Cardinal Donald Wuerl reportedly is clinging to his position as the pope’s top cleric in Washington after being summoned to the Vatican following an explosive grand jury report out of Pennsylvania which concluded that clergy members sexually abused more than 1,000 children.
NBC News reported that several priests, Catholic University presidents and parishioners have called for Wuerl’s removal as Washington’s archbishop.
Wuerl, 77, one of the world’s most influential bishops, is a trusted adviser of Pope Francis and played a direct role in the selection of several U.S. bishops.
But his reputation has been attacked in the wake of allegations that he did not act to remove some priests accused of abusing minors when he was bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988 to 2006.
Wuerl was named more than 200 times in the grand jury report in connection to 19 cases that arose during his time as bishop.
In some cases, accused priests were immediately removed from ministry, according to the grand jury report. But in a handful of other cases, Wuerl permitted credibly accused priests to continue serving, the grand jury found.
Wuerl also denied knowing that his predecessor, former Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, was suspected of abusing young men while studying for the priesthood, raising criticism from some clergy members and advocates for victims who said that they found it hard to believe that as archbishop he was ignorant of the allegations.
In a letter to priests in the archdiocese last week, Wuerl acknowledged the calls for “new leadership” but said he “also heard voices calling for the beginning of healing.”
He laid out plans for gatherings and resources devoted to that goal, including a six-week “Season of Healing” beginning on Sept. 14 and a one-day healing retreat for abuse survivors.
Following the release of the grand jury report, there have been calls by Catholics across the archdiocese of Washington and beyond for those who have been accused of inaction, starting with Wuerl, to face consequences.
Several online petitions have gained momentum, with one seeking the cardinal’s removal garnering more than 80,000 signatures, NBC News reported.
Protesters gather at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in the District daily to object to Wuerl’s leadership. This past Sunday, Wuerl was scolded by a parishioner who yelled “shame on you” as he gave a homily apologizing for “errors in judgment” at an installation ceremony and service for a new pastor, according to video footage of the event.
“I wish I could redo everything over these 30 years as a bishop and each time get it always right,” Wuerl said at the ceremony. “That’s not the case.”