Archbishop of Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl is facing increased calls for his resignation from the diocese as Catholics react to the 887 page report issued by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court detailing nearly seven decades of abuse in the church.
Wuerl holds an honorary degree from Georgetown and spoke in Dahlgren Chapel as part of a pro-life event hosted by the Pellegrino Center for Clinical Bioethics at Georgetown University Medical Center in October 2017. Rev. Gregory Schenden, S.J, director of campus ministry, said that he believes that the investigation exposes a systemic problem.
“There’s a great need for transformation. That involves the hierarchy, obviously. It involves priests in the trenches, obviously, but it involves a greater voice for laywomen and laymen in the Church,” Schenden said. “That’s a huge part.”
Washington-area Catholics have called on the Church to hold Wuerl accountable for his role in allowing abuse to go unpunished. In August, more than 50 teachers in the Washington diocese protested the Church’s back-to-school mass on Aug. 28. On Sept. 2, a congregation member at Annunciation Catholic Church yelled “Shame on you!” as Wuerl stood up to apologize and ask forgiveness for the accusations.
Wuerl was ordained in December of 1966, and served as bishop of Pittsburgh for 18 years before he became archbishop of Washington in 2006. The July 27 report mentions his name over 150 times as a possible concealer of abuse in the diocese of Pittsburgh, and states that in 1989 Wuerl “sent a letter to the Vatican with respect to several diocesan priests who had recently been accused of sexually abusing children.” In the letter, Wuerl wrote to the Vatican that he believed that parishioners should know if an accused abuser had been assigned to their church, and that he had begun an investigation into allegations of pedophilia. He also strongly condemned abuse and called pedophilia “incurable.”
However, the report showed that Wuerl allowed a priest accused of abuse to be reassigned in October 1991, despite having full knowledge of the clergy member’s history. The investigation described at least seven other instances in which Wuerl allowed accused abusers to return to work or receive benefits from the Church.
University President John DeGioia addressed the scandal in a Sept. 4 letter to the Georgetown community. DeGioia wrote that the report “has revealed an abject failure to protect the most vulnerable among us,” and added that “this systematic failure demands accountability on the part of the Church and discernment in our Georgetown community about our appropriate response.” DeGioia did not address Wuerl’s honorary degree or past speaking engagements at the university.
Schenden says he is hopeful that the Church will use this scandal to improve from within. “In the Leonard Cohen song ‘Anthem’, there’s a line [that says] ‘There’s a crack in everything, and that’s where the light gets in,” he said. “We’ve seen a lot of cracks, and a real amount of darkness, but through those cracks is how the light gets in.”