That sound you heard this morning were millions of Roman Catholics saying “about time.”
Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Washington’s Cardinal Donald Wuerl on Friday, while asking the cardinal to continue leading the Archdiocese of Washington on an interim basis until a permanent successor is appointed.
In a letter to Wuerl obtained by CNA Oct. 12, Pope Francis told the cardinal: “Your renunciation is a sign of your availability and docility to the Spirit who continues to act in his Church.”
The good news is that Cardinal Wuerl is moving on. The bad news: Pope Francis selects his replacement. As documented by Michael Brendan Dougherty, we shouldn’t feel confident that the pope will choose wisely. I am not sure if the article is available to non-NRO subscribers, so here’s a snippet:
There is a type of churchman that Francis seems to favor: the morally compromised and the doctrinally suspect. The archbishop of Bruges, Jozef De Kesel, was known to promote the ordination of women and the making voluntary of priestly celibacy, and was credibly accused of knowingly appointing a pastor who had molested a child. Francis made him a cardinal. There was the archbishop of Stockholm, Anders Arborelius, who ignored calls to investigate a pedophile priest for years. The victim was told to go see a therapist instead. Arborelius is sympathetic to the idea of creating a female version of the College of Cardinals. Francis made him a cardinal, and Arborelius speculated that his elevation was a way for the pope to honor Sweden’s commitment to refugees. There’s also Giovanni Becciu, who was working for the pope’s secretary of state. When the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers began uncovering financial fraud in the Church, Becciu suspended its audit. The auditor general from PwC later said he was forced out on trumped-up accusations; Becciu accused that accountant of being a spy. Francis then made Becciu a cardinal. Another cleric, Archbishop Luis Ladaria Ferrer, is set to stand trial in France for his role in covering up a child-sex-abuse scandal in Lyon. Francis made him the head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office, which adjudicates abuse cases.
Or consider Monsignor Battista Ricca, reportedly Francis’s “eyes and ears at the Vatican Bank.” Ricca was widely known for engaging in affairs with men at different posts during his clerical career. He was attacked in an area of Montevideo known for cruising, and he had to be rescued from an elevator in which he was trapped with a rent boy. (It was a question about Ricca that Francis made the occasion of his headline-grabbing statement “Who am I to judge?”) And finally there is the man known as the “vice pope,” Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga, the one being charged by seminarians in Honduras with allowing a culture of predation to flourish. Rodríguez Maradiaga first became famous across the Catholic world for saying that the Church scandals in Boston in 2002 were the invention of Jewish-controlled media who were avenging themselves on the Catholic Church for “confirm[ing] the necessity of the creation of a Palestinian state.”
The pontiff has a vision for transforming the Church, and he has appointed men who share that vision, even if it means appointing men who are morally compromised and sticking by them. Indeed, Pope Francis’s comments in accepting Cardinal Wuerl’s resignation reveal how tone deaf the pontiff remains:
“This request rests on two pillars that have marked and continue to mark your ministry: to seek in all things the greater glory of God and to procure the good of the people entrusted to your care,” Pope Francis wrote.
In the Oct. 12 letter accepting Wuerl’s resignation, Francis defended the cardinal from the widespread criticism he has faced in recent months.
“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.”
“However, your nobility has led you not to choose this way of defense. Of this, I am proud and thank you.”
“Your renunciation is a sign of your availability and docility to the Spirit who continues to act in his Church,” he added.
Cardinal Wuerl may not have chosen to justify his actions, but if you read between the lines, Francis is happy to do it for him. Perhaps it’s too much to expect Pope Francis to not be so laudatory in his remarks, but I’d certainly have been happier with a slightly less “attaboy!” tone.
There is some truth in the defense of Wuerl, such as it is, that his inaction in Pittsburgh was far less damning than what occurred elsewhere in Pennsylvania, and the prosecutors in the state decided to focus their ire on a more high profile target. But that doesn’t get Wuerl off the hook, and it certainly does not justify his turning a blind eye towards his predecessor’s actions.
What has happened in the Archdiocese is especially tragic when one considers that Cardinal Hickey was one of the few American prelates to take early decisive action and implement procedures to safeguard children. Because of Cardinal Hickey’s actions, the Washington DC Archdiocese was relatively (though of course not wholly) untouched by the clerical abuse scandal. Unfortunately his work was undone by his two successors.
Wuerl’s departure may mend some wounds. Forgive my pessimism in not having high expectations for his successor.