(CNSNews.com) -- In a letter released today, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who oversees the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., and who has faced strong criticism this year over what he knew concerning the sexually abusive behavior of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and what he did to handle sexual abuse cases when he was the Bishop of Pittsburgh (1988 - 2006).
Cardinal Wuerl, 77, has headed the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., since 2006.
"On September 21st I received your request that I accept your resignation from the pastoral government of the Archdiocese of Washington," wrote Pope Francis. "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."
As for Wuerl's handling of abuses cases, Pope Francis wrote, "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 accepting your resignation, I ask you to remain as Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese until the appointment of your successor."
In August, a grand jury in Pennsylvania released a report about priestly sexual abuse in six dioceses of that state. The report found that there were sexual abuse allegations against 301 priests, deacons, and church employees going back to 1950. Most of the allegations were backed by voluminous church documents and eyewitness testimony. Ninety-nine of the cases were in Pittsburgh.
Donald Wuerl's name appears in the document more than 200 times and the report shows that 19 abuse cases surfaced while he was Bishop of Pittsburgh. However, it also shows that in 18 of those cases he quickly removed the accused priests from ministry.
In response to the report, Cardinal Wuerl said in August, "As I have made clear throughout my more than 30 years as a bishop, the sexual abuse of children by some members of the Catholic Church is a terrible tragedy, and the Church can never express enough our deep sorrow and contrition for the abuse, and for the failure to respond promptly and completely.
"While I understand this Report may be critical of some of my actions, I believe the Report confirms that I acted with diligence, with concern for the victims and to prevent future acts of abuse. I sincerely hope that a just assessment of my actions, past and present, and my continuing commitment to the protection of children will dispel any notions otherwise made by this report.”
Many U.S. Catholics were shocked by the grand jury report, which detailed heinous crimes against young boys and girls, as well as many post-pubescent youth (teenagers). A majority of the victims were boys.
In July, the New York Times reported that Cardinal Wuerl's predecessor in Washington, D.C., Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, had sexually molested a boy over many years, starting when the boy was 11 years old. In June, McCarrick was removed from public ministry because church investigators confirmed that he had molested another teenage boy. In addition, numerous reports reveal that McCarrick abused seminarians over the years and that at least in two cases, in New Jersey, payments were made to the victim.
Cardinal Wuerl and Cardinal McCarrick have been close friends for many years. Wuerl has been criticized over his denials that he knew anything about McCarrick's homosexual predation of seminarians, even though it reportedly was an open secret among priests in New York, New Jersey and Washington for decades.
On August 22, the former papal nuncio (ambassador) to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, released a "testimony," in which he accused various bishops and cardinals and Pope Francis of covering up McCarrick's sexual abuse. Vigano states that Pope Benedict XVI imposed sanctions on McCarrick: no public ministry and to dedicate himself to a private life of prayer and penance.
However, Vigano further states that Pope Francis lifted those sanctions in 2013 and allowed McCarrick to carry on diplomatic work for the church, particularly in China. This changed in June 2018, when Church leaders in the United States confirmed McCarrick's sexual abuse of a boy, news that garnered worldwide attention and led the Pope to reimpose the sanctions first made by Pope Benedict.
In his "testimony," Archbishop Vigano is also critical of Cardinal Wuerl, stating, "Obviously, the first to have been informed of the measures taken by Pope Benedict [in 2009-10] was McCarrick’s successor in Washington See, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, whose situation is now completely compromised by the recent revelations regarding his behavior as Bishop of Pittsburgh."
"It is absolutely unthinkable that Nunzio Sambi, who was an extremely responsible person, loyal, direct and explicit in his way of being (a true son of Romagna) did not speak to him about it," says Vigano. "In any case, I myself brought up the subject with Cardinal Wuerl on several occasions, and I certainly didn’t need to go into detail because it was immediately clear to me that he was fully aware of it.
"I also remember in particular the fact that I had to draw his attention to it, because I realized that in an archdiocesan publication, on the back cover in color, there was an announcement inviting young men who thought they had a vocation to the priesthood to a meeting with Cardinal McCarrick. I immediately phoned Cardinal Wuerl, who expressed his surprise to me, telling me that he knew nothing about that announcement and that he would cancel it. If, as he now continues to state, he knew nothing of the abuses committed by McCarrick and the measures taken by Pope Benedict, how can his answer be explained?
"His recent statements that he knew nothing about it, even though at first he cunningly referred to compensation for the two victims, are absolutely laughable. The Cardinal lies shamelessly and prevails upon his Chancellor, Monsignor Antonicelli, to lie as well." (Emphasis added.)
After Archbishop Vigano's testimony was released, the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. released a statement. It, in part, read, “Cardinal Wuerl has categorically denied that any of this information was communicated to him. ... Archbishop Viganò has not produced in his testimony any objectively verifiable proof that he in any way communicated to Cardinal Wuerl restrictions imposed on Cardinal McCarrick by Pope Benedict XVI.
“… Cardinal Wuerl has indicated that during his entire tenure as archbishop of Washington no one has come forward to say to him, ‘Cardinal McCarrick abused me’ or made any other like claim.”