Cardinal Donald Wuerl (CS photo by Jaclyn Lippelmann)
Cardinal Donald Wuerl (CS photo by Jaclyn Lippelmann)

After recently meeting and praying with priests of the Archdiocese of Washington to discuss and discern his leadership, Cardinal Donald Wuerl in a letter to priests said he has concluded that the best way to serve the Church as it moves into the future is to meet soon with Pope Francis and discuss the resignation that he had submitted to the Holy Father three years ago when he turned 75. The cardinal said he would take that action “so that this archdiocesan Church we all love can move forward.”

Citing a need to “bring healing and a new beginning at the service of this Church” in the Archdiocese of Washington, Cardinal Wuerl in a letter sent to priests of the archdiocese on Sept. 11 said he plans to go to Rome soon to meet with Pope Francis about the resignation that he presented to the Holy Father after turning 75 nearly three years ago. As required by Church law, Cardinal Wuerl submitted his resignation letter to Pope Francis on Nov. 12, 2015, but the pope has not yet accepted it.

“It was clear that some decision, sooner rather than later, on my part is an essential aspect, so that this archdiocesan Church we all love can move forward,” the cardinal said in his letter.

Cardinal Wuerl said this action is a “fruit of our discernment” following the prayers and discussion that he held with priests of the archdiocese at a Labor Day gathering.

He noted that before that gathering, the Holy Father had asked him to meet with his priests “to discern the best course of action for me to pursue as we face new revelations of the extent of the horror of the clergy abuse of children and the failures in episcopal oversight.”

Cardinal Wuerl has been under heavy criticism following the release of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report in mid-August that detailed the sexual abuse suffered by more than 1,000 survivors by 300 priests over the past seven decades in six dioceses in that state, including in Pittsburgh, which was led by then-Bishop Wuerl from 1988 until he was named archbishop of Washington in 2006. After the grand jury report was issued, Cardinal Wuerl expressed sorrow for the suffering of abuse survivors, and he also defended his record in Pittsburgh, saying he reached out to survivors there, removed all priests credibly accused of abuse from parish ministry, and enacted strong child protection measures.

Since then, protesters had gathered outside St. Matthew’s Cathedral after the cardinal celebrated a recent Mass there, and a group of teachers demonstrated outside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception following the archdiocese’s opening school Mass, with some protesters calling for Cardinal Wuerl’s resignation.

In June, it was announced that former Washington Archbishop Theodore McCarrick had been credibly accused of abusing a minor nearly 50 years ago when he was a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, and that settlements had been made in the New Jersey dioceses of Newark and Metuchen where he had earlier served as a bishop, related to his alleged sexual misconduct with seminarians. Cardinal Wuerl has said that he was not aware of any earlier sanctions imposed on then-Cardinal McCarrick, whose resignation from the College of Cardinals was accepted by Pope Francis on July 28.

In his Sept. 11 letter to the archdiocese’s priests, Cardinal Wuerl said, “At issue is how to begin effectively to bring a new level of healing to survivors who have personally suffered so much and to the faithful entrusted to our care who have also been wounded by the shame of these terrible actions and have questions about their bishop’s ability to provide the necessary leadership.”

Cardinal Wuerl concluded his letter by noting that he intended to meet in the very near future with Pope Francis “about the resignation I presented nearly three years ago.” The cardinal added, “Our discernment here, I believe, has indicated the way forward to bring healing and a new beginning at the service of this Church.” 

Last week in another letter to priests, Cardinal Wuerl said that on a Sept. 14 Mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, he would initiate a six-week “Season of Healing” in the Archdiocese of Washington. In that letter, he encouraged parishes to unite in prayer in whatever way they found to be appropriate, and he said that resources would be provided to help bring healing to abuse survivors and to parishioners wounded by the Church’s sex abuse scandals.

“This is just a beginning,” he said in that earlier letter. “…The work of healing must and will continue. This special time is intended to call attention to our need to pray and to reach out to survivors throughout the year.”