Pope’s Mixed Message On Wuerl Shows He Does Not Understand Or Care

Pope Francis sent another demoralizing mixed message to sexual abuse survivors today. Unfortunately, that is not surprising.

The pope accepted the resignation of Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington today. This should have been a positive demonstration to survivors of his commitment to hold bishops accountable for mishandling clergy sex abuse cases. Wuerl was named in the recent Pennsylvania grand jury report that accused church hierarchy of covering up abuse. Pennsylvania’s attorney general said the report and documents show that “Cardinal Wuerl oversaw and participated in the cover-up” when he was the Diocese of Pittsburgh bishop from 1988-2006.

But instead of showing that he gets it and wants to help survivors by getting rid of problem bishops, Pope Francis complimented Cardinal Wuerl’s “nobility,” supported his handling of abuse cases and asked him to remain as the apostolic administrator of the archdiocese. On top of that, Cardinal Wuerl will remain a member of the Congregation for Bishops, which advises the pope on the appointment of bishops.

Pope Francis’s papacy started in 2013 with guarded glints of hope for survivors after decades of clergy abuse and hierarchy cover-up.  Pope Francis set up a commission to advise him on safeguarding children and created a tribunal to try negligent bishops. He publicly advocated a zero tolerance policy for clergy sexual abuse.
But it turns out Pope Francis has been all talk, at best. At worst, his actions and words have supported clergy abusers and those covering them up, and hurt survivors.

Earlier this year he defended Chilean bishops against accusations that they covered up abuse and said accusers were lying, before eventually saying he believed the survivors and removing bishops. In August, the Vatican’s former ambassador to the United States accused Pope Francis of covering up inappropriate behavior by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Cardinal Wuerl’s predecessor as archbishop of Washington. Cardinal George Pell, the third-ranking Vatican official and Pope Francis ally, faces legal proceedings in Australia in connection with allegations of sexual offenses; when those proceedings were initiated last year, the Vatican publicly supported Cardinal Pell but not survivors.

“Wave after wave of scandal concerning decades of abuse by priests and cover-up by bishops has crashed at the doors of the Vatican this year,” The Guardian noted in August. “The issue threatens to derail Francis’s papacy unless he can belatedly show that he does not just understand the scale and systemic nature of the problem but is willing to take concrete action to deal with it.”

Pope Francis’ statement on Cardinal Wuerl Friday shows that he neither understands the problem nor wants to deal with it.  One of Cardinal Wuerl’s own priests in the Archdiocese of Washington, Msgr. Charles Pope, has a solution to the problem: stay angry and continue to fight the hierarchy’s inaction and cover-ups. He recently urged fellow Catholics to demand action and not settle for mere words.

“So stay angry, my friends,” Msgr. Pope stated. “Stay angry at sin, at cover-ups, and at different standards for the powerful and those at the top. Yes, stay angry.”