Cardinal Wuerl seeks to clarify recent comments; says, “This is a very grave moment…”

In an interview with CWR, the Archbishop of Washington, DC, responds to questions about his recent appearance on the Salt & Light television network.

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB interviews Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, at the Knights of Columbus Supreme Convention in Baltimore, Maryland on August 7, 2018, on the Salt & Light network. (YouTube)

The Archbishop of Washington, DC, Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, says the Church is in a moment of grave crisis, and affirms that the laity have a right to participate in roles of responsibility when it comes to the investigation and oversight of bishops’ conduct. The statements came in an exclusive interview on Saturday with Christopher R. Altieri, reporting for Catholic World Report. Cardinal Wuerl had made remarks to Salt & Light television earlier in the week, in which he appeared to downplay the significance of the crisis of confidence in the bishops’ leadership in the wake of serious misconduct allegations against Cardinal Wuerl’s predecessor in Washington, Theodore McCarrick.

McCarrick has resigned from the College of Cardinals and is facing canonical trial on charges he sexually abused at least one minor.

Since the “credible and substantiated” accusation first came before the public in June, numerous other persons — many of them clerics or former clerics, or seminarians — have come forward with allegations of grave misconduct dating back years. The information come to light thus far has raised serious questions about the conduct of the US bishops with regard to the policing of their own ranks and their care for the moral culture of the clergy more generally.

Cardinal Wuerl told Salt & Light, “I don’t think this is some massive, massive crisis.” Speaking specifically of the news about his predecessor, McCarrick, Cardinal Wuerl went on to say, “It was a terrible disappointment.”

Speaking to Catholic World Report, on Saturday morning, Cardinal Wuerl clarified that he does, in fact, believe the crisis to be very serious. Nevertheless, he feels it is not insuperable.

“I think it’s important to take a look at, and to listen to the context,” he told CWR. “The context of that whole discussion [with Salt & Light] was: The Church is facing a very grave situation. There’s an erosion of confidence — in fact, there’s a breakdown — right now, of credibility.” Cardinal Wuerl went on to say, “This is a very grave moment, a situation of very real crisis. That crisis should not overwhelm us. We should be able as lay women, lay men, and bishops, to confront it and to resolve it.”

In an interview with the National Catholic Reporter published Monday, Cardinal Wuerl had seemed to suggest that the bishops needed to find a way to address the crisis by themselves, and for themselves. “Would we have some sort of a panel, a board, of bishops,” he offered, “where we would take it upon ourselves, or a number of bishops would be deputed, to ask about those rumors [of episcopal misconduct]?” He is further quoted as saying, “It seems to me that’s one possibility, that there would be some way for the bishops, and that would mean working through our conference … to be able to address the question of sustained rumors.”

On Wednesday, Cardinal Wuerl was discussing a sort of partnership between existing structures, which are creatures of the US Bishops’ Conference. “What I’m suggesting,” Cardinal Wuerl told Salt & Light, “is [that] we already have a National Review Board made up of lay people: why don’t we take from our Conference a number of Bishops — different committees — to work with and invite the National Review Board to join them. So, now we have a permanent body, and if someone has an accusation they want to bring, they can bring it there.”

Cardinal Wuerl on Saturday clarified to CWR that he feels there must be a stable and independent oversight body with responsible lay participation. He also feels the body must be established as soon as possible, and that the bishops cannot wait for their Fall meeting to begin discussing the shape it will take, even if a full working-out of the ecclesiological implications of the crisis and its redress will take some time.

“[T]he first thing we need is to put into place some sort of mechanism by which we can actually do what’s being suggested,” he said, “and I have suggested to our conference of Bishops that there should be some sort of an independent board established.” His Eminence also said, “It would have lay women, lay men — but also bishops — on it, and one of its functions would be to receive an allegation, to receive [any] complaint, so there is a place to which that complaint can go, where there is a sense of accountability but also a sense of autonomy.”

Cardinal Wuerl also said that any such stable and autonomous board must have a broad mandate, not only to deal with future allegations, but also to look into the bishops’ past conduct. He told CWR the scope of any investigation and oversight mandate ought to be comprehensive.

“Now that board, once it’s set up, should also then have as its prerogative to look at what it wants to call into question. Whether it’s looking to the past, or whether it’s moving into the future, the goal is to establish something that would engage lay women and lay men together with bishops — that is, flock and shepherds — working together to address this very grave crisis of credibility.”

An autonomous body with a broad mandate would not only be able to investigate and oversee bishops’ behavior toward minors, but also look at their records with regard to clergy, seminarians, and adult lay people. It would also be broad enough to countenance scrutiny of bishops’ efforts — past, present, and future — to foster a sane moral culture among the clergy, starting in houses of priestly formation.

CWR asked Cardinal Wuerl whether he believes the laity have a right to roles of responsibility in the necessary investigation and oversight efforts. “[T]he laity do have a place,” he responded, “a moral place — a right in that sense — to participate in whatever is going on in the life of the Church.”


Below is a transcript — slightly edited for clarity — of Cardinal Wuerl’s conversation with Christopher R. Altieri for the Catholic World Report.

Christopher Altieri for CWR: Your Eminence, do you have anything you would like to clarify with regard to the remarks you made in your conversation with Salt & Light?

Donald Cardinal Wuerl: I think it’s important to take a look at, and to listen to the context. The context of that whole discussion was: the church is facing a very grave situation. There’s an erosion of confidence – in fact there’s a breakdown – right now, of credibility, and what I was saying and will say again now is: in the context of clergy and laity, laity and clergy – and I used the example of Shepherd and flock, parishioners and pastors — in that context there should be nothing that is so overwhelming that we can’t deal with it. That was the context of those comments I made. This is a very grave moment — a situation of very real crisis. That crisis should not overwhelm us. We should be able as lay women, lay men, and bishops, to confront it and to be able to resolve it.

CWR: You spoke then and seem to be speaking now about going forward: that raises the question about how much looking backward we need to do. There have been calls for an investigation — an independent investigation — one thinks specifically of Bishop Scharfenberger from Albany, who strongly suggested that the laity should have a responsible role in any such investigation. I’m wondering about your thoughts on that: do we need to look back right now?  

DCW: I think what we need first of all is to put into place — and this is what I have been saying in all of those interviews and in the material that I have sent out for use — the first thing we need is to put into place some sort of mechanism by which we can actually do what’s being suggested, and I have suggested to our conference of Bishops that there be some sort of an independent board established. It would have lay women, lay men, but also bishops on it: and it would have as its — one of its functions — to receive an allegation, to receive some complaint, so there is a place to which that complaint can go, where there is a sense of accountability but also a sense of autonomy. Now that board, once it’s set up, should also then have as its prerogative to look at what it wants to call into question: whether it’s looking to the past, or whether it’s moving into the future, the goal is to establish something that would engage lay women and lay men together with bishops — that is, flock and shepherd — working together to address this very grave crisis of credibility.

CWR: Do the laity then have a right — a moral right, whatever its expression in Canon Law, whether at the universal level or at the level of particular law — whatever that might look like now or in the future: do the laity have a right to responsible participation either in an investigation or in a stable oversight body or mechanism?

I think one of the things we’ve already seen — and this is, I believe, a response to the II Vatican Council, and Pope Francis is the strongest voice in this — is the role of the laity in the life of the Church. And I am wondering if we don’t have expressions of that now: for example, the National Review Board and our National Advisory Council. But to have the recognition that, as we go forward, in whatever we’re doing, lay people should be engaged. I think we’re seeing more and more the recognition that that’s the best way for the church to move forward.

CWR: Well, I guess I’m asking the question, Your Eminence — if I could just push you a little on this a little bit — because I think there is broad agreement that the laity should be involved as a matter of prudence right now — and you spoke to the question of the credibility deficit that the bishops have: Do the laity have a right — a moral right, independent of the question of the right’s expression in Canon Law — to be involved in investigation and oversight in a responsible way?

DCW: How about if we word it this way: because, once you use the word, “right,” then — you yourself have already said — are we talking about a canonical right? Are we talking about a constitutional right? Are we talking about a legal right? Are we talking about a moral right? Are we talking about an ecclesial right? How about if we said: It is absolutely clear in the theology of the Church, that the laity have a role in the life of the Church, and that role includes the exercise of their baptismal obligations and their baptismal responsibilities. So, in answer to your question, I think there is a place — a very significant place — for the laity in all the activity of the Church. That’s merely confirming what the II Vatican Council affirmed. Now, how that is spelled out is something that — as you said — we’re going to need a lot of time to work on that. But, yes, the laity do have a place — they have a moral place — a right in that sense — to participate in whatever is going on in the life of the Church. That has to be seen in the way it is expressed in the II Vatican Council, in the Decree on the Laity, also Lumen gentium — the structure and nature of the Church — but in both of those documents, there’s a significant role of the laity in the life of the Church, and as Pope Francis keeps telling us, the Church is not just the bishops and clergy.

About Christopher R. Altieri 39 Articles
Christopher R. Altieri is co-Founder and general manager of Vocaris Media and the author of The Soul of a Nation: America as a Tradition of Inquiry and Nationhood.
About CWR Staff 256 Articles
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  1. Another in the series of creeping, crawling, obtuse and appalling statements by Cardinal Wuerl, who it seems just can’t stop himself from talking, and every time just looks worse and worse.

    Cardinal Wuerl would do better to just sit in silence and shame.

    If he thinks anyone believes he has any capacity for doing justice in these matters, he is detached from reality.

    Let serious Catholic adults confront the evil we are facing: the evil confronted by Gov. Frank Keating in 2002, when he bravely told the truth: the Bishops of the US were literal mafiosi, and some were quite clearly criminally negligent, and worse.

    Cardinal Wuerl is OUT of the picture: he has lost ALL moral authority.

    And he can stop hiding behind his constant bleating appeals to Pope Francis. We don’t need the Pope who botched the Chilean Sex Abuse Scandal to get in the way when we are cleaning up this mess among US Bishops and Cardinals. We need serious Catholic layman like Governor Keating, and US law enforcement.

    Cardinal Wuerl should just be silent and get out of the way. We will listen to a good shepherd like Archbishop Chaput. We don’t need fake shepherds like Cardinal Wuerl.

    • These are weighty words. Very serious charges.

      And I TOTALLY agree with every one. If anything, they are understated here.

      One of the big lessons of the past 20 years is that these bishops cannot be trusted to police themselves.

      I say no to any “mechanism.” No to any “independent board.”

      Mechanisms and independent boards are more of the same toothless, soporific half-measures we’ve seen in the past.



      I am a Catholic layman. And let that be my engagement.

      “It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.”

      — Luke 17:2

      • Homosexual behavior is not against civil law in the US, so scratch “LAW ENFORCEMENT”.It is a grave sin and much more for a priest to behave so. Same goes for a heterosexual priest who seeks out women. The problem is simple but apparently too distressing for the Bishops and clergy to admit, let alone talk about it in public – Homosexual men have no place in the clerical state. Cardinal Wuerl seems unable to even say the word let alone investigate the problem. Check the Catholic Standard this week and see if you can find the word in all he says.

        • Agreed. I was referring to criminal sexuality — molestation of children.

          No gray areas there. No equivocation. No debate.

          Which is why, at a minimum, we should be able to expect bishops to deal with those situations summarily, contacting civil authorities immediately.

          The fact that we have not been able to expect even that is an indication that there are monsters among us. People who we thought were talking about “praying” when what they were really saying was “preying.”

  2. And yes: we need Governor Keating to look back into the negligence and criminal negligence and complicity of living bishops responsible for the cases in the 2002-04 investigation, starting with Cardinal Mahony, the Head mafiosi of the “National McCarrick abuse enterprise.”

    Cardinal Wuerl can be investigated for whatever he may have been involved in.

    He cannot be involved in the investigation in any way, shape or form: he has ZERO trust.

  3. Wuerl is complicit in the cover-up if not the actual abuse (more investigation needs to be done in his case). The late Richard Sipes, foremost researcher in the areas, wrote in a letter to Bishop McElroy of San Diego dated 7/28/2016, had this to say of Wuerl:

    “Bishop Raymond J. Boland (1932-2014) was a priest and pastor also in Washington, D.C. until 1988 when he was appointed bishop of Birmingham AL, and subsequently, in1993 bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
    I was involved for several years in advocating for several victims that Boland violated when he was a pastor. The accounts of the victims are among the most horrendous from the point of view that exemplifies how deeply sex even with minors is integrated within the clerical culture.… The victim quoted here from his report to the Archdiocese refused the settlement offered by the Archdiocese. The whole process from 1994 to 2004 spanned the reigns of Hickey, Mc Carrick and Wuerl.”

    Wuerl is part of the problem, not any part of a solution.

    • That Weakland and Boland remained bishops as long as they did reveals the depth of the corruption. Finn, an excellent orthodox bishop who followed Boland, was eventually taken down by the lavender mafia in retribution for cleaning them out of the chancery.

      Let Finn run the investigation into the bishops’ crimes.

      • That is often what we may havve been seeing. Good bishops being set up by their chanceries, which are often full of homosexuals.

  4. If a man cannot in 5 seconds say: “I am angry and ashamed at these grievous crimes;” such man is proven incapable of justice.

    Cardinal Wuerl is one such man.

    He needs to retire to a life of prayer and contemplation of justice.

    Make a man like Chaput a Cardinal, and put him in charge of the investigation of Bishops, standing beside good Governor Keating, who fears God, and not serpents like Cardinal Mahony.

  5. McCarrick “resigned” his position of Cardinal? Has he been demoted by the Curio? Is he scheduled to stand trial in a civil court? Well now… that would be astounding accomplishment by the Vatican. Now, should we all clap or pray for this weak soul?

    • Yes, he resigned. Should he have been deposed by the Pope? That is another issue entirely.
      The word is “Curia,” not “Curio.” I wish that people who feel comfortable venting their opinions could at least spell correctly and use proper terminology.
      He is slated to be tried in an ecclesiastical court, which is the only venue open since most of the accusations are related to adults and the two accusations related to minors are well past the statute of limitations (50 years ago!).
      Can we withhold the glee? It is unseemly and very unchristian.

      • A reprehensible comment. A boy’s life entire life was totally destroyed by this sadistic monster, not to mention the fact that the boy’s faith has been also. And all we can talk about is the statute of limitations, “glee,” and alleged “unseemly and very unchristian” behavior? There are no words.

        • DJR,
          I agree with Fr. Stravinskas. He didn’t minimize the abuse to the boy, but he did call Mr. MorganB to a higher standard.

        • Agree entirely with DJR. The kind of inured conscience exhibited by this remark is utterly reprehensible and found far too often in the ranks of bishops and other clerics. If you want evidence of this read the letter written by the late Richard Sipes, foremost researcher in the areas of clergy sexual abuse, to Bishop McElroy of San Diego dated 7/28/201 here:

          He details many examples of this inured conscience among the clergy.

      • Well, Father, we are simply very tired.
        We are grateful that the cat is out of the bag on predatory homosexual clergy…and their network.

  6. Cardinal Wuerl has shown no intestinal fortitude when it comes to Canon 915 and pro-abortion Catholic politicians. How can we trust that the current crisis will not end up meeting the same fate?

  7. Cardinal Wuerl, a man who lives in luxury and prefers lesbian Buddhists over faithful priests. If only he could understand the utter disgust and contempt he evokes in practicing Catholics. A complete disgrace, and so are the majority of his confreres in the U.S.

  8. Appoint a lay board to review everything necessary. If the bishops want a part in it they can be there to shine the lay members’shoes.

  9. With due hope for a chastened and renewed church in the US, it distressing in the extreme that Cdl. Wuerl does not understand that it’s impossible to be “moving into the future” until we examine the past to understand why we are at this crisis point.

  10. Many commenters on the twitter feed of individuals such as Michael Brendan Dougherty and Matthew Schmitz, who are utterly disgusted by the conversation in the Salt and Light clip, are similarly appalled. I suspect Cardinal Wuerl is slowly gaining an understanding that suggesting bureaucratic solutions applied by bishops themselves are “inadmissible” now, as well as claims of surprise and self-victimized feelings of “being hurt” by McCarrick,

  11. “Clarity” obviously was inadvertently offered in the initial exchange.
    Knee-jerk word salad is always offered in defense of the indefensible particularly since it now has pride of place at the Domus Sanctae Marthae and has always satisfied the thirst for denial.
    This interview and the characters who participated in it are entirely symptomatic of the – to be polite – cognitive dissonance holding sway since October 13, 1962. The epic “post-conciliar” ecclesial enterprise has collapsed into a pornographic tragedy.
    Pope John’s “open window” policy has unquestionably left us in the cold and naked as a jaybird.
    It not only didn’t work, it has near accomplished what was intended to be avoided. The Gospel has been trashed and Roman Catholicism has been consigned to the circular file of not only laughable irrelevancy, but scandal.
    Or was that the goal in the first place?
    That recent “year of mercy” had better been preceded by a year of examination of conscience followed by twelve months of adult penance – for all of us.
    We have been reduced to a ship of clowns, Clarabell at the helm.

  12. I can’t get past the conclusion i jave come to thst those bishop who have had a close relation with McCarrick are ‘in with him’. They were aware of his disordered and canonical crimes with men. They cannot now be apart of the solution. Their words are folly. I say, ‘Out you go!’

  13. I find picturing these men in regular clothes. Jeans and t-shirts perhaps. Helps one see them for what they really are. Don’t let the clerical accoutrements and titles fool you.

  14. Fr. Stravinskas mention statue of limitations. In my country (Canada) we do not have statue of limitations for such crimes. I think lay Catholics should be petitioning their elected officials to pass legislation which would end statute of limitations for such crimes.

    It’s especially shameful that US Catholic Bishops are some of the most ferocius opponents of repealing statue of limitation laws.

    It is infuriating that abusing clerics can escape justice because of a legal technicality, and it’s even more infuriating that the Bishops fight to keep such pervert protecting laws in place.

    PS: Father is right and wrong. Yes, it’s Curia but do really think you should be correcting someone on something so small when discussing such a serious issue…priorities. Moreover, maybe the commentator is right. The Curia is a curio in the true sense of the word…bizarre and unusual.

    • The problem with no statute of limitations is that, after a certain number of years, what evidence is there, beyone an accusation?

  15. Aug. 12, 2018: I can’t help but wonder if Cdl. Wuerl was hit with massive blowback from his former remarks so he changed them to make them more acceptable. He should be investigated since there have been allegations against him – and from what I’ve heard, they go back for years.

  16. At last : a definitive statement by Cardinal Wuerl. Should last at least until Monday, maybe Tuesday. Then it’ll be “clarified” by some new “mechanism.”

    Sorry, but as I keep saying: it would take about three hours from the moment they agreed to get plenty of press, cameras, microphones and a nice table at which to seat Paul Bootkoski and later John Myers at which point they could, in about 10 minutes (OK, fifteen with limited questions) tell us (a) when they found out about His Grace, +TEM, and (b) whom they told. They would be welcome to add any other information about any other episcopal perverts they would care to share.

  17. Another collection of bizarre, dishonest statements. The Cardinal identifies the crisis merely as “a crisis of credibility” on the part of the clergy, as if the problem is just to find a way to restore “confidence” among the faithful. No, Your Excellency, it is a crisis of sexual perversion among the clergy. Still no mention of the reality of homosexual corruption throughout the Church.

  18. “Independent” – but that’s NOT what Cardinal Whirl is suggesting. He wants the Bishops Committee to subsume into it some lay representatives…. So, then it will still be controlled by a majority of bishops in favor of the gay conspiracy. I say NO !! Independent means INDEPENDENT….let the cops do it.

  19. If you read his comments as quoted in this article, you might, perhaps, notice that Cardinal Wuerl ALWAYS says, “laywomen and laymen” —- in that order. He also always says “women and men” and “sisters and brothers”. I have always been suspicious of clerics (and others) who insist on putting Eve in front of Adam. There is something askew about that manner of speaking, a kind of pandering. Once in a while? Okay, maybe once in a while. But always? What doth it betoken?

    • Pandering.
      You hit the nail on the head.
      And they don’t understand how transparent they are. How disingenuous. There would be ample reason for denying them credibility even if there was not a gross hideous scandal — both theological and moral — in episcopal hands. They are a really bad act.

  20. Disgusting fraud. And I don’t expect any improvements under Pope Francis. McCarrick and Wuerl are two of his big cheerleaders / spin doctors in the Church in the US. Rosica is also just another propagandist who is less than worthless.

  21. This bishop is a huge fraud. The USCCB is rife with fraud.
    No bishops to investigate other bishops. None. Zero.
    The predator gay clergy network is too widespread to include a single bishop on any board of inquiry.

  22. We will know if an investigation is legitimate (if one ever begins) by who is in charge of it, and how it is going to be conducted. If it is going to by run like a US style investigation into corporate or criminal malfeasance, then there is a chance it will be legitimate.

    You need a financial audit by a top tier accounting firm of every diocese in the US and a “behavioral and responsibility” audit that will determine who knew what when. The investigators need to have unfettered access to all financial records, e-mails, phone records and correspondence files. The investigation should lay out in the engagement letter that it will be attempting to determine if this was pedophilia or pederasty. We need the truth, not a whitewashed conclusion to make everyone feel good.

  23. It’s “very grave” but not “massive, massive,” perhaps ephemeral (guessing most bishops hope so) leaving lasting impressions, even though it’s passing (like a kidney stone). What WILL Donald Wuerl come up with next?

  24. Cardinal Wuerl is the former Bishop of Pittsburgh and a native Pittsburgher. A long awaited report by Pennsylvania’s Attorney General was released today about the massive cover-up by bishops in all 8 Pennsylvania dioceses over several decades. Wuerl was Bishop of Pittsburgh during this period and those of us who lived in the city or nearby know all about his Gay friendly attitude and his participation in cover-ups. He is walking on thin ice:

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