Cardinal Wuerl Cancels World Meeting of Families Appearance

The cancellation comes after a week in which Cardinal Wuerl has faced heavy criticism for the way he managed priests who had been accused of sexual assault during his tenure as bishop of Pittsburgh, from 1988 to 2006.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl
Cardinal Donald Wuerl (photo: CNA/Bohumil Petrik)

WASHINGTON —  Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington has canceled his scheduled participation at the Church’s World Meeting of Families, which will be held next week in Dublin, Ireland.

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 Archbishop Theodore 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 Aug. 26.

The cancellation comes after a week in which Cardinal Wuerl has faced heavy criticism for the way he managed priests who had been accused of sexual assault during his tenure as 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 Cardinal Wuerl’s handling of abuse cases, including one in which Cardinal Wuerl authorized the transfer and continued ministry of a priest who had been accused of committing acts of sexual abuse decades earlier.

The cardinal, 77, has denied having had knowledge of the allegations at the time he authorized the transfer, but questions 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 McCarrick. In recent months, Archbishop 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 2007, two New Jersey dioceses reached settlements with alleged victims of the disgraced archbishop, 88.

Cardinal Wuerl who came to Washington in 2006, reports having had no knowledge of those settlements, or of any complaints about sexually abusive behavior on the part of Archbishop McCarrick, who continued to live and minister in the Archdiocese of Washington subsequent to his retirement.

Cardinal Wuerl has faced multiple calls for his resignation since the report came out. 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 Cardinal 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 canceled his participation this week in the World Meeting of Families. Cardinal O’Malley withdrew from the event after announcing an investigation into allegations of sexual improprieties at the Archdiocese of Boston’s seminary

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