Cardinal Wuerl distributes communion during the Oct. 12 Mass. (CS photo by Jaclyn Lippelmann)
Cardinal Wuerl distributes communion during the Oct. 12 Mass. (CS photo by Jaclyn Lippelmann)

Hours after his resignation as archbishop of Washington was accepted by Pope Francis, Cardinal Donald Wuerl celebrated an Oct. 12 Mass for archdiocesan employees, thanking them for their service to the Church and assuring them of his prayers.

“As my time comes to an end, I assure you I have more love for the Church and for all of you more than you will ever know… You will always have a place in my heart and in my prayers,” the retiring cardinal told about 90 employees who gathered for the emotional Mass in the St. Ursula Chapel at the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center in Hyattsville.

Cardinal Wuerl, who has served as archbishop of Washington since 2006, tendered his resignation to the pope in November 2015 after turning 75, in accordance with Church law. Pope Francis announced that Cardinal Wuerl will serve as apostolic administrator for the Archdiocese of Washington until the installation of a new archbishop, whom the pope has not yet appointed.

The cardinal said at the Mass for employees that he urged the pope to accept his resignation so that the Church in Washington could begin healing and move forward. He said he did so “totally, completely and entirely” for the good of the archdiocese.

Noting that in the letter from Pope Francis in which the resignation was accepted, the Holy Father stressed that the cardinal had “sufficient elements to ‘justify’ your actions” in addressing the abuse crisis, Cardinal Wuerl said he would not succumb to “the temptation to go over all the elements of the perfect storm.”

“God’s Gospel reminds us that a kingdom divided cannot stand, and a significant part of a bishop’s duty is to maintain the unity of the Church,” Cardinal Wuerl told archdiocesan employees. “When that can no longer happen, there is only one thing to do.”

In the past couple of months, Cardinal Wuerl has faced criticism, including protests and calls for his resignation, after the mid-August release of a Pennsylvania Grand Jury report describing clergy sexual abuse over the past seven decades in six dioceses in that state, including in Pittsburgh, which was led by then-Bishop Wuerl from 1988 until his appointment as archbishop of Washington. Earlier in the summer, came reports that then-Cardinal Theordore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, faced credible allegations of sexual abuse, including two that involved minors.

Concelebrants at the Oct. 12 Mass included Auxiliary Bishops Mario Dorsonville and Michael Fisher, Msgr. Charles Antonicelli, moderator of the Curia; and Msgr. Robert Panke, director of priest formation and rector of St. John Paul II Seminary.

Cardinal Wuerl told employees that “as I conclude my ministry as shepherd of the Church of Washington, with profound gratitude I look around at all you have done” to build the kingdom of God and that their “faith and commitment has been an enormous blessing for me.”

He told employees “do not look back” but with “love of Christ and commitment to the Church be one family gathered around a new shepherd.”

The cardinal added that as he was “closing this chapter in my life” he was doing so “with sorrow for my failings, with gratitude for your faith and with great love for all of you.”

As he ended his homily, Cardinal Wuerl asked those at the Mass “to please keep me in your prayers.” After the Mass, he personally greeted each of the nearly 90 employees who attended the liturgy.