Just Asking: Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington


(Joshua Yospyn/For The Washington Post)
Joe Heim
Writer and editor August 8

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, 73, has led the Archdiocese of Washington since 2006.

As a religious leader, people come to you with moral questions. Do you ever get tired of answering them?

Joe Heim is an editor and writer for The Washington Post magazine. He has recently written about the role of presidents as consolers-in-chief and about Washingtonians personal experiences with gun violence. View Archive

Not really. One of the things that I have always appreciated is the trust people have put in the church and that, we, after 2,000 years of grappling with issues, have some insight. And so, I’m always very conscious when someone comes and wants some advice that I’m passing on this collective wisdom. And I’ve never really ever found that it was anything other than a joyful thing.

A moral question: Should the Washington Redskins change their name?

That’s an area that I rarely get into, making judgment calls for other people. The task of a bishop is to call people to do the best they can, to call people to respect others, to call others to apply the principle of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and then encourage them to make the right call.

But is saying that sort of the same as saying they should change their name?

Again, I don’t like to draw the conclusion for other people. You want to encourage them to do the right thing, but it has to come out of their heart.

What’s the worst part about being a cardinal?

Well, the challenging part is to know how many needs there are out there and to know how limited we are in helping. There’s so much human need, and you want to be there for everybody, but there’s only so much you can do.

Is it inevitable that women will one day become priests in the Catholic Church?

I think the emphasis and the focus has to be on empowering women in the church and seeing that women have multiple responsible jobs in the church. I make the distinction between all of the things that women can do and celebrating Mass. Celebrating Mass is not the only thing. Women in this archdiocese serve in some of the most responsible positions.

Pope Francis has received a tremendous reaction. ...

I think what Pope Francis is providing is a whole encouragement and welcome to people. He’s also reminding all of us that none of us are perfect. The church isn’t for perfect people.

If I were a cardinal, I would think all the time about becoming pope.

That has never crossed my mind in any serious moment. [Laughs.] I just don’t ever see myself having the gifts that a pope should have. Francis does. He really does. One of the beautiful things about him is he simply does the Gospel. He doesn’t change any teaching, he simply does it.

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