Facing an uproar over revelations that he mismanaged past cases of clerical sexual abuse, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Washington, sent a letter informing his priests on Tuesday that he plans to discuss his resignation with Pope Francis in Rome.
Cardinal Wuerl has faced calls for his resignation by some of his priests and parishioners since the release of a bombshell grand jury report last month in Pennsylvania. Cardinal Wuerl previously served as the archbishop of Pittsburgh, and the report included accounts of his allowing several priests accused of sexually abusing children to remain in ministry, after relying on the advice of psychologists who had assessed the priests.
The cardinal had gained the confidence of both Francis and his predecessor, Benedict XVI, who relied on the low-key bureaucrat to steer international gatherings of bishops at the Vatican.
But Cardinal Wuerl has been tarred by association with his predecessor in Washington, the former Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, who recently stepped down as a cardinal after accusations that decades ago, he molested an altar boy and coerced seminary students to sleep in his bed.
Critics have insisted that Cardinal Wuerl must have heard the longstanding rumors about his predecessor’s behavior. Cardinal Wuerl has repeatedly denied that he knew of the allegations until recently.
But the twin scandals of Pittsburgh and former Cardinal McCarrick have severely undermined Cardinal Wuerl’s credibility in the United States. He has faced demands for his resignation from parishioners at Mass, from Catholic schoolteachers protesting on the first day of school, and from a deacon who regularly assisted him during services at the archdiocesan cathedral.
Cardinal Wuerl was among the American allies of Francis who was accused of providing cover for former Cardinal McCarrick, in an extraordinary document released last month by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the Vatican’s former ambassador to the United States.
In a letter to his priests, dated Sept. 11, Cardinal Wuerl wrote, “At issue is how to begin effectively to bring a new level of healing to survivors who have personally suffered so much and to the faithful entrusted to our care who have also been wounded by the shame of these terrible actions and have questions about their bishop’s ability to provide the necessary leadership.”
The cardinal, who is 77 and has been in Washington since 2006, had offered his resignation at age 75, as is customary. But popes often keep favored prelates in office past 75, and Francis has kept Cardinal Wuerl in the pivotal Washington seat.
With demands for his resignation growing louder, Cardinal Wuerl traveled to the Vatican last month to consult with Francis, a meeting the cardinal spoke of in a recent gathering with his priests in Washington. The pope told the cardinal to go back to Washington and “discern” what to do by listening to his priests.