VATICAN CITY (KDKA/AP) — Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl after he became entangled in two major sexual abuse and cover-up scandals and lost the support of many in his flock.
Wuerl, who turns 78 in November, becomes the most prominent head to roll in the scandal roiling the Catholic Church after his predecessor as Washington archbishop, Theodore McCarrick, was forced to resign as cardinal over allegations he sexually abused at least two minors and adult seminarians.
A Vatican statement Friday said Francis had accepted Wuerl’s resignation, but named no immediate replacement. The decision came after months in which Wuerl initially downplayed the scandal, insisted on his own good record, but then progressively came to the conclusion that he could no longer lead the archdiocese.
Wuerl issued the following statement:
“Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has accepted the resignation first offered on November 12, 2015, when I reached my 75th birthday. I am profoundly grateful for his devoted commitment to the wellbeing of the Archdiocese of Washington and also deeply touched by his gracious words of understanding.
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. It permits this local Church to move forward. Once again for any past errors in judgment I apologize and ask for pardon. My resignation is one way to express my great and abiding love for you the people of the Church of Washington.”
Bishop David Zubik issued the following statement:
“Cardinal Wuerl, who served the people of Pittsburgh for 18 years as our bishop, requested that Pope Francis allow him to step-down as Archbishop of Washington for the healing of the victims of abuse and their families and for the good of the Church. For as long as I have known Cardinal Wuerl, he has advocated for those within the church and beyond who need the opportunity for a better life. I pray that the acceptance of his resignation today by Pope Francis will continue to bring about healing in the hearts and lives of victims of abuse and all those in the Church.”
Zubik also spoke out about Wuerl’s resignation on NewsRadio 1020 KDKA on Friday.
“I think he felt because of the lack of trust in him and for the good of the Church, that he asked the Holy Father to accept his resignation and the news today said the Pope has accepted his resignation,” Zubik said.
KDKA’s Brenda Waters Reports:
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A letter from Pope Francis to Cardinal Wuerl reads in part:
When the Vatican Press Office announced that Pope Francis had accepted the resignation of Cardinal Donald Wuerl, it ended weeks of speculation and garnered reaction from around the world, including right here in Pittsburgh.
“I was sad, I was sad and distressed,” Ursula McKenzie said.
“There is gonna be a lot better priests, there is gonna be a perfect priest now,” Frank DiNardo said.
Catholics coming out of Mass at Saint Paul Cathedral in Oakland on Friday had mixed emotions about the announcement.
George Liekauf said no one is happy, but it was time for a change.
“I personally think that it is long overdue that the Church needs to straighten itself out. Everyone is saddened, but it’s time to turn around, it’s serious stuff and it’s gotta change…a lot of leadership has to change,” he said.
Cardinal Wuerl, the former Bishop of Pittsburgh, spent 50 years climbing the ranks of the Catholic Church. However, after a 900-page report by a Pennsylvania grand jury and a top Vatican official accused him of covering up his disgraced predecessors, Cardinal Wuerl faced increasing pressure to step down.
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 more than 200 times.
His long time friend, Bishop Zubik, defended Cardinal Wuerl Friday by saying he was doing what they believed was best back then.
“In the 1990s, we relied heavily on treatment centers and on psychiatric and psychological evaluations that said this is a behavior that can, in fact, be cured. We find out that’s not the case,” Bishop Zubik said.
He is also facing calls to step down, but Bishop Zubik says he wants to stay on in Pittsburgh.
“I have to say, I have really prayed about my future. I want to say that I want to continue as bishop of Pittsburgh,” he said.
- CLICK HERE TO READ THE FULL REPORT AND LIST OF NAMES OF PREDATOR PRIESTS
- CLICK HERE TO READ THE FULL LIST OF NAMES RELEASED BY THE CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF PITTSBURGH
- CLICK HERE TO READ THE FULL LIST OF NAMES RELEASED BY THE CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF GREENSBURG
Shortly after becoming Bishop of Pittsburgh in 1988, he established the first independent review board to evaluate and recommend actions in cases of abuse, a model later adopted nationally.
In 1993, he defied the Vatican in refusing to reassign predator priest Anthony Cipolla, but the grand jury report also cites cases in which Wuerl acted slowly in removing priests from ministry.
Those priests include Father George Zirwas, who was later found to have run a pornography ring with convicted priests Richard Zula and Robert Wolk who photographed and shared pictures of naked boys.
The diocese became aware of complaints of sexual abuse against Zirwas before Wuerl became bishop, but the grand jury says despite additional allegations, Wuerl kept Zirwas in ministry until 1994. Zirwas moved to Miami and was later murdered in Cuba.
Despite the resignation, Cardinal Wuerl will still maintain power in the church. He’ll continue as a caretaker in the Archdiocese of Washington until they name a replacement.
And he’ll continue in a Vatican post where serves as an adviser to Pope Francis.
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