D.C.'s Wuerl among 24 new cardinals named by Pope Benedict

For years, there have been rumors that Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl was destined to become a cardinal. He is considered a leading teacher of Catholic doctrine and a diplomat on explosive social issues.
By Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 20, 2010; 2:36 PM

Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday named Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl and 23 other Catholic leaders from around the world to join the elite College of Cardinals.

The highest-ranking officials in the Catholic Church after the pope, cardinals advise the pope and elect new pontiffs. The only other American on the list is Raymond Burke, the former archbishop of St. Louis, who currently works in a top position at the Vatican.

Wuerl, 69, is a cautious educator who shares the pope's top priority: eliminating ambiguity in an era of debate about Catholicism's position on everything from health care to human sexuality. He is considered a leading catechist, or teacher of Catholic doctrine, and a diplomat on explosive social issues.

In a phone interview, the cardinal-designate said: "The voice of the church should be a teaching voice. It should be a voice of persuasion. It should be offering spiritual, pastoral guidance."

Wuerl celebrated Mass before about 100 worshipers at St. Matthew's Cathedral in downtown Washington shortly after the announcement, telling those present that "this designation today is an honor for this church, the church of Washington, the church in our nation's capital."

The worshipers applauded him, and some even dropped to his feet as a sign of respect.

A staid, formal man who in most cases prefers to resolve issues out of the public eye, Wuerl drew headlines last year when he told D.C. officials that a proposal to legalize same-sex marriage could jeopardize the ability of Catholic Charities, a major provider of social services, to work in the city.

After the law passed, Catholic Charities ended its 80-year-old foster care program, in order to avoid placing children with same-sex couples. It also stopped providing spousal health-care benefits to new employees. Many Catholics and social service advocates were outraged by the actions, saying Wuerl should have found another way to reaffirm the church's opposition to same-sex marriage.

Wuerl has led committees of U.S. bishops on education and on doctrine and has been seen as headed for cardinalhood ever since he was moved to Washington from his home town of Pittsburgh in 2006.

Traditionally, however, popes don't name two cardinals from one diocese - and Washington already is home to Wuerl's predecessor, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Cardinals lose their right to vote for pope when they turn 80, however, and McCarrick turned 80 a few months ago, paving the way for Wuerl's designation.

Wednesday's announcement came during Benedict's weekly public appearance in St. Peter's Square. The pontiff sat under an awning, as is his custom, before a packed crowd enjoying the fall sunshine.

The formal elevation ceremony, called a consistory, will take place Nov. 20, at the Vatican, before hundreds of guests. A Mass with the pope will be held the following day, church officials said.

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