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By Msgr. Charles Pope, October 12, 2018
On this significant day for the Archdiocese of Washington and the universal Church, I want you to know that I receive the news of the Holy Father’s acceptance of Cardinal Donald Wuerl’s resignation with mixed feelings.
I hope you will understand that he has been a spiritual Father to me since 2006 when he came to Washington as our Archbishop. I have flourished under his leadership. He appointed me in 2007 as pastor to my current parish, which I love so much. I have served him and the Archdiocese on the Priest Council, the College of Consultors, the Priest Personnel Board, and as a Dean. I have also been the coordinator for the Traditional Latin Mass and worked closely with the Communications Office for many years. He called an Archdiocesan Synod in 2014 and has carefully implemented its decrees, and drafted many helpful policies, both financial and pastoral, that have assisted this archdiocese to be ship-shape. He has also founded a minor Seminary here and our vocations to the priesthood are vigorous, currently 75 men are in formation for us.
This very blog of the Archdiocese was his idea and when he asked me to write for it I had no idea that it would reach so far. My writing has never been micromanaged and only twice in ten years was I ever asked to remove a post I had written. I am grateful for the support, encouragement and platform I have received.
In all these ways and more I found him to be a top-notch administrator, careful, just, cautious and measured; even if, at times to a fault. Sometimes I wanted him to be passionate and fiery about this or that issue! Though some in recent news cycles have called him arrogant and extravagant, I have found him to be often shy and very aware that a bishop does not have unlimited powers. His lifestyle, from my limited vantage point was not extravagant but simple, even austere.
In this sense, it causes me special sadness that he resigns under a cloud where many see only what they know from the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report. We can never forget the victims of sexual abuse by clergy and we owe them every effort to eradicate predators from clerical ranks. And whatever the findings of the Grand Jury, accurate or inaccurate, I can say that, in his time here in Washington, Cardinal Wuerl has been very serious in enforcing the policies of the Dallas Charter and ensuring the safety and flourishing of the young people under our care.
However, even prior to the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report there were problems that arose with Cardinal Wuerl’s response to the revelations about Archbishop McCarrick. He presented an institutional and legal face and spoke mostly by issuing disclaimers. He seemed to see the crisis as something to manage as an administrator more than a father and shepherd.
I would have preferred if he could have been less protective of the institution of the Church and been more like a grieved shepherd, angry that one of his predecessors had abused some of his flock, even his seminarians and young priests; angry that two other bishops had paid hush-money and not informed him or warned him. I wish I could have heard him tell God’s people that he was angry and disgusted and was going to move heaven and earth to get to the bottom of this scandal; that he would lead the charge to fight for us all so that this would not happen again.
Only late in the crisis did Cardinal Wuerl come to see that such a stance was what people needed and looked for. A few weeks ago, he wrote to God’s people in the Archdiocese a letter asking forgiveness for anything he had done to cause hurt. It was a beautiful letter and many in my congregation wept as I read it, (including me); others applauded. It was a breakthrough and a time of healing.
Yet from early on, Cardinal Wuerl became the national face of this crisis and a kind of lightning rod for people’s justified anger at the McCarrick case. At some point being the face of the crisis took on a life of its own and there was little or nothing the Cardinal could say or do to ameliorate this. I think, in many ways, a number of other bishops and clergy deserve greater scorn and scrutiny.
It is clear that there were numerous attempts to inform the Church of the concerns regarding Archbishop McCarrick that were brushed aside or received scant attention from bishops and Church officials both here in this country and going right to the top in Rome.
Only recently has Rome agreed to allow a thorough investigation to begin. I applaud this, since the allegations are serious and need investigation. This is not merely so that justice will be done, but also to be sure that clerical abuse is no longer tolerated or overlooked at any level. The current victims of clerical sexual abuse surely deserve such an investigation to be thorough and credible.
About a month ago, Cardinal Wuerl asked to meet with us, his priests, to discern with him if resignation was the best path forward for healing and progress for the Archdiocese in this situation. We sadly, and with great respect for him, came to the consensus that such a time had come. We were moved to be included in that discernment and he was clearly moved as well. It was a time of truth, but also of respect, concern, admiration and mutual charity.
The Cardinal went to Rome last week with the report that it was a time for new leadership in Washington and requested that the Holy Father now accept the resignation he had tendered almost three years before on his 75th Birthday. This morning the Pope has announced that acceptance.
As you can see, in his statement this morning Cardinal Wuerl reiterates his apology and his request for pardon for any past errors in judgment. He also wishes to present his resignation as a sign of love for the people of this Archdiocese and prays it will be a way forward toward healing for victims and resolutions that will further protect God’s good people.
I pray that none of you will forget the many ways the Lord has blessed us through Cardinal Wuerl. It is too easy to demonize people we have not met or when we are angry, even justifiably so. But the Cardinal is a human being, and one of God’s sons. He deserves and requires our love and prayers as he departs. Whatever errors in judgment have occurred, please remember his request for forgiveness.
I have known and worked with Cardinal Donald Wuerl over the years and it is very painful for me to see him go, especially under these circumstances. As I said, he has been a spiritual father and leader, and has confirmed me in my own ministry for the past 12 years. Go with God, Cardinal Wuerl, go with God.