The Archbishop of Washington has cancelled his scheduled participation at the Church’s World Meeting of Families, which will be held next week in Dublin, Ireland.
The cancellation comes after a week in which Washington’s archbishop, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, has faced heavy criticism for the way he managed priests who had been accused of sexual assault during his tenure of Bishop of Pittsburgh, from 1988 to 2006.
On Aug. 14, a Pennsylvania grand jury released its report on an 18-month investigation into seven decades of clerical sexual abuse allegations in six Pennsylvania dioceses, including Pittsburgh. The report raised serious questions about Wuerl’s handling of abuse cases, including one in which Wuerl authorized the transfer and continued ministry of a priest who had been accused of committing acts of sexual abuse decades earlier.
Wuerl has denied having had knowledge of the allegations at the time he authorized the transfer, but questions remain remain unanswered regarding his management of that case and others.
The cardinal has also recently faced questions related to what he might have known about the alleged sexually coercive behavior of his predecessor as Archbishop of Washington, former cardinal Theodore McCarrick. In recent months, McCarrick has faced allegations that he serially sexually abused two adolescent boys, and spent decades committing acts of sexual assault and coercion toward seminarians and young priests. In 2005 and and 2007, two New Jersey dioceses reached settlements with alleged victims of McCarrick.
Wuerl, who succeeded McCarrick as Archbishop of Washington in 2006, reports having had no knowledge of those settlements, or of any complaints about sexually abusive behavior on the part of McCarrick, who continued to live and minister in the Archdiocese of Washington subsequent to his retirement.
Wuerl has faced multiple calls for his resignation this week. In fact, the cardinal actually submitted a letter of resignation to Pope Francis in November 2015, upon turning 75, the age at which bishops customarily submit letters of resignation to the pope. While many insiders had expected Wuerl to remain in his post until the age of 80, it now seems likely that his resignation will be accepted before that time.
There has been no indication from the Vatican of when Wuerl’s resignation might be accepted. However, sources close to the cardinal speculate that he might remain in his position long enough to participate in initial discussions among U.S. bishops as they begin to address the fallout from the monumental sexual abuse crisis the Church is now facing.
Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston also cancelled his participation this week in the World Meeting of Families. O’Malley withdrew from the event after announcing an investigation into allegations of sexual improprieties at the Archdiocese of Boston’s seminary.
The World Meeting of Families is organized by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life, which is headed by Cardinal Kevin Farrell, formerly the Bishop of Dallas, and before that an auxiliary bishop, under McCarrick, in the Archdiocese of Washington.
The World Meeting of Families will take place Aug. 21-26. Pope Francis will celebrate an open air Mass in Dublin’s Phoenix Park on Aug. 26.