In the Oct. 12 letter accepting Wuerl’s resignation, Francis defended the cardinal from the widespread criticism he has faced in recent months.
“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.”
“Your renunciation is a sign of your availability and docility to the Spirit who continues to act in his Church,” he added.
In an Oct. 12 statement, Wuerl wrote that “the Holy Father’s decision to provide new leadership to the Archdiocese can allow all of the faithful, clergy, religious and lay, to focus on healing and the future. It permits this local Church to move forward.”
“Once again for any past errors in judgment I apologize and ask for pardon. My resignation is one way to express my great and abiding love for you the people of the Church of Washington.”
The cardinal has been the subject of criticism since late June, when revelations about alleged sexual misconduct on the part of his predecessor, Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, raised questions about what Wuerl knew about McCarrick, and how he responded to that knowledge.
The Aug.14 release of a grand jury report detailing decades of abuse allegations in six Pennsylvania dioceses put under close scrutiny Wuerl’s record as Bishop of Pittsburgh, where he served from 1988 to 2006. Some cases in the report raised concerns that Wuerl had allowed priests accused of abuse to remain in ministry after allegations had been made against them.
Those factors led to calls for Wuerl’s resignation and demonstrations outside of his Washington residence.
After Wuerl made a trip to Rome in late August, media reports said that Pope Francis had instructed the cardinal to consult with Washington clergy about the best way forward for him and the archdiocese.
In a Sept. 11 letter to DC priests written after a private meeting with them, Wuerl said that he would soon meet with the pope to discuss his future, but did not immediately state that he would ask the pope to allow him to resign. A spokesman for Wuerl confirmed to CNA Sept. 12 that the cardinal intended to formally ask Pope Francis to allow him to step down.
It is widely believed that Wuerl hoped to remain in his position at least until the fall meeting 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 is said to want to play an active part in helping the Church respond.
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As apostolic administrator, Wuerl will continue to lead the day-to-day activities of the archdiocese, but will not be permitted to make any major changes.
If a successor is not appointed and installed before Nov. 13, the apostolic administrator will attend the bishops’ conference annual meeting as the representative of the Archdiocese of Washington.
The auxiliary bishops of Washington also released a statement Friday, saying the cardinal’s “pastoral and spiritual leadership in the archdiocese is well appreciated.”
“We believe that Cardinal Wuerl’s decision to request that the Holy Father, Pope Francis, accept the resignation he first offered years ago is a clear manifestation of his love and concern for the people of this archdiocese,” wrote Bishops Mario E. Dorsonville, Roy E. Campbell Jr., and Michael W. Fisher.
Kim Viti Fiorentino, chancellor and general counsel of the Archdiocese of Washington, said in a statement Oct. 12 that the archdiocese has “been profoundly blessed to have this great priest as our archbishop.”
“His final decision to act in favor of the people he loved and served for twelve years is the most eloquent witness to the integrity of his ministry and his legacy,” she continued. “I am truly thankful for his steadfast fidelity and his courageous and sacrificial commitment to the future of the Church in Washington.”