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Cardinal Donald Wuerl to meet with Pope on resignation

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    Pope Francis, left, talks with Papal Foundation Chairman Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, D.C., during a meeting with members of the Papal Foundation at the Vatican in 2015. On Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018, a Pennsylvania grand jury accused Cardinal Wuerl of helping to protect abusive priests when he was Pittsburgh's bishop.

    Associated Press

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    Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, speaks during a news conference at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington.

    Associated Press

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Cardinal Donald Wuerl plans to meet with Pope Francis to talk about ending his tenure as archbishop of Washington.

Cardinal Wuerl has faced calls to resign after he was criticized by a Pennsylvania grand jury in a report Aug. 14 over his handling of sexually abusive priests during his tenure as bishop of Pittsburgh.

He was also scrutinized over what he knew, and when, about allegations of sexual misconduct against his predecessor, former cardinal and retired Washington Archbishop Theodore McCarrick.

In a letter to priests dated Tuesday, Cardinal Wuerl acknowledged the “shame of these terrible actions” of sexual abuse and the faithful’s “questions about their bishop’s ability to provide the necessary leadership.”

Cardinal Wuerl met on Labor Day with priests of the archdiocese, aiming to gauge their reactions to the fallout from the scandals.

Initially he gave no indication of stepping down, calling instead for a “season of healing” beginning with a penitential Mass this Friday at St. Matthew Cathedral in Washington.

But in Tuesday’s letter, he gave the impression of one setting his departure in motion.

“It was clear that some decision, sooner rather than later, on my part is an essential aspect so that this archdiocesan Church we all love can move forward,” Cardinal Wuerl wrote. “... Our discernment here, I believe, has indicated the way forward to bring healing and a new beginning at the service of this Church. I am particularly grateful for your patience and respect for this time of discernment.”

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Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, speaks during a news conference at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington.

Associated Press Enlarge

Cardinal Wuerl wrote that he plans to “meet with our Holy Father about” resigning. No date was mentioned in the letter.

He already submitted his pro forma resignation in 2015, when he reached the mandatory retirement age of 75 for diocesan bishops, but it’s up to the Pope to decide when to accept it, and cardinals often are allowed to stay until age 80.

And Pope Francis had been in no hurry to accept the resignation of one of his top allies in the U.S. church.

Late in 2013, the Pontiff appointed Cardinal Wuerl to the Congregation for Bishops, a key Vatican body that advises the Pope on the appointment of bishops, giving him a central role in shaping the leadership of the U.S. church.

In 2015, during a fractious synod on the family in Rome, Pope Francis named Cardinal Wuerl as the sole American on a committee that drafted a report on the proceedings. That led to a papal document that has drawn both the pontiff and the cardinal into controversies over whether it opened the door to sacraments for divorced-and-remarried persons who were traditionally denied them.

While Cardinal Wuerl has defended his record of being ahead of the curve on keeping abusive priests out of ministry, the grand jury report cited cases challenging that record. The cardinal canceled a planned appearance at a major conference, the World Meeting of Families, held in Dublin last month in conjunction with a visit by Pope Francis.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Peter Smith is the religion editor at the Post-Gazette. Contact him at: petersmith@post-gazette.com

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