Cardinal Wuerl speaks out on Pope Francis and his discontents

The weekly blog “Seek First the Kingdom,” by Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., last week had a superb post on dissent, “The Pope, Touchstone of Faith and Unity.”

Cardinal Wuerl cited criticism of Pope Francis by bishops, something which seems unseemly at best and disloyal for sure. Such criticism among the hierarchy is permissible, of course. Pope Francis does not seek to silence people. But if your job description includes fostering unity with the pope, as a bishop’s does, the criticism of the pope that we have been hearing seems indiscreet. 

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Cardinal Wuerl mentioned there has always been criticism of popes. He mentioned those who criticized Pope Paul VI because he did away with the cappa magna, a now laughable renaissance-style long red cape; critics who didn’t like Pope St. John XXIII’s blockbuster encyclical Pacem in terris; and Pope John Paul I, who critics said smiled too much, something they suggested lacked the gravitas befitting the papacy. Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI were criticized over doctrinal disagreements. Basically, Cardinal Wuerl noted, criticism of popes comes with the territory and he is sure Pope Francis is up to the challenge.

All of which is fine if it didn’t make church leaders seem adolescent. Cardinal Wuerl said “the common thread that runs through all of these dissenters” is that “they disagree with the Pope because he does not agree with them and therefore follow their position.”

It is a curious view of leadership, to say the least, for bishops who do not like what Pope Francis has said to head off to reporters who share a common political ilk to complain.  

Thankfully, Cardinal Wuerl spoke out. Bishops have to be the ones who criticize bishops to garner any attention in the upper echelons. We need their gravitas to address any bishop taking on the pope, the source of unity in our church.

Others might complain of the stupidity of criticizing the church leader who is reaching the public as no one in recent years has done. Still others also can recognize the importance of defending a leader of what can seem like a hidebound institution that needs change to keep the institution vibrant and ready for years to come. Still others can appreciate the paternal, pastoral leader needed by billions of people and the need to support him.

However, it is the bishops themselves who must speak out when dissent comes from within the highest level of the church. This is worthy of their calling to leadership as bishops. Bravo, Cardinal Wuerl.

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Robert Killoren
2 years 9 months ago
I loved it today when I read that Pope Francis listened to legitimate criticism from some Cardinals and responded positively and clarified his position on the wonder and mystery of the Liturgy of the Eucharist. This demonstrated his real strength of character. I believe it is the criticism of ideologues that Cardinal Wuerl is talking about -- that is dangerous and can be damaging to the church. In some of those cases disciplining the offenders is actually called for, but that should be done privately. I second it: bravo Cardinal Wuerl.
2 years 9 months ago
My 78 years have shown me that clearly there are a lot of people in this world who exist to criticize, obstruct and generally enjoy the sound of their own voices. Not worth paying attention to such opinions.
Antonio Fernandez
2 years 9 months ago
Unfortunately, even here in the USA, some bishops are blocking Pope Francis messages and requests, either by silencing or plainly ignoring them. Examples of my concerns is how few of our Bishops ignored the requests made by Pope Francis for the questionnaires of both the past Extraordinary and the forthcoming General Synods on the Family reached as many faithful as possible, they have been constrained in the best of the cases, to limited trusted groups or just ignored at all. They had failed to support the Pope requests for special days of prayers for both meetings. It's not only a disrespect to the Holy Father, but also is sign of their apparent desire to main the laity uninvolved. I really pray that I would be just dead wrong in my assessment of the possition that few of our Leaders are taken toward the Pope and his messages.
G Feld
2 years 9 months ago
Antonio - perhaps you should further explore arch/diocesan websites regarding input for the synod. Our archdiocese has information about it on their Home Page. I'm sure they're not alone: http://www.archspm.org/offices/marriage-family-life
Sandi Sinor
2 years 9 months ago
I cannot find anything about it on the website of the Archdiocese of Washington DC - Cardinal Wuerl did not actively promote it last year, and it seems he is not this year either. Some parishes provided the questions to the whole parish, some provided a few, and some never mentioned it at all. Apparently the Cardinal informed the pastors, but it was up to them to decide whether of not to consult the faithful. Most did not.
Andrew Boyle
2 years 9 months ago
How exactly did the Holy Spirit guide the college of cardinals to choose Benedict over Francis when Pope John Paul II passed away?
Nora Brennan
2 years 9 months ago
Jesus has dissenters, too!
J Cabaniss
2 years 9 months ago
Cardinal Wuerl found specific instances of "dissent" for most of Pope Francis' recent predecessors, but was apparently unable or unwilling to cite a specific instance of such opposition in regard to Francis himself. I consider it a bit disingenuous to imply things one is not willing to come out and say and am less than impressed with Wuerl's comments. I found his assertion that "they disagree with the Pope because he does not agree with them" especially distasteful. It is comments like that that remove even the possibility of civil debate because it justifies attacks on the people who make the arguments and encourages the belief that the arguments themselves don't need to be addressed. Is this what you consider "gravitas"? I consider it the approach of those who are unsure how to defend the position they have taken and so demean their opponents in lieu of debating the issues.
Bruce Snowden
2 years 9 months ago
I am concerned that the lay/ecclesial discontents, confrontational to how the Holy Spirit is leading the Church under the guidance of Pope Francis, will, if successful, witness a new exodus as never before, of Catholics to Protestantism and elsewhere. Catholic parishes will cease to exist as revenues dwindle, Catholic clergy and even the respected voice of the Pope will be ignored and eventually radical terrorism smelling a mortally weakened Church will invade and flagellate the Vatican. Very extreme? Yes! Thank God probably it won’t happen because the Holy Spirit will not allow a few frilly prelates who like long robes and first places in synagogues as Jesus might say, along and some laity, brittle and starched in Constantinian pomposity and rigorisms to prevail. At lease this is how I see it.
Martin Eble
2 years 9 months ago
Bishop Donald Wuerl of Pittsburgh became Archbishop of Washington in 2006. On Saturday 7 July, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI issued an Apostolic Letter on the celebration of the Roman Rite according to the Missal of 1962, "Summorum Pontificum", a Motu Proprio which permitted any parish priest to use the Missal of 1962 in Latin. In the seven plus years since in the Archdiocese of Washington, an area of 2,104 square miles, with 592,769 Catholics in 140 parishes, not ONE permission has been given for an additional celebration pursuant to Summorum Pontificum. So when Cardinal Wuerl wrote "They disagree with the Pope because he does not agree with them and therefore follow their position.", he included himself in his own definition.
Sandi Sinor
2 years 9 months ago
You are misinformed. The following information is from the website of the Archdiocese of Washington DC. There are several parishes that offer the mass in Latin, both the Novus Ordo and the Tridentine. The Novus Ordo in Latin is offered every week at the Cardinal's own Cathedral parish (St. Matthew's - every Sunday at 10:00 am.) Latin – Novus Ordo Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle Washington, DC St. Mary of the Mills Laurel, MD Latin – Tridentine Mass (according to the 1962 Roman Missal) Our Lady Queen of Poland and St. Maximillian Kolbe Silver Spring, MD St. Francis de Sales Benedict, MD St. Mary, Mother of God Washington, DC
Martin Eble
2 years 9 months ago
It is you who are misinformed. All of these Masses were in place PRIOR to Archbishop Wuerl's arrival and the issuance of the Motu Proprio "Summorum Pontificum". The Motu Proprio does NOT involve the current Missal in Latin, so your first two examples are also irrelevant.
Anne Chapman
2 years 9 months ago
He hasn't undone anything done by his predecessors, has he? The Latin mass is available. So what is your real complaint?
Martin Eble
2 years 9 months ago
There are two complaints - The first is that the Motu Proprio "Summorum Pontificum" ordered the removal of many barriers to the use of the 1962 Missal by parish priests to increase its availability in the Church. Archbishop Wuerl disregarded it and erected additional barriers to the use of the 1962 Missal, rendering "Summorum Pontificum" in the archdiocese of Washington, DC, a dead letter. That's dissent as Archbishop Wuerl defined it. The second is that commentators are making it clear they are completely unfamiliar with the Motu Proprio "Summorum Pontificum" in commments such as "... hasn't undone anything done by his predecessors, has he?" The Motu Proprio did not order the bishops to refrain from undoing anything done by their predecessors, it ordered a relaxation of impediments to the use of the 1962 Missal, and made clear it could licitly be used by any parish priest without the bishop's permission. Archbishop Wuerl then instituted new requirements, including a need for archdiocesan permission which he has not granted once. That is contrary to the Holy Father's explicit instructions.
Sandi Sinor
2 years 9 months ago
I read the Motu Proprio and Benedict's letter. I see nothing that "orders" the removal of barricades nor do I see anything that infringies on the authority of the bishop. The documents seem to encourage a more widespread use of the old liturgy, apparently in the hope that this would somehow increase 'unity" in the church (Benedict hoped to bring Pius X back through this, apparently. It didn't work). Obviously the liturgy wars have only gotten worse since 2007 instead of better. This paragraph from the letter indicates that Cdl Wuerl has not done anything "wrong". The language used in the Motu and the language used in the Letter to the Bishops seem somewhat vague and set up the possibility for a seeming contradiction, except that the language in the letter does seem to come down on the side of the bishop having the last word. I very much wish to stress that these new norms do not in any way lessen your own authority and responsibility, either for the liturgy or for the pastoral care of your faithful. Each Bishop, in fact, is the moderator of the liturgy in his own Diocese (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, 22: "Sacrae Liturgiae moderatio ab Ecclesiae auctoritate unice pendet quae quidem est apud Apostolicam Sedem et, ad normam iuris, apud Episcopum"). This implies that the bishops still hold the authority to act as they wish in approving or not approving requests for this liturgy. Even if if your interpretation was true (and it does not seem to be), it is very different for a bishop/cardinal to act quietly against something a pope has said or done, than to publicly criticize the pope to the international media, sometimes in extreme terms.
Martin Eble
2 years 9 months ago
I was unaware that the authority and responsibility of the bishop as moderator of the liturgy in his own Diocese included voiding a Motu Proprio of the Holy Father by regulation and practice. These excerpts from the official English translation make it clear that your "interpretation" defies the plain words of the Motu Proprio, logic, and commonsense. It is, however, nearly verbatim the "official line" of the Archdiocese of Washington, DC. "Art. 2. In Masses celebrated without a congregation, any Catholic priest of the Latin rite, whether secular or regular, may use either the Roman Missal published in 1962 by Blessed Pope John XXIII or the Roman Missal promulgated in 1970 by Pope Paul VI, and may do so on any day, with the exception of the Easter Triduum. For such a celebration with either Missal, the priest needs no permission from the Apostolic See or from his own Ordinary. Art. 4. The celebrations of Holy Mass mentioned above in Art. 2 may be attended also by members of the lay faithful who spontaneously request to do so, with respect for the requirements of law. Art. 5, §1 In parishes where a group of the faithful attached to the previous liturgical tradition stably exists, the parish priest should willingly accede to their requests to celebrate Holy Mass according to the rite of the 1962 Roman Missal. He should ensure that the good of these members of the faithful is harmonized with the ordinary pastoral care of the parish, under the governance of the bishop in accordance with Canon 392, avoiding discord and favouring the unity of the whole Church. Art. 7. If a group of the lay faithful, as mentioned in Art. 5, §1, has not been granted its requests by the parish priest, it should inform the diocesan bishop. The bishop is earnestly requested to satisfy their desire. If he does not wish to provide for such celebration, the matter should be referred to the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei. We order that all that we have decreed in this Apostolic Letter given Motu Proprio take effect and be observed from the fourteenth day of September, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, in the present year, all things to the contrary notwithstanding." "To the contrary notwithstanding" means "any prior law and regulations standing in the way of implementing this are voided for the purposes of this document". Your attempt to making quiet dissent by stealth and subterfuge acceptable, while making an additional false allegation against Cardinal Burke, really doesn't change the topic, which is dissent by bishops. Cardinal Wuerl's dissembling in this matter is consistent with his episcopate in Pittsburgh, where he denied the priest Anthony Cipolla - falsely accused of sex abuse - the monthly stipend required by Canon Law while he fought the accusation.
Sandi Sinor
2 years 9 months ago
Anyone who can read is well aware of Burke's open dissent, along with that of a few others. I doubt more than a few Catholics are aware of Wuerl's "dissent", as you see it. Only the relatively tiny number of Catholics who disdain the NO and who communicate on certain websites among themselves might be aware of it. I am not a canon lawyer. But, I see great ambiguity in the combination of the Motu and the accompanying letter. ""....any prior law and regulations standing in the way of implementing this are voided " It sounds as though the Motu was intended to undo the absolute ban on the TM, rather than impose an absolute requirement that all bishops approve it. The letter definitely implies that it is still up the bishop to decide - it does not deny the bishop the exercise of his existing authority and responsibility.. You haven't mentioned the roots of your complaint yet. My guess (pure speculation, but...) is that you and a handful of others in your parish or a group who attend a TM somewhere together have asked your pastor(s) to offer the mass in Latin. This has apparently not been approved. I don't know if your pastor(s) have actually asked the cardinal for permission, or if they asked but indicated that this is not necessarily what the pastor himself wants, or.,...? Many priests were not trained in Latin, they aren't fans of the TM themselves anyway, they are short-handed in very large parishes, and really don't need the added burden on their overstretched resources of one more mass simply because a small group has asked for it. Is that the case in your parish? Or is your pastor OK with all of it, really wants to do it, and the cardinal has still not approved? If your interpretation is correct and the bishops do NOT have the authority described in Benedict's letter, then it would seem that no approval is necessary from the bishop and your priest(s) can go right ahead and add a TM to the schedule. Something's missing in the story - it doesn't add up right now.
Martin Eble
2 years 9 months ago
Anyone who can read is well aware of Cardinal Burke's defense of Catholic orthodoxy. Then bishop Wuerl did not get the sobriquet “Teflon Bishop” in Pittsburgh by being careless in paying lip service to obedience in public while doing otherwise in the chancery. It is clear you are no canon lawyer and are really about animosity towards the 1962 Missal and overwhelmingly orthodox Catholics who retain some affection for it. Since there never was an absolute ban on the 1962 Missal, the Motu Proprio could hardly be about overturning a fictional ban. And arguing “it is still up the bishop to decide” when the plain words say otherwise - well now you’re reduced to making things up. The root of the complaint was very simple - Donald Cardinal Wuerl’s article was hypocritical self-serving nonsense. As Tony Phillips' very first comment made clear, the Cardinal's blog is a propaganda mill to advance his very carefully crafted public image. I now have another complaint - your personal attack by insinuating “you and a handful of others in your parish or a group who attend a TM somewhere together have asked your pastor(s) to offer the mass in Latin. This has apparently not been approved.” I will take that as an admission on your part that you’ve run out of your small caliber ammunition and you’ll be - as they say colloquially - putting a sock in it on the issue of the Motu Proprio. As any priest can tell you, if the bishop makes it clear that he will not be pleased if you do that which he does not wish you to do, or refrain from doing that which he wants you to do, you’ll have a short unpleasant career in the diocese in which he is the corporate sole. And that's why the Motu Proprio in DC is a dead letter. And it is also why Anthony Cipolla is not incardinated in the diocese of Pittsburgh any longer. What doesn’t add up right now is why you felt qualified to comment on the Motu Proprio in the first place.
Sandi Sinor
2 years 9 months ago
Resorting to ad hominems towards me is very revealing, as is reading between the lines of your comments. . You have made accusations against Cdl. Wuerl. You attack him with innuendo, using words such as “Teflon bishop”, “dissembling”, “dissent by stealth and subterfuge” but so far have provided no factual information. The language the Motu seems to open the door for any priest to offer the TM without permission from his bishop . "Art. 2. In Masses celebrated without a congregation, any Catholic priest of the Latin rite, … may use either the Roman Missal published in … or the Roman Missal promulgated in 1970 … and may do so on any day, with the exception of the Easter Triduum… the priest needs no permission from the Apostolic See or from his own Ordinary. ....[Art. 4] The … Holy Mass mentioned above in Art. 2 may be attended also by members of the lay faithful who spontaneously request to do so….. So you would have no complaint against the Cardinal, unless the priests who have been approached by you or a group that you know have denied the request. In that case, the Motu stipulates that those denied the request for the TM inform the bishop and ask for assistance. If the bishop does not do so (the letter from Benedict does reaffirm the bishop’s responsibility and authority within his own diocese), the Motu provides contact information in Rome for further appeals. Art. 7. If a group of the lay faithful, … has not been granted its requests by the parish priest, it should inform the diocesan bishop. ... The bishop is earnestly requested to satisfy their desire. If he does not wish to provide for such celebration, the matter should be referred to the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei. The bishop is "requested" - it does not say "ordered" or similar language such as "the bishop must take action to satisfy". If the bishop does not satisfy the desire of the group, the matter should be referred to the Pontifical Commission. So, the questions are: Did a priest or priests in the ADW turn down a request for the TM by you or a group? Did you or the group then request the bishop to order the priest to comply with your wishes? Did Cardinal Wuerl refuse to do so? If so, was an appeal made to the Pontifical Commission, as provided for in the Motu for resolution? Archbishop Wuerl disregarded it and erected additional barriers to the use of the 1962 Missal, …. You have not yet provided any evidence that requests were made and denied. Please describe the “additional barriers” to the use of the 1962 Missal and please provide a verifiable source that validates your description of these additional barriers. . Your attempt to making quiet dissent by stealth and subterfuge acceptable, while making an additional false allegation against Cardinal Burke, ….. The information about Burke is public knowledge – very public. Everyone can read the words of the man himself and make their own decisions about his public dissent to what Pope Francis says and does. This is not the case with the charges you are making against Cdl. Wuerl, for which you have so far failed to provide verifiable, objective evidence. Cardinal Wuerl's dissembling in this matter is consistent with his episcopate in Pittsburgh, where he denied the priest Anthony Cipolla - falsely accused of sex abuse - the monthly stipend required by Canon Law … I had to research this one. It seems some of the hidden agenda is being revealed with this comment, however. I found nothing about the denial of “monthly stipend” , so will not comment on that charge, but it seems there is no hard evidence that supports your claim that this priest was “falsely accused”. John Paul II is not known as a pope who was either sympathetic or empathetic to victims of sexual abuse by priests. In fact, his public statements and those of his spokesmen showed great empathy for priests rather than for the victims. This particular priest was laicized under John Paul II’s authority, one of only a handful of such cases in the era before the Boston Globe made everyone all too aware of the dirty secrets hidden by bishops. It seems that in Rome, the evidence of Cipolla’s probable guilt must have been very, very compelling. I am not a big fan of Cdl. Wuerl. However, after reading of his actions in this case of probable sexual abuse of the young by a priest while he was in Pittsburg, long before the Boston Globe put the spotlight on these corporate sins of bishops and Rome in these matters, my opinion of him has gone up. He had the courage to buck the code of silence that was operative in the church and the hierarchy at that time. If you do not wish to provide verifiable evidence of your charges against Cdl. Wuerl, it is probably best to end this discussion now.
Martin Eble
2 years 9 months ago
Sandi Sinor: “Resorting to ad hominems towards me is very revealing ....” Yes, it affirms that I believe in “as you give, so shall you receive. “You have made accusations against Cdl. Wuerl.” I have simply related some facts. You call them accusations. “The language the Motu seems to open the door for any priest to offer the TM without permission from his bishop.” It does not seem to, it does. “So you would have no complaint against the Cardinal, unless the priests who have been approached by you or a group that you know have denied the request.” The Cardinal instructed the priests of the archdiocese to not use the 1962 Missal without his permission. The conveyor of that news was then Monsignor Knestout, who was then made a bishop. “You have not yet provided any evidence that requests were made and denied.” Nor have you presented any evidence of ANY KIND. “The information about Burke is public knowledge – very public. Everyone can read the words of the man himself and make their own decisions about his public dissent to what Pope Francis says and does.” I agree. Anyone who can read can see that Cardinal Burke has never, once, personally opposed the Holy Father on a matter of faith, morals, or in defiance of a direct order. “I had to research this one. It seems some of the hidden agenda is being revealed with this comment, however.” http://www.bishop-accountability.org/news3/1993_03_21_RodgersMelnick_VaticanClears_Anthony_Cipolla_1.htm http://www.donaldwuerl.com/2014/01/the-father-edward-huff-case.html “If you do not wish to provide verifiable evidence of your charges against Cdl. Wuerl, it is probably best to end this discussion now.” I think you should stick to things you know something about.
J Cosgrove
2 years 9 months ago
I have a couple questions since you seem to know a fair amount about this. I went to a Latin Mass this afternoon at a nearby parish. We are in Westchester County, just north of New York City. I go about once or twice a year. First, I did not know that there may be different versions of the Latin Mass. What are the different versions? If so, I am now curious which one I took part in today. Second, in the translation that is provided for the Mass there is a phrase, "witness of the one true faith" or something similar. I don't believe there is such a thing in the vernacular Mass that is celebrated everywhere. Is this phrase only in the Latin Mass? Anybody is welcome to answer.
Martin Eble
2 years 9 months ago
The 1962 Missal is said only in Latin. The Missal introduced by Pope Paul VI with the apostolic constitution "Missale Romanum" of April 3, 1969, currently in its third emended edition "Editio Typica Tertia Emendata", may also be said in Latin. After the Institution narrative in the revised Missal the priests says "Mysterium Fidei" which is translated in the English edition as "The mystery of faith". In the 1962 Missal those words are in the prayer said over the wine: "Hic est enim calix sanguinis mei, novi et aeterni testamenti: mysterium fidei: qui pro vobis et pro multis effundetur in remissionem peccatorum. Haec quotiescumque feceritis, in mei memoriam facietis." "For this is the chalice of My blood, of the new and eternal testament: the mystery of faith: which will be shed for you and for many unto the remission of sins. As often as ye shall do these things, you shall do them in remembrance of me."
J Cosgrove
2 years 9 months ago
Thank you. I will look at the translations next time I go.
Tony Phillips
2 years 9 months ago
Cdl Wuerl deleted my comment from his blog post a couple days ago. Maybe I'll have better luck here: (From Cdl Wuerl's post:) ‘there is a common thread that runs through all of these dissenters. They disagree with the Pope because he does not agree with them and therefore follow their position.’ It’s hard to argue with tautology. But I see another common thread: often ‘dissent’ arises when the pope has overextended his authority and spoken or done things he had no authority to do. One of the unhappy consequences of the ultramontanism that infiltrated the church through the 19th century and beyond is the notion that we all owe absolute fidelity to the pope. We don’t. Sometimes the pope is wrong. The church has lost a lot of good people over the years when popes behaved despotically—Ignaz von Döllinger, George Tyrrell, Marcel Lefebvre. And unfortunately this kind of despotism is too often aped by bishops and priests, who instead of behaving like faithful stewards and servants for God’s people think they too can lord it over them. When people are deprived of a liturgy that speaks to their hearts and spoke to their parents and grandparents for generations, there’s something wrong. When bishops and priests idolise the so-called ‘reforms’ of the 1960s without the intellectual integrity to consider whether any of them might have failed, there’s something dreadfully wrong. (The unfortunate definition of ‘infallibility’ in the 19th century casts a long shadow.) The clergy needs to listen, especially to those who make the least noise.
ron chandonia
2 years 9 months ago
I find it telling that Tony Phillips' comment was deleted from the cardinal's blog. One of the biggest reasons Francis is popular is his perceived openness, his willingness to reach out to both people and views he may find distasteful. It is a trait sorely missing in our clerics as a group.

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