Cardinal Donald William Wuerl, archbishop of Washington © Paul Haring (KNA)
Cardinal Wuerl traveled to the Vatican last week to consult with Pope Francis about the cover-up allegations against him, according to recent U.S. media reports. First consequence: He spoke to priests of his archdiocese.
Cardinal Wuerl's meeting with Pope Francis was confirmed by Archdiocese of Washington spokesman Edward McFadden, without giving details, according to CNN (Tuesday local time). Then on Monday, Wuerl faced a meeting with some 100 priests from his archdiocese.
The pope advised Wuerl to have the debate during their meeting in Rome on Thursday, it said. According to the portal "Il Sismografo", there were also isolated calls for the resignation of clerics against Wuerl. Overall, however, the cardinal has received broad support, the portal quotes McFadden as saying.
Abusive priests transferred to other places
The Archbishop of Washington is accused of knowing about sexual misconduct by his predecessor, Theodore McCarrick, 88, but concealing it. In addition, during his 18 years as bishop of Pittsburgh, he reportedly did not crack down hard enough on sexual assaults by priests and merely transferred clergy who committed child molestation to other locations. The Pennsylvania grand jury report on clerical abuse, which has dominated the headlines for weeks, details several such cases.
Wuerl has denied knowing about McCarrick's abuses. In the past, the latter had apparently forced seminary students in need of protection to have sex and is suspected of having abused at least two minors.
Looking back on his tenure in Pittsburgh, however, Wuerl acknowledged "errors of judgment" and "shortcomings" and asked for forgiveness from the faithful in an open letter in late August.
U.S. bishops call for close investigation
Several prominent Catholics in the U.S. have called on Wuerl to resign in recent days. The 77-year-old cardinal has passed the usual age limit for bishops of 75; however, the pope can refuse the mandatory resignation and extend the term of office.
The affair surrounding Wuerl's predecessor McCarrick gained explosiveness through a letter from the former nuncio in the USA, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano. In it, he accused high-ranking church officials, including Wuerl and even Pope Francis, of condoning the cardinal's abuses. He therefore called on the pope to resign.
A number of U.S. bishops are calling for a thorough investigation into the allegations. Many observers and supporters of Pope Francis suspect a campaign by strictly conservative circles against his reform course.