Pope Francis

Pope accepts resignation of US archbishop criticised over handling of sex abuse cases

Cardinal Donald Wuerl has been accused of knowing about sexual misconduct by his predecessor, Theodore McCarrick

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 October, 2018, 7:23pm
UPDATED : Friday, 12 October, 2018, 10:56pm

Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Cardinal Donald Wuerl as archbishop of Washington, the Vatican said on Friday, making him one of the most senior Catholic figures to step down in a worldwide sexual abuse crisis.

Wuerl, 77, who was bishop of Pittsburgh between 1988 and 2006, has been under scrutiny over his handling of sexual abuse cases during that period. He keeps the title of cardinal.

In a letter by the pope released in Washington, Francis indicated that he accepted the resignation reluctantly and at Wuerl’s insistence. He asked Wuerl to stay on as administrator until another archbishop could be appointed.

“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 defence. Of this, I am proud and thank you,” the pope wrote.

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But victims advocacy groups were outraged.

“The pope’s letter to Cardinal Wuerl sends a clear message that for Pope Francis, Cardinal Wuerl is more important than the children he put in harm’s way,” said Terence McKiernan, president of “Until Pope Francis reverses this emphasis on coddling the hierarchy at the expense of children, the Catholic Church will never emerge from this crisis.”

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Wuerl has been under fire since the release in August of a US Grand Jury report on sexual abuse found evidence at least 1,000 people, mostly children, had been sexually abused by some 300 clergymen over the course of 70 years. The report covered six diocese in Pennsylvania, including Pittsburgh when it was led by Wuerl.

He has also been accused of knowing about sexual misconduct by his predecessor in Washington, ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

Wuerl has defended his overall record in Pittsburgh. He has also denied knowing McCarrick, once one of the US Church’s most prominent figures, forced adult male seminarians to have sex with him years ago.

In July, McCarrick became the first cardinal in about 100 years to be stripped of his red hat and title of “eminence”.

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Francis ordered McCarrick to retire to a life of prayer and penitence after American Church officials said as part of a separate investigation that allegations that McCarrick had sexually abused a 16-year-old boy almost 50 years ago were credible and substantiated.