Pope Francis has accepted Washington, D.C., Cardinal Donald Wuerl's resignation, the Vatican announced Friday, after weeks of speculation and growing anger about how Wuerl failed to stop a wave of sexual abuse against children in Pennsylvania.
“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,” Cardinal Wuerl said. “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.”
Bishops are required to turn in their resignation to the Pope when they are 75, but often they are allowed to stay on for up to five more years, and Wuerl, 77, was granted that extension.
However, after facing widespread criticism following a report of the sexual abuse of more than 1,000 children in Pennsylvania by Catholic clergy, Pope Francis finally accepted the cardinal’s resignation.
Although Cardinal Wuerl is not facing accusations of sexual abuse during his time as bishop in Pittsburgh for a span of 18 years, many Catholics say he did not do enough to catch and stop the abuse.
[Opinion: Cardinal Wuerl, coward and alleged enabler of child molestation, downplays Church sex abuse scandal]
Many of Cardinal Wuerl’s own priests urged him to resign, and parishioners have protested his sermons and called for his resignation since the reports of sexual abuse came out in August.
In September, the cardinal told his clergy that he would travel to Rome to discuss his resignation with the Pope.
“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,” Pope Francis said in a letter accepting Cardinal Wuerl’s resignation. “However, your nobility has led you not to choose this way of defense. Of this, I am proud and thank you.”
A new archbishop of Washington has not yet been appointed, and Pope Francis asked for Cardinal Wuerl to stay on and serve on an interim basis until a replacement is named.
Cardinal Wuerl is the second U.S. Church official to be brought down this year by a sex abuse scandal. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick resigned for the College of Cardinals in July following allegations that he sexually abused minors and adult seminaries over the course of decades.