Wuerl calls for spiritual and moral renewal in response to McCarrick scandal

Washington D.C., Aug 3, 2018 / 04:56 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Donald Wuerl said Friday that the Church must confirm its commitment to support the survivors of clerical sexual abuse in the aftermath of a sexual abuse scandal involving Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, Wuerl’s predecessor as Archbishop of Washington.

“The initial shock, confusion, anger, and frustration when the allegations against Archbishop Theodore McCarrick were the focus of our immediate response. In our pain, we also turned to all survivors of abuse, whose burdens are greater than our own. We must confirm our commitment to them with actions even more than words, that we are resolved to respond effectively in every way to these offenses,” Wuerl wrote in a pastoral reflection released Aug. 3.

Wuerl’s letter was written in response to a sexual abuse scandal that began June 20, when the Archdiocese of New York announced that it had completed investigating an allegation that then-Cardinal McCarrick serially sexually abused a minor in the 1970s, and found the investigation to be “credible and substantiated.” After that announcement, McCarrick was accused of having had a second sexually abusive relationship with a minor, and reports emerged alleging that he had engaged, for decades, in sexually abusive and coercive behavior with seminarians and young priests.

Questions emerged about whether Church leaders, including Wuerl, properly addressed reports and rumors about McCarrick, particularly in the period of time after several dioceses in NJ reached settlements with alleged victims of McCarrick in 2005 and 2007. Wuerl has denied having had knowledge of these settlements.

Pope Francis accepted McCarrick’s resignation from the College of Cardinals July 28.

Wuerl’s reflection noted as “particularly disheartening…the sense that we had already gone through this traumatic scandal in 2002 with not only the pain of priests abusing young people but the realization that bishops were not properly attentive to the dimensions of the problem.”

In the wake of the most recent scandal, Wuerl said many Catholics are asking if anything has changed as a consequence of the policies the U.S. bishops’ conference developed at time of widespread sexual scandals in 2002.

“The answer, I believe, “is, ‘Yes,’” Wuerl wrote.

The cardinal wrote that Pope Francis, “in his strong and decisive response” to allegations against McCarrick, has called bishops to greater accountability and “demonstrated a keen awareness of the feelings of our betrayal, the disappointment, the not-unreasonable anger felt by so many of our faithful people as these accusations come to light.”

The cardinal then called U.S. bishops to conversion of heart, to live according to the highest standards of ministry, and to “that fortitude that has always been essential to fraternal correction.”

Wuerl said that bishops must address any allegation of abuse by a bishop, citing a 2002 document, the “Statement of Episcopal Commitment,” that calls for bishops accused of sexually abusing minors to inform the apostolic nuncio- the pope’s representative in the U.S.- of the allegation, and calls for all bishops to inform the nuncio if they become aware that a bishop is accused of sexually abusing minors, and, at the same time, to comply civil laws regarding reporting.

He added that the conference could consider revising that document to offer more clarity, and to address the “spiritual and moral obligations” of bishops along with “the need for fraternal correction that is as much a part of the life of the Church as her laws and procedures.”

“We must have always before our eyes the Lord Jesus, who became a child to sanctify children, and a youth to sanctify young people, and a man to sanctify adults, and to be an example to the elderly. He loved children, laid his hands on them in blessing, and promised woe to those who would harm them. The children loved the Lord as well,” Wuerl wrote.

“Let us pray that our children and all our people will see in us, their bishops, through our actions as well as our words, their brothers and companions.”


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  1. Yet another prelate who, once again, addresses the issue without addressing the issue. Homosexuality in the priesthood – that 10-ton pink elephant in the Church – is never mentioned.

  2. With no disrespect and with support for Cardinal Donald Wuerl and to the entire order of bishops, this reader does have four notions, partly teased out of his letter. First, a nit-pick: the issue involves more than a “feeling of betrayal: it is the irreducible “fact” of betrayal.
    Second, the cardinal frames the path ahead as “fraternal correction.” Fair enough, but the cat is out of the bag. Many, now, are looking for a dash of salt—as we see in St. Paul when he visits the coastal-city cesspool of Corinth. Ten or fifteen years ago Bishop Bruskewitz was said to have disrespected “fraternal collegiality” (now we are to have “fraternal correction”) when he individually and summarily excommunicated those members of his diocese who were members of groups of urgent concern (Call to Action, Planned Parenthood, Catholics for a Free Choice, the Hemlock Society, the Society of St. Pius X, Freemasonry, and politicians prominently supporting abortion). Aggrieved laity appealed to Rome, but in the end and after two years Bruskewitz was fully vindicated in the exercise of his individual authority. Now that was a dash of salt.
    Third, nevertheless Cardinal Wuerl is surely correct to detect the trip-wire swamp that the Church now enters as we hopefully sweep out the stable. Even in 2002, Bishop Wilten Gregory, then President of the USCCB, remarked that “It is an ongoing struggle to make sure the Catholic priesthood is not dominated by homosexual men.” Not only the priesthood—the Charter of 2002 fell far short of what has now been revealed in the front office.
    Fourth, and as a bit of context—as a long-time lay member of the Archdiocese of Seattle, I clearly recall how abusively Bishop Wuerl was treated when in the mid-1980s he was sent in as auxiliary bishop to help stabilize troubling tendencies occurring on Archbishop Hunthaeusen’s watch (RIP; ending in a Visitation and an explicit list of fraternal but actionable concerns from the Apostolic Nunciature for the United States of America). Maybe the cardinal benefits from some unique memories from this earlier and relevant assignment.
    There are potential sinkholes in any road ahead. As an admitted nobody in what comes next, internal to the Church, I do find myself as a layman hoping for street smarts by all—-to at least avoid playing into the hands of external media moguls only eager to improve their declining prime-time ratings, and to not fall in with radical groups also eager to drive a fatal wedge into the Church, between the laity and the sacramentally ordained hierarchy.

    • Correction: Bishop Bruskewitz’s “excommunication” of those who attended Mass at the SSPX chapel was NOT upheld by Rome. Every single attempt by a bishop, from liberal to conservative, to excommunicate followers of the SSPX has been reversed by Rome. Every single one. (And no, I do not attend Mass at their chapels. I am an Eastern Rite Catholic.)

    • Knowing what I know about the Diocese of Atlanta, I cannot tell you how laughable is that statement by Bishop Wilton Gregory.

  3. I have read Cardinal Wuerl”s Pastoral Reflection. By and large, it refers to “abuse”. To his credit, however, it makes reference to Cardinal DiNardo”s statement as to the need for “spiritual conversion” by bishops, and also states the need to “renew (the bishop’s) personal commitment to holiness”. May chastity be part of that committment and conversion.

  4. In fairness, I would like to add that Donald Wuerl has always puzzled me. Although he was very hostile to homeschool Catholics in the Diocese Pittsburgh, as well as to those Catholics who desired the Traditional Latin Mass, the catechism he edited – The Teaching of Christ – is excellent. I always enjoyed teaching from it and found it beautifully written highly effective.

  5. People can compartmentalize, esp. men, so they say. Dolan and Wuerl endorsed Ralph Martin’s book on Hell. Bravo for them in that very singular regard. But as Bishops, look at their cities and their appointees. And how they handle the gay question, especially.

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