McCarrick is accused of a number of grave crimes, including the sexual abuse of minors and adults. What is done and said about his alleged abuse of adults may prove more significant, even if it represents the lesser charge canonically speaking.
If McCarrick is found guilty of abusing seminarians over a period of years, it will be far harder for the February meeting to ignore the growing calls for an expansion in law of the definition of “vulnerable adults” to include victims like McCarrick’s.
On the other hand, if no decision is reached, or publicly acknowledged, on those charges, the seminarians who submitted their testimony as part of the CDF process may well feel ignored, and their suffering marginalized all over again.
Either result is likely to inform perceptions of the Vatican summit next month and present a serious obstacle to those hoping to force through a narrower focus and agenda based only on the abuse of minors, about which there is less disagreement among the bishops.
Meanwhile, the replacement of Cardinal Wuerl in Washington remains a significant and increasingly urgent priority for Rome.
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Just months ago, before the scandals of last summer, Wuerl seemed likely to continue in office until he was nearly 80, well past the normal retirement age for bishops, which he passed when he turned 75 three years ago. His resignation, submitted in 2015, was accepted last October (with obvious reluctance by the pope) due to mounting pressure on the cardinal following the Pennsylvania grand jury report - in which he was named more than 200 times - and questions about what Wuerl did or did not know about his predecessor.
Recent weeks have seen confirmation by Wuerl that, despite his earlier denials, he was aware of accusations against McCarrick involving misconduct with seminarians as early as 2004. His current tenure as administrator of the Washington archdiocese has helped to keep both him and McCarrick in the news.
While a replacement for Wuerl would likely be received as a welcome turning of the page for both Washington Catholics and the Vatican, deciding who that replacement should be has proven difficult for Rome to resolve. Sources in Washington and the Vatican, including the Congregation for Bishops, have spoken to CNA about a lack of consensus on who is best placed to succeed Wuerl.