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Pope Francis tells embattled Cardinal Donald Wuerl: Talk with your priests |

Pope Francis tells embattled Cardinal Donald Wuerl: Talk with your priests

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

Under scrutiny for his handling of clerical sex abuse, Cardinal Donald Wuerl traveled to Rome last week to meet with Pope Francis, who told him to consult with his priests back home in Washington, sources familiar with the meeting said Tuesday.

One source familiar with the schedule of Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, D.C., said the cardinal met one on one with Francis Thursday about the controversies surrounding Wuerl. The meeting was first reported by CNN.

The 77-year-old cleric, an ally of the pope considered a careful bureaucrat, took a double-hit this summer — first with the release in August of a huge Pennsylvania grand jury report alleging bishops, including Wuerl, covered up and failed to properly handle clergy abusers. Wuerl was the leader in the Pittsburgh diocese before coming to Washington in 2006. Then on Aug. 25, a former Vatican ambassador released an unprecedented public letter that said popes Francis and Benedict, as well as Wuerl and other top clerics, knew about misconduct but failed to stop it.

Monday night, Wuerl gathered his priests for a conversation about the scandals, which have angered many in the archdiocese, including clerics who feel Wuerl isn’t coming totally clean about all he knows about the case of his predecessor, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. McCarrick resigned in July after being accused of abusing two boys as well as harassing and groping seminarians and a young priest. Many had called for his resignation.

There have been several smaller gatherings of priests in recent days to discuss the controversies — and Wuerl’s leadership — but Monday was the first one Wuerl hosted. According to two people familiar with what happened at the event – which included a group prayer, Q and A and then dinner — Wuerl told the priests about his discussion with Francis.

“He asked the Holy Father how to move forward and they told him he should discern with his priests,” said one person who spoke with priests who attended Monday.

Wuerl hosts an annual Labor Day picnic with his priests, but this year — because of the controversies swirling around Wuerl and the church — he sent a letter last week saying “this year is different. While we still need to come together in priestly solidarity, this time we do so not with the accent on joy but with the emphasis on prayer and support for one another. There is a very real sense of being overwhelmed,” he wrote in his invitation to his priests. “I would would like us to simply share whatever our thoughts, our feelings, our sense of where we are as brothers bearing a cross together.”

One person who spoke with two priests who were there said the priests who attended were quite split about whether Wuerl should resign, and whether he was to blame. The feeling of the meeting, the person said, was respectful. The scripture reading at the prayer was about Jesus being attacked by enemies, but moving forward; “being prophetic by being clear and leading.”

Priests told Wuerl they were wounded by the scandals and didn’t know what to believe. Some told him they found it hard to believe him when he has said he never heard rumors about McCarrick, which had swirled for years. Wuerl has denied hearing anything about sexual misconduct involving McCarrick, and has defended his record in Pittsburgh.

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