McCarrick Successor Seen As a 'Vote for Continuity'
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
Pope Benedict XVI named Bishop Donald W. Wuerl of Pittsburgh yesterday to succeed the retiring Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick as archbishop of Washington, choosing an articulate, affable and politically moderate churchman to fill one of the highest-profile pulpits in the nation.
Like McCarrick, Wuerl has strongly proclaimed the Catholic Church's teachings against abortion, birth control and euthanasia but has not sought to deny Communion to Catholic politicians who take a different position.
Wuerl, 65, established a record of removing sexual abusers from the priesthood during his 18 years running the Pittsburgh diocese. He fought within the Church's courts in the early 1990s to establish a bishop's authority to remove a suspected pedophile from ministry. He also proved to be a tough-minded administrator, closing 100 underpopulated parishes in Pittsburgh and slashing expenses to eliminate a $2 million deficit.
In Washington, he takes over a financially sound archdiocese that has fewer Catholics -- 560,000 compared with Pittsburgh's 800,000 -- but where national and international issues loom larger.
Asked about his priorities, he told reporters that "being a bishop is the same wherever you are. There is sort of a built-in game plan . . . and it goes all the way back to the charge that Jesus gave his apostles: to teach, to help lead his flock and to help sanctify his flock, himself included."
Wuerl will be installed June 22 as the sixth archbishop of Washington, a position that traditionally puts him in line to become a cardinal.
In the interim, McCarrick, who reached the mandatory retirement age of 75 last year, will continue to run the archdiocese. He said he "could not be more pleased" with the pope's choice of Wuerl.
"You will find him to be, in every way, one of the great churchmen of the United States," McCarrick said, standing by Wuerl's side at a news conference at the archdiocese's headquarters in Hyattsville. "His time with us will be a golden age in grace and in progress."
The Rev. Thomas Reese, a senior fellow at Georgetown University's Woodstock Theological Center and former editor of the liberal Jesuit magazine America, called Wuerl's appointment "a vote for continuity."
"He and McCarrick are pretty much in the same place on issues, especially the one that's of most concern to Catholic Democrats on the Hill -- that they'll still be able to go to Communion," Reese said. "He's totally in line with the pope on Church teaching, but he's not going to be heavy-handed. And he's just a nice guy."
The Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, editor of the journal First Things and a leading conservative in the Church, also praised the choice. Wuerl, he said, is "a very personable and articulate fellow, well able to teach the truths of the Catholic faith, a skilled catechist. A good man."
Wuerl, who keeps fit by swimming 50 laps a day and said his only hobby is reading medieval history, treaded a cautious line through hot-button issues in his first grilling by the Washington media, noting several times that he was "not good at sound bites."