In a letter released on Friday, Pope Francis announced that he has accepted the resignation of Archbishop of Washington, D.C., Cardinal Donald Wuerl.
Wuerl is accused of allowing priests he knew were abusing children to go unpunished. Despite accepting the resignation, Francis also praised Wuerl’s “nobility” and said he was “proud” of him.
Why did Cardinal Wuerl resign?
An August report from a Pennsylvania grand jury, detailing accusations of sexual abuse against some Catholic church leaders, mentioned Wuerl’s name more than 200 times. While Wuerl was not accused of committing any abuse himself, he was accused of covering up evidence of abuse, authorizing settlements with victims in return for their silence, and moving accused priests to new parishes instead of punishing them.
Wuerl has insisted that he did nothing wrong, telling CNN’s Jake Tapper in September that he believed he had done “everything that I possibly could.”
What did the pope’s letter say?
Pope Francis’s letter was far from accusatory against Cardinal Wuerl. He wrote regarding Wuerl’s resignation:
I am aware that this request rests on two pillars that have marked and continue to mark your ministry: to seek in all things the greater glory of God and to procure the good of the people entrusted to your care.
He also seemed to defend Wuerl’s actions:
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. However, your nobility has led you not to choose this way of defense. Of this, I am proud and thank you.
In this way, you make clear the intent to put God’s Project first, before any kind of personal project, including what could be considered as good for the Church. Your renunciation is a sign of your availability and docility to the Spirit who continues to act in his Church
In response to the pope’s letter, Wuerl released a statement, saying, “The Holy Father’s decision to provide new leadership to the Archdiocese can allow all of the faithful clergy, religious and lay, to focus on healing and the future.”
According to the pope’s letter, Wuerl submitted his resignation on Sept. 21.
Wuerl, who is 77, may have resigned, but he won’t be disappearing from church leadership just yet. Pope Francis has asked that Wuerl remain in his role as archbishop of Washington until a successor can be named.
In contrast to the accusations made against him in the report from the Pennsylvania grand jury, Wuerl had been applauded in the past for publicly cracking down on members of the clergy who were accused of sexual abuse in the ’80s and ’90s. However, some of the accusations against him in the report are from this same time period.
Other Catholic Church leaders have stressed the importance of transparency and investigating accusations against sexual abuse in the church. Bishop Michael Olson of the Diocese of Fort Worth, Texas, has said in a letter to his diocese from July that he has “zero tolerance for sexual abuse” and that any victims should come forward “without fear of retribution, no matter the status of the perpetrator.”