Francis accepts resignation of Cardinal Wuerl as Washington Archbishop

Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Cardinal Donald Wuerl as archbishop of Washington DC, the Vatican said.

With the resignation, Wuerl becomes the most prominent Catholic head to roll since his predecessor as Washington archbishop, Theodore McCarrick, was forced to resign as cardinal this year over allegations he sexually abused at least two minors and adult seminarians. After the Philadelphia Grand Jury Report was released, he published a website that defended his handling of clerical sexual abuse cases.

In a statement, Cardinal Wuerl said that "the Holy Father's decision to provide new leadership to the Archdiocese can allow all of the faithful, clergy, religious and lay, to focus on healing and the future".

The cardinal, who will turn 78 on the 2 November, had submitted his resignation to the Pope nearly three years ago in accordance with the Church law which requires bishops to offer their retirement at age 75.

Francis said he received Wuerl's resignation request on September 21. However, your nobility has led you not to choose this way of defense.

"My resignation is one way to express my great and abiding love for you, the people of the Church of Washington", he said.

On a personal note, I convey my gratitude to Cardinal Wuerl for the fraternal support he has extended to me from the moment I was appointed bishop and throughout the years.

Catholics worldwide have been asked to pray the Rosary every day during the "Marian month of October", in order "to protect the church from the devil, who is always looking to divide us from God and from one another". "I also beg forgiveness on behalf of church leadership from the victims who were again wounded when they saw these priests and bishops both moved and promoted". Years later, according to the report, six more people alleged that they were sexually assaulted by O'Malley, in some cases after he had been reinstated. Wuerl at times acted with authority to deal with abusive priests (more on this below), but in several cases allowed such priests to escape scrutiny and in a few to continue as priests in good standing elsewhere - and to continue abusing others. Cardinal Wuerl hosted both popes in Washington, D.C., during their first pastoral visits to the United States.

As apostolic administrator, Cardinal Wuerl will continue to lead the day-to-day activities of the archdiocese, but will not be permitted to make any major changes.

Cardinal Wuerl has been archbishop of Washington for the past 12 years.

Cardinal Wuerl's episcopal career appears to be ending in as much controversy as it began when he became an auxiliary bishop in Seattle in 1986. But public backlash over the summer placed the Archdiocese of Washington under intense pressure all the same. Wuerl presided over 32 accused priests during his time at the Pittsburgh diocese.

"One would expect, then, a carefully-worded and diplomatic send-off from the Pope on such an occasion, but Pope Francis' letter goes far beyond this".

Ultimately, the drama surrounding Wuerl's resignation is only partially about Wuerl himself - it's also about who's next. In the three-page letter, he accused Archbishop Vigano of starting a "political frame job devoid of real foundation" adding that the claims against the pontiff were "calumny and defamation".

  • Rogelio Becker