The Viganò report, and what Wuerl didn’t know

Cardinal Wuerl’s reputation as a consummate diplomat and a “safe pair of hands” was built around a long career spent doing things by the book, writes Ed Condon. But he seems now unable to justify his actions by arguing that he has kept the law.

Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl addresses young people as he celebrates Mass during a pro-life youth rally at the Verizon Center in Washington Jan. 25, 2013. (CNS photo/Rebecca E. Drobis)

By Ed Condon

Washington D.C., Aug 31, 2018 / 12:07 pm (CNA).- On Aug. 25, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò released a 11-page “testimony” which made specific allegations against a number of high-ranking Church authorities – including Pope Francis – who, he said, had been aware of accusations of misconduct against Archbishop Theodore McCarrick for many years.

Viganò’s testimony, and the attention it has brought to what Pope Francis did or did not know about McCarrick, has shifted media focus dramatically away from the Archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl.

Until Viganò released his testimony, Wuerl been the sitting bishop under the most serious personal scrutiny. He has faced calls for his resignation in major newspapers and in DC parishes, and there have been demonstrations by local Catholics outside his home and St. Matthew’s Cathedral.

While his record as Bishop of Pittsburgh was called into question following the Pennsylvania grand jury report, Wuerl really owes his place at the center of this summer of scandal to his role as McCarrick’s successor in Washington, D.C., where McCarrick was – and is believed still to be – living in retirement.

What Wuerl knew, or may have heard, about McCarrick’s behavior before and after retirement is now seen as a crucial test of his credibility on sexual abuse and episcopal transparency. Thus far, Wuerl’s public statements have said little about what he did know, and focused on what he didn’t know about the complex set of rumors, allegations, and reports swirling around his predecessor.

As the questions being put to Cardinal Wuerl have become more specific, answers about what he did or did not know have become more precise, and more tightly circumscribed.

When the allegations that McCarrick sexually abused a minor first became public at the end of June, Cardinal Wuerl declared himself “shocked and saddened” in a letter released by the Archdiocese of Washington on June 21. In the letter, Wuerl affirmed, after a review of archdiocesan records, that “no claim – credible or otherwise – has been made against Cardinal McCarrick during his time here in Washington.”

When it was confirmed that two of McCarrick’s previous dioceses, Metuchen and Newark, had reached out-of-court settlements with adults who accused McCarrick of sexual assault while they were seminarians or young priests, the Archdiocese of Washington circulated a letter to priests on July 25, saying that Wuerl had no prior knowledge of these settlements until the accusations against McCarrick were made public in June.

On July 29, Wuerl told WTOP that he had never been approached with allegations of abuse against McCarrick and was even unaware of the widespread rumors of sexual immorality which had apparently been long associated with his predecessor.

In the “testimony” released on Aug. 25, Archbishop Viganò claimed that, in 2009 or 2010, Pope Benedict XVI imposed definite restrictions on McCarrick, following a series of complaints of abuse against him. These included, according to Viganò, an injunction to leave the seminary where he was then living and refrain from public speaking and ministry.

Viganò also said that Wuerl was not ignorant that restrictions had been placed upon McCarrick, or of the reasons for them. Viganò wrote that “Obviously, the first to have been informed of the measures taken by Pope Benedict was McCarrick’s successor in the Washington See, Cardinal Donald Wuerl.”

The former apostolic nuncio to the United States called it “unthinkable” that Wuerl would not have been told of the restrictions allegedly imposed upon McCarrick by Benedict at the time, and says that he himself had later raised the issue with Wuerl and found that he “didn’t need to go into detail because it was immediately clear that [Wuerl] was fully aware of it.”

Wuerl’s denial of Viganò’s allegation was immediate, coming the same day as the release of the “testimony.” But it was also a narrow denial, especially compared to his previously broad denial of having never even heard “rumors” about McCarrick.

“Cardinal Wuerl did not receive documentation or information from the Holy See specific to Cardinal McCarrick’s behavior or any of the prohibitions on his life and ministry suggested by Archbishop Viganò,” the cardinal’s spokesman, Ed McFadden, told CNA on Aug 25.

“Cardinal Wuerl categorically denies that he was ever provided any information regarding the reasons for Cardinal McCarrick’s exit for the Redemptoris Mater Seminary [where McCarrick lived until 2009],” McFadden said.

Regarding a vocational meeting featuring McCarrick which Wuerl cancelled at Viganò’s prompting, CNA was told that “Archbishop Viganò presumed that Wuerl had specific information that Wuerl did not have.”

Wuerl did not deny that restrictions had been imposed on McCarrick by Benedict, or that they were the reason the vocational event was cancelled – saying only that he wasn’t told by the Holy See about these restrictions, and that that he had no specific information about why it had to be cancelled.

This is a far more precise and delineated statement than, for example, the cardinal telling WTOP in July that he had not even heard rumors of misconduct by McCarrick, or his writing to the faithful of Washington in June that he was “shocked” by the accusations.

CNA reported this week that Wuerl was informed in the summer of 2017 that McCarrick was being investigated in New York after being accused of sexuall abusing a teenager in the 1970s. Through the investigation, McCarrick retained his two seminarian staffers, who served as drivers and personal assistants.

While aware of the investigation into McCarrick’s sexual abuse, Wuerl did not inform IVE formators, or suggest they withdraw the seminarians assigned to him – this was only done in June 2018, when the accusation was made public.

When asked why Cardinal Wuerl did not act immediately to have the seminarians withdrawn once he learned about the investigation into McCarrick in 2017, the Archdiocese of Washington told CNA that Cardinal Wuerl was unaware of the extent to which the seminarians were supporting McCarrick and facilitating his travel, and that the allegation against McCarrick had not yet been deemed “credible.”

While Wuerl’s categorical denial that he was informed of sanctions against McCarrick remains intact, his previous claim to have received no accusations “credible or otherwise” against McCarrick, or even to have heard rumors to that effect, has come under closer scrutiny.

But none of that means that Wuerl’s exit from Washington is imminent. In fact, at least some speculate that an immediate removal is less likely now than it was last week.

Only a week ago, many in Rome were talking about the possibility that Wuerl’s resignation would be soon accepted, or that he be given a special administrator to help govern the archdiocese after Pope Francis returned from Ireland.

Now, Francis and Wuerl face a common denouncer in Archbishop Viganò. Some in Rome speculate that any move by Francis to replace or sideline Wuerl might have to be shelved, lest it look like a tacit concession to Viganò’s accusations.

For the most part, Wuerl has been clear he does not intend to stand down, and that he wants to play an active part in the upcoming general session of the U.S. bishops’ conference in November, which is expected to deal almost exclusively with the fallout of the recent sexual abuse scandals.

While he is reportedly in Rome this weekend, Cardinal Wuerl has written to the priests of Washington saying he is reflecting on how best he can now serve the Church, and plans to meet with them on Monday, Sept. 3.

Whether remains as Archbishop of Washington, the past few months have seen a man once known for staying above the fray become the face of division in the Church in America.

Wuerl’s reputation as a consummate diplomat and a “safe pair of hands” was built around a long career spent doing things by the book. But he seems now unable to justify his actions by arguing that he has kept the law. Wuerl has come to be defined not by things he has done, but by the things he says he didn’t know.

If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!

Click here for more information on donating to CWR. Click here to sign up for our newsletter.

About Catholic News Agency 9034 Articles
Catholic News Agency (


  1. To possibly help understand and move things along, here’s a question about the Dallas Charter, then a dejas vu moment involving the civil powers, then a basic point of truncated evangelization, and finally a hint from the 1980s (and involving the now-Cardinal Wuerl) on future steps.

    First, twenty years before the Scandal of 2002 and the 2003 Dallas Charter, Rev. Enrique T. Rueda released his densely documented The Homosexual Network: Private Lives & Public Policy (Free Congress Research & Education Foundation, 1982). Rueda’s Chapter VII, entitled “Relationships Between Religious Organizations and the Homosexual Movement” filled 115 pages.

    Curiously, the Dallas event made no mention of this alert about the network. Instead we heard the evasive (?) catchword “pedophilia,” even when four out of five cases (78 percent) actually involved victims eleven years of age and older (Jay Report, 2004). From the current USCCB website we see that the new 2018 revision to the Dallas Charter includes this amendment to Article 6: “Changes were made to emphasize that all those who have contact with minors [formerly those in “positions of trust”] abide by standards of behavior and appropriate boundaries. What, exactly, was/is meant still by “appropriate boundaries”? Age group boundaries and exemptions? Who insisted/insists on this particular ambiguity?”

    Second, a point of relevant history. At the beginning of the Council of Trent, one August Baumgartner from Bavaria reported: “out of a hundred priests [in some Germanic territories] there were not more than three or four who were not either married [openly or secretly] or concubinarians….” (Henry C. Lea, History of Sacerdotal Celibacy in the Christian Church, London, 1867/1932). Resolution of the relatively simple matter of priestly marriage was tangled up in secular influences (Phillip II, Emperor Charles). And, today we find the (choreographed?) President Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany tutoring the Church to open the doors to across-the-table intercommunion. Likewise, for the World Meeting of Families in Dublin, the (again, choreographed?) openly homosexual Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar counseled the pope to accept gay “marriages.” What else is in the wing?

    Third, in his History of the Reformation, Catholic historian John P. Dolan observed that following Trent, the overall message of salvation got a bit skewed. In 1963 he wrote that “The casuist tradition has continued for centuries. One of the most commonly used textbooks on moral theology devotes one entire volume to questioning penitents on sex aberrations, while it limits its treatment of charity to one paragraph.” The sidestepping today is very much the opposite: ecclesial tomes are filled with politicized social justice, while confined to the outer darkness are the morally foundational Humanae Vitae (1968) with the Theology of the Body, and Veritatis Splendor (1993).

    And fourth, hints for approaching the McCarrick Crisis might already exist. Take the turbulent Archdiocese of Seattle in all of the 1980s (the writer is a long-term Seattle-area resident). Mixing the good with the bad, one issue was entrenched Dignity influence(Rueda’s larger homosexual network). Overall, the unprecedented joint actions by the American bishops and the Vatican were these: (1) a very-open door Visitation by a Vatican-appointed American bishop; (2) then from the Apostolic Nunciature, publicly available “observations” and specified “concerns-to-be-addressed”; (3) then uneasy appointment of a temporary auxiliary bishop; (4) then for two years an unprecedented Vatican-appointed supervisory triumvirate of American brother-bishops (from the left, right and center); (5) then a co-adjutor archbishop, and (6) then, a lingering four years later, in 1991, retirement still at the early age of 70 of the healthy archbishop. Not a template for the McCarrick disaster, but collaboration….more than nothing.

    More important, the short-term auxiliary bishop was none other than the young and present Cardinal Donald Wuerl. Whatever all of the intricate facts in Pennsylvania and Washington D.C., it is just possible that Wuerl also counsels us most wisely—when he labels as “diabolical” the McCarrick Malignancy of 2018…. Steps are one thing; missteps are another.

    • Hi Peter,

      I would appreciate your comments to my recent post below.

      The current crisis in the Church reminds me of the followin by the Christ.

      “ You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. “

      ” Straining out a gnat ” would be analogous to Cardinal DiNardo ( et al ) spending the next 20-30 years rooting out the sexual predators in shepherd’s clothing and then closing all the loopholes in the procedures and processes previously designed to prevent such predation; while ” swallowing the camel ” of the ” ante-Pope’s ” ( Cardinal Martini ) disciples’ ( Pope Francis et al ) who are fundamentally transforming over 2,000 years of developed Doctrine and Dogma.

      Julia Meloni has done the hard work for us all so that we Catholics don’t have to “swallow the camel “; but we need to read her two essays linked below to understand the ” camel ” is the heresy of Modernism. This heresy needs to be understood, renounced, and condemned by the true shepherd’s of the Church.

      May Our Lady of Guadalupe intercede for us,
      Jim Gill

    • Thank you for this very helpful history and analysis, especially in reference to the Seattle diocese. I am a revert to Catholicism and moved to this diocese only a few years ago. This helps to explain the continuing heterodoxy of our diocese and the stonewall statement from our bishop on the current crisis.

      • Marilyn,
        Indeed this Archdiocese has had a history filled with filth and sin. We have improved some but I wouldn’t count on Seattle becoming a bastion of orthodoxy. Archbishop Sartain, although no where near as bad as some of his predecessors, maintains a Pastor of his Cathedral who is not only a rabid heretic, he was personally responsible for all the scandals which took place in the 1970’s-1990’s. It will take at least one more generation for this Archdiocese to recover. Sadly our Archbishop is certainly not doing anything to speed up the healing.

  2. Do I take Wuerl’s word without question because he is, after all, a Cardinal of the Church?

    25 years ago the answer would have been yes, 50 years ago such a question would not even have been asked.

    Today – I won’t call him a liar, but the old saying “don’t tell me so I can say I didn’t know” comes to mind.

  3. Cardinal Wuerl apparently was aware of McCarrick’s sanction when after inviting McCarrick to stay at the seminary he promptly ‘evicted’ him to a parish when presumably warned about the sanction. Added to this is a new revelation by Edward Pentin that Bishop Gänswein continues to assert neither he nor Benedict XVI will respond to any query on Benedict’s McCarrick sanctions [Pentin or an associate had again approached Gänswein]. The question remains why McCarrick was permitted to roam freely and why the secrecy in imposing the sanction, a very mild sanction at that considering the enormity of the Cardinals offences and the silence, which doesn’t reflect well on Benedict and may well be reason for Gänswein’s reluctance to speak. As much as I admire Benedict XVI he failed on this one as many in our Church have on the highly destructive issue of clerical homosexual abuse we’re now contending with.

    • Well, Father at least Benedict XVI did SOMETHING, if only a little. I wonder what other crises he may have been juggling? Unlike JPII, he pursued the case involving Fr. Marcial Maciel which he dealt with appropriately. He no doubt had many enemies, especially within the Curia, some of whom were probably strongly sympathetic to McCarrick. I wonder if he had to deal with threats of one kind or another? I have no idea, just speculating as to how his options may have been limited or thwarted. I do believe that Benedict, much more than many of his colleagues, had a clear idea of the enormity of the problem of clerical sexual misconduct. He may not have known exactly what to do, but I believe that he still looks better than most of the other players in this sordid narrative.

  4. Father, you seem to have hit it on the head when you ask “why McCarrick was permitted to roam freely and why the secrecy in imposing the sanction, a very mild sanction?” And, why did the Pope say he would not discuss the McCarrick case and his involvement?

  5. “Cardinal Wuerl’s reputation as a consummate diplomat and a ‘safe pair of hands’ was built around a long career spent doing things by the book…”

    As in Canon 915?

  6. “Gänswein’s reluctance to speak” seems depressing as well, to put it diplomatically. Apparently Benedict XVI is a hothouse flower now, and must be protected.

  7. Actually, Cardinal Wuerl has “gone by the book” the way the U.S. Supreme Court has “gone by the Constitution,” i.e., interpreted it in the way most advantageous to himself, regardless of the original intent of the regulation or law. He is therefore the quintessential political churchman and Washington insider . . . and is the sort to be successful until his personal advantage comes into conflict with that of any individual or group powerful enough to protest effectively or he gets caught.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

All comments posted at Catholic World Report are moderated. While vigorous debate is welcome and encouraged, please note that in the interest of maintaining a civilized and helpful level of discussion, comments containing obscene language or personal attacks—or those that are deemed by the editors to be needlessly combative or inflammatory—will not be published. Thank you.