An archdiocesan spokesman has confirmed that Cardinal Donald Wuerl will soon ask Pope Francis to accept his resignation as the Archbishop of Washington, D.C. In a Sept. 11 letter to priests, Wuerl said that he would soon meet with the pope to discuss his future, but did not state at the time that he would ask the pope to allow him to resign.
A spokesman for Wuerl confirmed to CNA Sept. 12 that, at their next meeting, the cardinal intends to formally ask Pope Francis to allow him to step down. “Cardinal Wuerl understands that healing from the abuse crisis requires a new beginning and this includes new leadership for the Archdiocese of Washington,” the spokesman said.
As required by canon law, Wuerl originally submitted his resignation on Nov. 12, 2015, after turning 75 years old.
After Wuerl made a trip to Rome in late August, media reports said that Pope Francis had instructed the cardinal to return to Washington and consult with his clergy about the best way forward for him and the archdiocese. In a meeting with priests held Labor Day, Wuerl said he would be taking time to pray and reflect on how best to proceed.
The cardinal has been the subject of considerable criticism in recent months. As the successor to Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, Wuerl has faced questions about his knowledge of sexual abuse allegations made against McCarrick, which were first reported to the public June 20.
Following the release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report at the end of July, Wuerl’s record as Bishop of Pittsburgh, where he served from 1988 until 2006, came under close scrutiny. Some cases in the report raised concerns that Wuerl had allowed priests accused of abuse to remain in ministry after allegations had been made.
Although he has faced calls to step down and several recent demonstrations outside his residence, it has been widely believed that Wuerl hoped to remain in his position at least until the general session of the U.S. bishops’ conference in November.
Several curial sources said that one bishop named to replace Wuriel was Archbishop Bernard Hebda, of St. Paul-Minneapolis. He arrived in Minneapolis as an emergency apostolic administrator in 2015 following the resignation of Archbishop Nienstedt, who was himself accused of sexual misconduct.
While in Newark, Hedba gained a reputation as a reformer with a close interest in archdiocesan affairs. While in Minneapolis, he brought the archdiocese through a protracted bankruptcy process, following multiple suits brought against it for cases of sexual abuse.