Washington D.C., Aug 31, 2018 / 11:07 am
On Aug. 25, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò released a 11-page "testimony" which made specific allegations against a number of high-ranking Church authorities – including Pope Francis - who, he said, had been aware of accusations of misconduct against Archbishop Theodore McCarrick for many years.
Viganò's testimony, and the attention it has brought to what Pope Francis did or did not know about McCarrick, has shifted media focus dramatically away from the Archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl.
Until Viganò released his testimony, Wuerl was the sitting bishop under the most serious personal scrutiny in connection with McCarrick and other reports of clerical sexual abuse. He has faced calls for his resignation in major newspapers and in DC parishes, and there have been demonstrations by local Catholics outside his home and St. Matthew's Cathedral.
While his record as Bishop of Pittsburgh was called into question following the Pennsylvania grand jury report, Wuerl really owes his place at the center of this summer of scandal to his role as McCarrick's successor in Washington, D.C., where McCarrick was – and is believed still to be – living in retirement.
What Wuerl knew, or may have heard, about McCarrick's behavior before and after retirement is now seen as a crucial test of his credibility on sexual abuse and episcopal transparency. Thus far, Wuerl's public statements have said little about what he did know, and focused on what he didn't know about the complex set of rumors, allegations, and reports swirling around his predecessor.
As the questions being put to Cardinal Wuerl have become more specific, answers about what he did or did not know have become more precise, and more tightly circumscribed.
When the allegations that McCarrick sexually abused a minor first became public at the end of June, Cardinal Wuerl declared himself "shocked and saddened" in a letter released by the Archdiocese of Washington on June 21. In the letter, Wuerl affirmed, after a review of archdiocesan records, that "no claim – credible or otherwise – has been made against Cardinal McCarrick during his time here in Washington."
When it was confirmed that two of McCarrick's previous dioceses, Metuchen and Newark, had reached out-of-court settlements with adults who accused McCarrick of sexual assault while they were seminarians or young priests, the Archdiocese of Washington circulated a letter to priests on July 25, saying that Wuerl had no prior knowledge of these settlements until the accusations against McCarrick were made public in June.
On July 29, Wuerl told WTOP that he had never been approached with allegations of abuse against McCarrick and was even unaware of the widespread rumors of sexual immorality which had apparently been long associated with his predecessor.
In the "testimony" released on Aug. 25, Archbishop Viganò claimed that, in 2009 or 2010, Pope Benedict XVI imposed definite restrictions on McCarrick, following a series of complaints of abuse against him. These included, according to Viganò, an injunction to leave the seminary where he was then living and refrain from public speaking and ministry.
Viganò also said that Wuerl was not ignorant that restrictions had been placed upon McCarrick, or of the reasons for them. Viganò wrote that "Obviously, the first to have been informed of the measures taken by Pope Benedict was McCarrick's successor in the Washington See, Cardinal Donald Wuerl."
The former apostolic nuncio to the United States called it "unthinkable" that Wuerl would not have been told of the restrictions allegedly imposed upon McCarrick by Benedict at the time, and says that he himself had later raised the issue with Wuerl and found that he "didn't need to go into detail because it was immediately clear that [Wuerl] was fully aware of it."
Wuerl's denial of Viganò's allegation was immediate, coming the same day as the release of the "testimony." But it was also a narrow denial, especially compared to his previously broad denial of having never even heard "rumors" about McCarrick.
"Cardinal Wuerl did not receive documentation or information from the Holy See specific to Cardinal McCarrick's behavior or any of the prohibitions on his life and ministry suggested by Archbishop Viganò," the cardinal's spokesman, Ed McFadden, told CNA on Aug 25.
"Cardinal Wuerl categorically denies that he was ever provided any information regarding the reasons for Cardinal McCarrick's exit from the Redemptoris Mater Seminary [where McCarrick lived until 2009]," McFadden said.
Regarding a vocational meeting featuring McCarrick which Wuerl cancelled at Viganò's prompting, CNA was told that "Archbishop Viganò presumed that Wuerl had specific information that Wuerl did not have."
Wuerl did not deny that restrictions had been imposed on McCarrick by Benedict, or that they were the reason the vocational event was cancelled – saying only that he wasn't told by the Holy See about these restrictions, and that he had no specific information about why it had to be cancelled.