Bishops Aid Priests Instead of Victims

In August 2018 Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro released his grand jury report which found more than 1,000 cases of child abuse by more than 300 priests  through “wholesale institutional failure that endangered the welfare of children” in all six Pennsylvania dioceses were investigated, including Pittsburgh. The report offered “a window into the conduct” of bishops “and the crimes they permitted to occur on their watch”.  It included Cardinal Wuerl’s involvement (mentioned more than 160 times) in covering up his role in allegedly concealing sexual abuse and transferring various homosexual predator clergy. Weurl denied the accusations, however the Attorney General insisted  “Cardinal Wuerl is not telling the truth.’

When the scandal involving Cardinal Theodore McCarrick erupted in 2018, Weurl denied any knowledge or involvement in a cover up. As bishop of Pittsburgh for 18 years, it is inconceivable that he was unaware of the notorious behaviour of his predecessor.  Wuerl was accused by former papal diplomat Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, of knowing about allegations that McCarrick had sexually abused seminarians but made emphatic denials. “[He] lies shamelessly,” says Vigano, “I myself brought up the subject with Cardinal Wuerl on several  occasions”.  Archbishop Vigano also stated that Pope Francis had personally lifted sanctions imposing ‘house arrest’ against McCarrick by his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, before elevating him to the College of Cardinals. 

Robert Ciolek, who left the priesthood and later became an attorney, confirmed an $80,000 settlement he reached in June 2005 with three New Jersey dioceses over his allegations against Cardinal McCarrick and a teacher at his Catholic high school and a Pittsburgh priest who Weurl supervised at the time. The first page of the settlement agreement lists Wuerl among the numerous parties to the agreement. Following new “credible” allegations in 2018 that McCerrick had sexually abused an altar boy 47 years previously, the pope finally accepted his resignation from the College of Cardinals. Meanwhile speculation continues regarding McCarricks involvement in the $200 million Papal Foundation which apparently served as a secret slush fund for corrupt Vatican enterprises, to the tune of tens of millions of dollars.

As calls for Weurl’s resignation grew, a petition demanding that he step down garnered more than 100,000 signatures in just a couple of weeks  A high school named after him in Pittsburgh, had its sign vandalized with his name spray-painted over. Wuerl had attempted to hold onto power by trying to stall the release of the grand jury report through intermediary priests, also named in the report.  A website extolled his considerable record and in a “speaking tour” disguised as interviews,  he suggested that the bishops should investigate themselves. His denial that the report exposing predator priests did not indicate a “massive, massive crisis”, brought intense criticism.

Cardinal Wuerl’s resignation had been submitted to the Vatican two years previously at the age of 75 as required by Vatican protocol but in light of the scandal surrounding the Pennsylvania Report, the resignation was now formally accepted by the pope.  Francis, however, asked Wuerl to remain as the archdiocese’s apostolic administrator until a successor is named.  In a published letter Francis praised Wuerl for his “nobility” in handling the criticism against him further enraging survivors. 

I recognize in your request the heart of the shepherd who, by widening his vision to recognise a greater good that can benefit the whole body (cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, 235), prioritises actions that support, stimulate and make the unity and mission of the Church grow above every kind of sterile division sown by the father of lies who, trying to hurt the shepherd, wants nothing more than that the sheep be dispersed (cf. Matthew 26:31).“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 accepting your resignation, I ask you to remain as Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese until the appointment of your successor. Dear brother, I make my own the words of Sirach: “You who fear the Lord, trust in him, and your reward will not be lost” (2:8). May the Virgin Mary protect you with her mantle and may the strength of the Holy Spirit give you the grace to know how to continue to serve him in this new time that the Lord gives you.                                     Vatican City, October 12, 2018.

Wuerl commented that he was deeply touched by the pope’s “gracious words of understanding”. The ‘mistakes’ referred to by Pope Francis were actually crimes. The Pennsylvania grand jury report had recorded  two suicides of young men sexually abused by a priest under Wuerl when he was bishop of Pittsburgh and the loss of innocence for scores of minors sexually exploited by priests under his authority and the incalculable loss of faith can only be imagined. A diocesan website creates further incredulity, noting the cardinals’ many achievements and reminding that he “Oversaw the production of an archdiocesan series of guides called ‘Keeping Kids Safe’ to educate parents on recognising, reporting and protecting their children from abuse.”…..the archdiocesan chancellor, Kim Vitti Fiorentino lamented that Wuerl’s “pioneering leadership in the enhancement, implementation and enforcement of historically innovative child protection policies was overshadowed by the (Pennsylvania grand jury) report’s flaws and its interpretation by the media.”

While Weurl has resigned as archbishop of Washington he remains a cardinal.  Significantly he is still part of the powerful College of Cardinals and one of only 10 American cardinals who could choose the next Pope. McCarrick remains a priest, in fact an Archbishop, he lives in comfort with a church stipend, free healthcare, free housing, and presumably free legal counsel. Church authorities just moved him to a well-appointed monastery St. Fidelis Friary in Victoria, Kansas, within a block of Victoria Elementary School. The principal had not been notified and presumably parents remain unaware. Neither Weurl nor McCarrick have been charged with criminal offences.

See #Letters to Priests

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