Cardinal Wuerl to ask pope to accept his resignation

CNA wuerl1 Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, D.C. | Bohumil Petrik/CNA

An archdiocesan spokesman has confirmed that Cardinal Donald Wuerl will soon ask Pope Francis to accept his resignation as the Archbishop of Washington, D.C.

In a Sept. 11 letter to priests, Wuerl said that he would soon meet with the pope to discuss his future, but did not state at the time that he would ask the pope to allow him to resign.

The text of that letter has been posted on the website of the archdiocesan magazine.

A spokesman for Wuerl confirmed to CNA Sept. 12 that, at their next meeting, the cardinal intends to formally ask Pope Francis to allow him to step down. 

"Cardinal Wuerl understands that healing from the abuse crisis requires a new beginning and this includes new leadership for the Archdiocese of Washington," the spokesman said.

As required by canon law, Wuerl originally submitted his resignation on Nov. 12, 2015, after turning 75 years old.

After Wuerl made a trip to Rome in late August, media reports said that Pope Francis had instructed the cardinal to return to Washington and consult with his clergy about the best way forward for him and the archdiocese.

In a meeting with priests held Labor Day, Wuerl said he would be taking time to pray and reflect on how best to proceed.

The cardinal has been the subject of considerable criticism in recent months. As the successor to Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, Wuerl has faced questions about his knowledge of sexual abuse allegations made against McCarrick, which were first reported to the public June 20.

Following the release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report at the end of July, Wuerl's record as Bishop of Pittsburgh, where he served from 1988 until 2006, came under close scrutiny. Some cases in the report raised concerns that Wuerl had allowed priests accused of abuse to remain in ministry after allegations had been made.

Although he has faced calls to step down and several recent demonstrations outside his residence, it has been widely believed that Wuerl hoped to remain in his position at least until the general session of the U.S. bishops' conference in November. That session is expected to focus on the fallout of the recent sexual abuse crises, and Wuerl was said to want to play and active part in helping the Church respond.

Speculation will now turn to the candidates to succeed him in Washington. The Archdiocese of Washington is a highly visible and sensitive post, requiring political and ecclesial acumen. In the wake of the McCarrick scandals, Wuerl's successor will be expected to lead reform initiatives and restore trust in archdiocesan leadership.

Sources in Rome have told CNA that on his recent visit, Cardinal Wuerl presented several suggestions for his eventual replacement in Washington. While the list remains confidential, several curial sources told CNA that one bishop named was Archbishop Bernard Hebda, the Archbishop of St. Paul-Minneapolis.

Hebda arrived in Minneapolis as an emergency apostolic administrator in 2015 following the resignation of Archbishop Nienstedt, who was himself accused of sexual misconduct. At the same time, Hebda served as the coadjutor Archbishop of Newark and had been slated to succeed Archbishop John Myers.

While in Newark, Hedba gained a reputation as a reformer with a close interest in archdiocesan affairs, conducting unannounced visits to priests and parishes, and choosing to live on the campus of Seton Hall University where the archdiocesan seminary is housed.

Following his arrival in Minneapolis, Hebda brought the archdiocese through a protracted bankruptcy process, following multiple suits brought against it for cases of sexual abuse.

The Archdiocese of Washington told CNA that no firm date had been agreed for Cardinal Wuerl to meet with Pope Francis, adding that the meeting would take place as soon as is convenient for the pope.

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