Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington who has for weeks endured calls to step down following accusations that he mishandled cases involving priests accused of sexual abuse while bishop of Pittsburgh, said on Tuesday that he plans to discuss his resignation with Pope Francis “in the very near future.”
In a letter distributed to priests in the archdiocese, the cardinal notes that he submitted a letter of resignation to the pope nearly three years ago, when he turned 75, as required of Catholic bishops.
“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,” the cardinal wrote in his letter.
Cardinal Wuerl, who as a member of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops is one of the most influential cardinals in the church, met with priests in Washington at an annual Labor Day picnic where he discussed the ongoing sexual abuse crisis in the church. That meeting came after he spoke with Pope Francis during a visit to the Vatican earlier this summer. Pope Francis told the cardinal to consult with his priests before making decisions about his future.
“Our discernment here, I believe, has indicated the way forward to bring healing and a new beginning at the service of this Church. I am particularly grateful for your patience and respect for this time of discernment,” the cardinal wrote in the letter.
While he has defended his record, arguing that he removed priests accused of sexual abuse of minors from ministry in Pittsburgh, the cardinal has previously acknowledged that in other cases, he came up short. His record as bishop of Pittsburgh, a post he held from 1988 until his appointment to Washington in 2006, was detailed in a more than 800-page grand jury report released earlier this summer by Pennsylvania’s attorney general. The release of the report added to the questions Cardinal Wuerl faced about his handling of sexual abuse, with some critics suggesting that he had known about allegations of sexual harassment and abuse leveled against his predecessor, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. The cardinal denies that he had prior knowledge of those claims.
Since the release of the Pennsylvania report, the cardinal has faced calls to step down, including protests by victims advocates in front of the Cathedral of Saint Matthew, Catholic school teachers and even from a deacon who serves as master of ceremonies at the Washington cathedral who refused to serve alongside him.