in the 1990s and 2000s. His consensus-building power was derived from the high level of trust he cultivated with his colleagues.[4][21]

Wuerl was essential to the passage of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People by the conference. The charter required that any clergyman who sexually abuses a child never again serve in ministry.[4]

Public positions[edit]

Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest and journalist, said in 2006 that "[Wuerl is] quite orthodox theologically, but he doesn't like to play cop; he's not an authoritarian person."[46] In 2018, Reese described him as an ideological moderate with regard to Catholic theological disputes, stating, "He's not an old leftie, he's not a right-wing culture warrior. ... He was totally enthusiastic about John Paul II, and then Pope Benedict, and now he's totally enthusiastic about Pope Francis. There are not many people in the church who are totally enthusiastic about all three of them."[47] Journalist John Allen, Jr. said that Wuerl "was able to forge behind-the-scenes consensus because he was trusted by virtually all parties as someone who wouldn't embarrass them in public, and because he was seen as at least somewhat sympathetic to their points of view."[21]

Religion and politics[edit]

In cases where politicians and officeholders take policy positions that are at odds with church doctrine, Wuerl said the decision to offer communion should be made case-by-case: "Our primary job is to teach and try to convince people. The tradition in our country has not been in the direction of refusing Communion, and I think it's served us well."[46]

In 2009, the Council of the District of Columbia passed a same-sex marriage bill. In November 2009, Wuerl signed an ecumenical statement, known as the Manhattan Declaration, calling on evangelicals, Catholics, and Orthodox not to comply with rules and laws permitting abortion, same-sex marriage, and other practices that go against their religious consciences.[48] The Catholic Church teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman and that the extension of the civil definition of marriage to same-sex couples undermines the common good of society as a whole.[49] In the debate on the D.C. same-sex marriage bill, the Archdiocese of Washington advocated for religious liberty provisions that would protect the church's ability to provide social services (e.g. adoption) in accordance with Catholic teaching on marriage.[50]

After The Washington Post characterized the archdiocese as giving an "ultimatum" to the city[51] and The New York Times called it a "threat",[52] Wuerl wrote a letter to the Post stating there was "no threat or ultimatum to end services, just a simple recognition that the new requirements by the city for religious organizations to recognize same-sex marriages in their policies could restrict our ability to provide the same level of services as we do now."[53] In December 2009, on the day of the bill's passage, Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a same-sex marriage advocacy organization, wrote that Wuerl had "refused to alter his official position" to reduce social services in the archdiocese.[54] On the same day the archdiocese, though expressing its view that the bill did not adequately protect religious liberty, nonetheless affirmed its commitment to serving the needs of the poor and its hope for "working in partnership with the District of Columbia consistent with the mission of the Catholic Church."[55]

In February 2010 shortly before the law took effect, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington ended its foster care and public adoption programs rather than comply with the law's requirement that it license same-sex couples for the program.[56][57] The agency also modified its employee health care benefits to avoid having to extend coverage to same-sex couples.[58]

Response to Dominus Iesus[edit]

In 2000, the Vatican issued a document entitled Dominus Iesus which stated that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation. Wuerl said it was aimed at some theologians in Asia who are addressing[clarification needed] Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism, and it defends the Catholic view of the necessity of proclaiming the Christian faith to them. The document acknowledges that there are elements in non-Christian scriptures "by which countless people throughout the centuries have been and still are able today to nourish and maintain their life-relationship with God."[59]

Response to Summorum pontificum[edit]

After Pope Benedict XVI issued the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum (2007) authorizing Latin Church priests to celebrate Mass using either the Roman Missal as revised in 1969 or the 1962 edition, Wuerl said that Pope Benedict was "trying to reach out pastorally to those who feel an attraction to this form of the liturgy, and he is asking the pastors to be aware of and support their interest". He added that about 500 people a week were attending celebrations of the Tridentine Mass at three places in his archdiocese.[60] He had a circular sent to his priests about a special committee that he would establish "to assist pastors in evaluating and responding to requests for the regular and public celebration" of the 1962 form of Mass.[citation needed] As of 2017, the Tridentine Mass was reported on the Archdiocesan website as celebrated weekly in three parishes, the same ones as in 2007.[61]

Support for Pope Francis[edit]

Wuerl has been an important and public supporter of Pope Francis within the American hierarchy. While many American Catholic leaders have criticized Francis, Wuerl has consistently defended him.[21]

Clerical sexual abuse[edit]

Wuerl was widely considered to be a bishop who was proactive in confronting sexual abuse.[62] Wuerl won plaudits and criticism for his efforts to remove sexually abusive clergy years before other church leaders made similar efforts.[4] After the release of a grand jury investigation report in August 2018, he received a great deal of criticism for how he had handled some abuse cases.[63][64]

1988 to 2018[edit]

In September 1988, when Wuerl was the Bishop of Pittsburgh, he accepted a dinner invitation from a family suing the diocese for sexual abuse by a priest. Although the diocese's lawyers had discouraged Wuerl from attending the dinner, Wuerl became convinced that sexual abuse was a problem in his diocese. Wuerl settled the lawsuit with the family, and the priest involved was laicized and eventually ended up in prison. Wuerl told his staff that in cases of alleged sexual abuse, the first concern should be for the victim, the second concern should be for the victim's family, and only third should clergy consider the reputation of the Church.[62]

In the years that followed, Wuerl investigated every priest in his diocese accused of sexual misconduct and removed several. On one occasion, Wuerl laicized a priest whom the Vatican initially had protected, Anthony Cipolla.[62] Cipolla was ordained in 1972. In 1978, he was charged with sexual abuse of a 9-year-old boy; these charges were dropped by the mother, who said she was pressured to do so by Bishop Vincent Leonard.[65] In 1988 new charges were brought by another man, who said that Cipolla abused him from around 1981 to 1986; this case was settled in 1993, over Cipolla's objections. Cipolla consistently said that he never abused anyone.[65]

In 1988, Bishop Wuerl banned Cipolla from ministry and from identifying himself as a priest; Cipolla appealed to the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican's highest court, which ordered Bishop Wuerl to return him to ministry.[65][66] Bishop Wuerl asked the court to reconsider the case on the grounds that its decision showed a lack of awareness of crucial facts such as a civil lawsuit and Cipolla's 1978 arrest for sexually abusing another boy. The court reversed its ruling in 1995 and upheld Cipolla's ban. Cipolla nonetheless continued to minister to the public forcing the diocese to make several public statements that Cipolla was not in good standing. In 2002, Cipolla was laicized by the pope.[65][67]

According to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article written in 2003, Wuerl had "a national reputation for zero tolerance of priests who molest minors" at the time.[62]

In 2010, Wuerl argued that the church had made progress in confronting abusers. He told Fox News Sunday that "we have succeeded in guaranteeing that if a priest is accused, and there is a credible allegation, he is simply removed from the ministry. That is reported to the authorities, and we begin to try to heal whatever was damaged in that abuse."[68]

2018 grand jury report[edit]

On August 14, 2018, a grand jury report released by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro alleged that the Catholic Church covered up sexual abuse cases.[69] The report criticized how Wuerl had handled some cases during his tenure in Pittsburgh.[70][71][72] Wuerl disputed the allegations, stating: "While I understand this report may be critical of some of my actions, I believe the report confirms that I acted with diligence, with concern for the victims and to prevent future acts of abuse."[73] Shapiro disagreed with Wuerl's conclusions, saying, "Cardinal Wuerl is not telling the truth. Many of his statements in response to the Grand Jury Report are directly contradicted by the Church's own documents and records from their Secret Archives. Offering misleading statements now only furthers the cover up."[74]

The report said Wuerl made contributions to fighting sex abuse. This includes his successful effort, against resistance within the Vatican, between 1988 and 1995 to remove Anthony Cipolla for sexual abuse.[47][75] However, Wuerl also allowed, based on the advice of multiple doctors, William O'Malley to return to active ministry in 1998, despite past allegations of abuse.[47] O'Malley had admitted that he was sexually interested in adolescents.[47] The report also stated that Wuerl had allowed Ernest Paone to be transferred to another diocese, despite a history of accusations of child abuse dating back to the early 1960s.[75][76]

George Zirwas had a long history of involvement in child sexual abuse, sometimes including sadism. He had also manufactured child pornography. Zirwas' actions were known in the Diocese of Pittsburgh as early as 1987, but he continued in ministry when Wuerl became bishop of Pittsburgh in 1988. In 1989, Wuerl authorized a $900,000 settlement, with confidentiality clauses, with two of Zirwas' victims, but Zirwas remained in ministry until at least 1991 despite further complaints. After another complaint was made, Wuerl removed Zirwas in 1996. Eventually Zirwas moved to Cuba, where he was murdered in 2001.[77][74]

Reactions to report[edit]

After the report was released, Wuerl launched a website, "The Wuerl Record," containing a defense of his actions during that era.[78] After an outcry on social media, the website was deleted and replaced with a redirect.[76] Wuerl insisted that in responding to sexual abuse claims, he had "acted with diligence, with concern for the victims and to prevent future acts of abuse."[75]

After the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report the Cardinal further faced "intense scrutiny" regarding his handling of sex abuse cases in the Diocese of Pittsburgh.[75] A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Washington said Wuerl "has no intention of resigning."[76]

On August 20, 2018, Ave Maria Press announced that the release of a book written by Wuerl titled What Do You Want to Know? A Pastor's Response to the Most Challenging Questions About the Catholic Faith had been "indefinitely postponed." It had been scheduled for release in October 2018.[79] On August 22, Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik approved decisions by the boards of Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School and Catholic High Schools of the Diocese of Pittsburgh to grant Wuerl's request to remove his name from Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School.[80][81] The school will revert to its previous name, North Catholic High School. The decision was made after thousands petitioned for the change.[80][81][82]

In response to the allegations against Wuerl, political commentator Hugh Hewitt demanded that Wuerl be dismissed as archbishop of Washington and resign from the College of Cardinals.[83] In a few days time over 60,000 people signed a petition to Pope Francis to remove Wuerl.[84] In what CNN called a "growing Catholic insurgency," Wuerl faced more calls for his resignation, including from a priest in his archdiocese and many laymen across ideological lines.[63][64]

At the end of August, Wuerl flew to Rome, where he met with Pope Francis. The pope instructed Wuerl to confer with the priests of the archdiocese regarding his next steps.[64] On September 3, Wuerl met with more than a hundred priests of the archdiocese. He told them he knew nothing about the allegations against McCarrick until they became public.[64] Many priests offered their views; some encouraged Wuerl to resign while others encouraged him to "stay and be part of the church's healing process."[64]

On September 8, Deacon James Garcia, the master of ceremonies at St. Matthew's Cathedral in Washington, informed Wuerl that he was refusing to serve Wuerl at Mass anymore, due to Wuerl's handling of sexual abuse cases, and asked him to resign.[85][86] Garcia also denied that this refusal to serve with Wuerl violated his vow of obedience to Wuerl as his bishop.[85]

Alleged sexual abuse by Theodore McCarrick[edit]

On August 25, 2018, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò released an 11-page letter describing a series of warnings to the Vatican on sexual misconduct by Theodore McCarrick, Wuerl's predecessor as Archbishop of Washington, and subsequent alleged coverup by the Vatican and senior Church officials, whom he claimed were aware of the allegations but refused to act.[87] Viganò stated that he had discussed McCarrick's conduct and the penalties surrounding it with Wuerl and accused him of putting seminarians at risk by allowing McCarrick to reside at the Redemptoris Mater Archdiocesan Seminary despite knowing that he was accused of abusing seminarians.[88]

Through a spokesman, Wuerl denied that he was aware of McCarrick's misconduct prior to his removal from ministry, which took place on June 20, 2018.[88][89] However, on January 10, 2019, The Washington Post published a story stating that Wuerl, despite his past denials, was aware of allegations against McCarrick in 2004 and reported them to the Vatican.[90] Robert Ciolek, a former priest who reached a settlement in 2005 after accusing several Church officials including McCarrick of sexual misconduct, told the Post that he recently learned that the Diocese of Pittsburgh has a file that shows that Wuerl, who was Bishop of Pittsburgh at the time, was aware of his allegations against McCarrick and shared the information with then-Vatican ambassador Gabriel Montalvo Higuera. Both the Diocese of Pittsburgh and the Archdiocese of Washington acknowledged that Wuerl knew about and had reported Ciolek's allegation to the Vatican. The Archdiocese of Washington said that Wuerl did not intend to be "imprecise" in his earlier denials, and that they referred only to claims of abuse against minors, not adults.[90] Days later, Wuerl himself apologized, stating that his earlier denials were the result of a "lapse of memory." Ciolek refused to believe that Wuerl forgot and did not accept his apology.[91]

On May 28, 2019, correspondence from McCarrick written in 2008 was obtained by Crux. In it, McCarrick refers to travel restrictions which were placed on him by Benedict XVI that same year after allegations of sexual misconduct. However, McCarrick gradually began to resume travelling. In a 2008 letter to Pietro Sambi, apostolic nuncio to the U.S., McCarrick wrote he had shared a Vatican letter explaining the restrictions with Wuerl, saying that his "help and understanding is, as always, a great help and fraternal support to me." However, a spokesperson for Wuerl denied that he had any knowledge of the sanctions.[92]

Pittsburgh-area Lawsuits[edit]

On August 7, 2020, it was revealed that Wuerl was named as a defendant in a new sex abuse lawsuit which was filed in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court.[93] The lawsuit claims that despite Wuerl's promise in 1994 that Rev. Leo Burchianti- who was accused of sexually abusing at least eight boys- would not receive a new church assignment, Wuerl and then-Father David Zubik gave him a voluntary work assignment at St. John Vianney Manor, a home for retired priests.[93] Burchianti remained there from 1995 to 2012 and died in 2013.[93] Wuerl has also been named as a defendant in other sex abuse lawsuits involving the Diocese of Pittsburgh as well.[94][95]

Resignation as Archbishop of Washington[edit]

On October 12, 2018, Pope Francis accepted Wuerl's resignation. Wuerl had previously submitted a letter of resignation in 2015, as is standard practice for any bishop who turns 75.[96][97]

Wuerl planned to resign in September and meet with Pope Francis before doing so. This did not happen and the Pope accepted his resignation via a letter. The letter said that Wuerl had sent a new letter to the Pope requesting that he accept his resignation on September 21.[98] Francis appointed him to serve as apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., until his successor was appointed.[99] Wuerl departed as apostolic administrator when Wilton Gregory was installed as Archbishop on May 21, 2019.[100][101][102][103]

Pope Francis praised Wuerl as a "model bishop" and his reply to the resignation offered this comment: "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."[104] A New York Times editorial criticized Pope Francis for the way he characterized Wuerl's resignation and handling of abuse cases.[105] Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro criticized the Pope's decision to allow Wuerl to resign without facing stronger consequences.[106]

On October 12, Wuerl wrote to members of the archdiocese and said, "I am sorry and ask for healing for all of those who were so deeply wounded at the hands of the Church's ministers. I also beg forgiveness on behalf of Church leadership from the victims who were again wounded when they saw these priests and bishops both moved and promoted."[104]

Selected writings[edit]

  • The Forty Martyrs: New Saints of England and Wales (Huntington: Our Sunday Visitor, 1971)
  • Fathers of the Church (Huntington: Our Sunday Visitor, 1975)
  • The Catholic Priesthood Today (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1976)
  • The Teaching of Christ: A Catholic Catechism for Adults (Huntington: Our Sunday Visitor, 1976), co-author
  • A Visit to the Vatican: For Young People (Boston: St. Paul Editions, 1981)
  • The Gift of Faith: A Question and Answer Version of The Teaching of Christ (Huntington: Our Sunday Visitor, 2001)
  • The Catholic Way: Faith for Living Today (New York: Doubleday, 2001)
  • The Sacraments: A Continuing Encounter with Christ (Our Sunday Visitor, 2010)
  • The Mass: The Glory, The Mystery, The Tradition (New York: Doubleday, 2011)
  • The Gift of Blessed John Paul II (Frederick, MD: The Word Among Us Press, 2011)
  • Seek First the Kingdom: Challenging the Culture by Living Our Faith (Huntington: Our Sunday Visitor, 2011)
  • Faith That Transforms Us: Reflections on the Creed (Frederick, MD: The Word Among Us Press, 2013)
  • New Evangelization: Passing on the Catholic Faith Today (Our Sunday Visitor, 2013)
  • The Church: Unlocking the Secrets to the Places Catholics Call Home (Image, 2013)
  • The Light is On For You: The Life-Changing Power of Confession (Frederick, MD: The Word Among Us Press, 2014)
  • The Feasts: How the Church Year Forms Us as Catholics (Image: 2014)
  • Open to the Holy Spirit: Living the Gospel with Wisdom (Our Sunday Visitor, 2014)
  • The Marriage God Wants For You (Frederick, MD: The Word Among Us Press, 2015)
  • To the Martyrs: A Reflection on the Supreme Christian Witness (Emmaus Road Publishing, 2015)
  • Ways to Pray: Growing Closer to God (Our Sunday Visitor, 2015)

Pastoral letters as Archbishop of Washington[edit]

See also[edit]


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  6. ^ "News & Events". The Catholic University of America. Archived from the original on August 30, 2011. Retrieved July 31, 2011.
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  13. ^ McCoy, John A. (2015). A Clear and Quiet Conscience: The Archbishop Who Challenged a Pope, a President, and a Church. Orbis Books. ISBN 9781608335459.
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  52. ^ Urbina, Ian (November 12, 2009). "New Turn in Debate over Law on Marriage". The New York Times. Retrieved August 25, 2016.
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Further reading[edit]

  • Glenn, Francis A. (1993). Shepherds of the Faith, 1843–1993: A Brief History of the Bishops of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh.

External links[edit]

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Anthony Bevilacqua
Bishop of Pittsburgh
Succeeded by
David Zubik
Preceded by
Theodore McCarrick
Archbishop of Washington
Succeeded by
Wilton Daniel Gregory
Preceded by
Pio Laghi
Cardinal-Priest of San Pietro in Vincoli