WASHINGTON — Cardinal Donald Wuerl told priests of the Archdiocese of Washington on Saturday that he appropriately handled a 2004 allegation of sexual misconduct against Archbishop Theodore McCarrick. The cardinal also claimed his recent denials of knowledge concerning McCarrick’s alleged misdeeds pertained only to the sexual abuse of minors.
In a Jan. 12 letter to priests, Cardinal Wuerl said that in 2004 he received a complaint alleging then-Cardinal McCarrick’s “inappropriate conduct” from a former priest who was primarily reporting other incidents of sexual abuse, one involving a Pittsburgh priest. Cardinal Wuerl was at the time bishop of Pittsburgh.
“The entire report was also immediately turned over to the apostolic nuncio — the papal representative in the U.S. Having acted responsibly with the allegation involving Bishop McCarrick’s behavior with an adult and hearing nothing more on the matter, I did not avert to this again,” Cardinal Wuerl wrote.
“The man asked for confidentiality to protect his own name.”
On June 20, 2018, the Archdiocese of New York announced it had deemed credible an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor made against then-Cardinal McCarrick, who served as a New York priest in the 1970s. Media reports subsequently revealed allegations that then-Cardinal McCarrick had serially sexually abused at least two teenage boys and that he had engaged in coercive sexual misconduct with priests and seminarians for decades.
Cardinal Wuerl wrote in a June 21 letter to his diocese that he was “shocked and saddened” by allegations made against McCarrick, his predecessor as archbishop of Washington.
In the same letter, Cardinal Wuerl affirmed that “no claim — credible or otherwise — has been made against Cardinal McCarrick during his time here in Washington.”
In July, Cardinal Wuerl told WTOP that he had never heard rumors of sexual misconduct regarding McCarrick.
But Cardinal Wuerl’s Jan. 12 letter said that his remarks had only pertained to rumors regarding the sexual abuse of minors.
“When the allegation of sexual abuse of a minor was brought against Archbishop McCarrick, I stated publicly that I was never aware of any such allegation or rumors. This assertion was in the context of the charges of sexual abuse of minors, which at the time was the focus of discussion and media attention.”
“While one may interpret my statement in a different context, the discussion around and adjudication of Archbishop McCarrick’s behavior concern his abuse of minors,” Cardinal Wuerl wrote.
Cardinal Wuerl received the 2004 complaint from Robert Ciolek, a laicized priest from the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey, where then-Bishop McCarrick served as bishop from 1981 to 1986.
In a Jan. 10 statement, the Diocese of Pittsburgh said that Ciolek appeared in November 2004 before its diocesan review board to discuss the allegation of abuse Ciolek had made against a Pittsburgh priest.
During that meeting, “Mr. Ciolek also spoke of his abuse by then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. This was the first time the Diocese of Pittsburgh learned of this allegation,” the statement said.
“A few days later, then-Bishop Donald Wuerl made a report of the allegation to the apostolic nuncio to the United States."
The disclosure was the first confirmation by Church authorities that Cardinal Wuerl was aware of allegations against then-Cardinal McCarrick before the Archdiocese of New York announced in June 2018 a credible allegation of sexual abuse of a minor made against then-Cardinal McCarrick.
Ciolek reached a settlement agreement with three New Jersey dioceses in 2005 in connection with clerical sexual-abuse allegations. The settlement awarded Ciolek some $80,000 in response to allegations that concerned both Archbishop McCarrick and a Catholic schoolteacher.
Cardinal Wuerl’s letter did not offer details on the specific allegations Ciolek made against Archbishop McCarrick, but Archdiocese of Washington spokesman Ed McFadden told CNA last week they concerned behavior by Archbishop McCarrick at his New Jersey beach house, where the archbishop is alleged to have shared beds with seminarians and exchanged backrubs with them.
McFadden said Ciolek “never claimed direct sexual engagement with McCarrick” in his complaint to Bishop Wuerl.
In a Jan. 10 statement, the Archdiocese of Washington said that “Cardinal Wuerl has attempted to be accurate in addressing questions about Archbishop McCarrick. His statements previously referred to claims of sexual abuse of a minor by Archbishop McCarrick, as well as rumors of such behavior. The cardinal stands by those statements, which were not intended to be imprecise.”
“Cardinal Wuerl has said that until the accusation of abuse of a minor by Cardinal McCarrick was made in New York, no one from this archdiocese has come forward with an accusation of abuse by Archbishop McCarrick during his time in Washington.”
On Jan. 10, Ciolek told The Washington Post that Cardinal Wuerl could have acknowledged the report against McCarrick even while honoring his initial request for confidentiality.
“Wuerl at worst could have said: ‘I am aware but I can’t name that person,’” Ciolek said.
Cardinal Wuerl was appointed to Washington in 2006. The cardinal’s resignation as archbishop of Washington was accepted Oct. 12, 2018, although he was appointed to serve as interim leader of the archdiocese until his successor can be appointed. That appointment is expected by some Vatican observers to be made before a February Vatican summit on child sexual abuse.
The cardinal’s Jan. 12 letter acknowledged to D.C. priests that the controversy surrounding Archbishop McCarrick “has been disruptive in your ministry and difficult for you personally.”
The cardinal said he was sharing his perspective with the priests while “trusting in your understanding.”
He said: “My remarks are not intended as a self-defense but as a way to share some thoughts personally with you.”