New leadership for Washington archdiocese possible

New leadership may be on the cards for the Washington archdiocese.

Although he has not mentioned standing down, Cardinal Donald Wuerl has acknowledged calls from local priests and others for new leadership.

Allegations he mishandled clergy sex abuse reports – such as in relation to the alleged sexually coercive behavior of ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick – are behind appeals for his resignation.

Writing to the diocese’s priests after a spending 90-minutes in prayer and discernment with them last Wednesday, Wuerl said:

“Among the many observations was that the archdiocese would be well served by new leadership to help move beyond the current confusion, disappointment and disunity.”

Wuerl’s letter also notes that during the period of prayer and discernment, he “heard voices calling for the beginning of healing. This I believe we need to do now.”

Wuerl proposed a six-week “Season of Healing” beginning this Friday for prayer and recognition of the suffering of abuse victims.

In addition, he has promised to provide resources for the priests to respond to abuse survivors who may reach out to them.

A one-day healing retreat for abuse victims is also planned, which he says will include prayer and opportunities for professional counselling.

Wuerl, who succeeded ex-Cardinal McCarrick as Archbishop of Washington in 2006, says he had no knowledge of settlements paid to McCarrick’s alleged victims, or of any complaints about McCarrick’s behaviour.

Last month’s release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report on clerical sex abuse of minors heightened public scrutiny of Wuerl.

It alleges that, over seven decades, more than 1,000 children had been abused by priests in six dioceses including Pittsburgh.

It goes on to note concerns about the way Wuerl managed priests who had been accused of sexual assault during his tenure of Bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988 to 2006.

Authorising the transfer and continued ministry of a priest who had been accused of committing acts of sexual abuse decades earlier is one such concern the report point to.

Wuerl denies knowing of the allegations when he authorised the transfer.

“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,” he wrote.

While he was Bishop of Pittsburgh, Wuerl says he:

  • Established a diocesan committee in 1989 (later called the Diocesan Review Board) to evaluate policies for responding to abuse allegations
  • Implemented a policy formally encouraging Catholics making complaints to also report them directly to law enforcement agencies
  • Sometimes informed civil authorities himself, even against the express wishes of the person making the allegations.


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