VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl after he became entangled in two major sexual abuse and cover-up scandals and lost the support of many in his flock.
Wuerl, who turns 78 in November and previously served as bishop of the Pittsburgh diocese, becomes the most prominent head to roll in the sexual abuse scandal roiling the Catholic Church after his predecessor as Washington archbishop, Theodore McCarrick, was forced to resign as cardinal over allegations he sexually abused at least two minors and adult seminarians.
A Vatican statement Friday said Francis had accepted Wuerl’s resignation but named no immediate replacement. The decision came after months in which Wuerl initially downplayed the scandal, insisted on his own good record, but then progressively came to the conclusion that he could no longer lead the archdiocese.
In a statement, Bishop David Zubik, head of the Pittsburgh diocese, said, “For as long as I have known Cardinal Wuerl, he has advocated for those within the church and beyond who need the opportunity for a better life.
“I pray that the acceptance of his resignation today by Pope Francis will continue to bring about healing in the hearts and lives of victims of abuse and all those in the Church.”
SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said in a statement it hoped Wuerl’s resignation will bring healing to victims of clergy sex abuse but urged Pope Francis to do more.
“If the Pope truly wants to protect children and help victims to heal he needs to fire and publicly admonish any Bishop that has enabled perpetrators by concealing their crimes from law enforcement and the public,” the organization said in its statement. “Cardinal Wuerl’s removal is a good first step, but Pope Francis should not stop there.”
Wuerl’s name was mentioned 169 times in a grand jury report that detailed 70 years of abuse by church officials in Pennsylvania. The report was critical of Wuerl’s handling of allegations while he was bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, from 1988 to 2006.
Wuerl was not among the 301 “predator priests” named in the report. The report detailed occasions when Wuerl intervened to stop priests accused of abuse but also times where Wuerl transferred those priests to other parishes.