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Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl named to College of Cardinals

By Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 20, 2010; 11:42 PM

Pope Benedict XVI named Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl and 23 other Catholic leaders to the elite College of Cardinals on Wednesday, choosing men who share his orthodox approach to Catholic doctrine.

With the announcement, Benedict, 82, has named more than 40 percent of the cardinals who will determine the direction of the church by choosing the next pontiff.

Many of the new cardinals, elevated during the pope's weekly address in St. Peter's Square, are eager to engage with Catholics who have been alienated by rigid dogma and by the clergy sex abuse scandal, which first exploded in the United States and has now erupted in Europe and other parts of the world.

At the same time, they are generally unyielding on many of the issues that have dogged the church in recent years, rejecting tolerance for birth control, same-sex marriage, female clergy and the idea that Jesus is not the only route to salvation.

"The voice of the church should be a teaching voice," said Wuerl in a phone interview after his selection. "It should be a voice of persuasion. It should be offering spiritual, pastoral guidance."

Wuerl, 69, is considered a leading catechist, or teacher of Catholic doctrine, and a diplomat on volatile social issues. He is well known for refusing to deny Communion to Catholic politicians who support abortion rights. Wuerl has said he cannot deny the sacrament to a willing participant, because he cannot know what is inside a person's heart when that person shares private worship with God.

By contrast, Raymond Burke, the only other American named cardinal Wednesday, argues against giving Communion to politicians who support abortion rights. Burke, who is the former archbishop of St. Louis and works in a top position at the Vatican, has been vocal in criticizing President Obama.

Despite Catholicism's rapid growth in Asia and Africa, 10 of the new cardinals are Italian, which led some church experts to conclude that Benedict is trying to battle increasing secularism on Catholicism's home turf.

Others wondered whether the growing number of Italian cardinals could lead to an Italian pope. Pope John Paul II, a native of Poland, was the first non-Italian pontiff in almost 500 years. Benedict, who was elected pontiff in 2005 at the age of 78, is German.

On Wednesday, Vatican watchers were abuzz analyzing the names amid preparations for the elaborate Nov. 20 elevation ceremony in Rome.

George Weigel, a conservative Catholic writer and papal biographer, said the list contained no surprises. It was heavy on archbishops from major dioceses and administrators from key offices in the Vatican.

"This is a very bureaucratic list," Weigel said.

The Rev. Matthew Lamb, chairman of theology at Ave Maria University in Florida, said Wuerl exemplifies the kind of cardinals Benedict favors: unwavering on doctrine but politic in tone.

After keeping the news secret for a day from those close to him, Wuerl began Wednesday by celebrating Mass at St. Matthew's Cathedral in Northwest Washington, where he entered to applause and several women falling to his feet.

Wuerl has been expected to be named a cardinal since he came to Washington from Pittsburgh in 2006. He organized Benedict's 2008 visit to Washington and was credited with its perceived success. His selection seemed virtually assured once Washington Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick turned 80, disqualifying him from voting in papal elections. Usually only one voting cardinal is allowed per diocese. The new appointments raise the number of voting-age cardinals to 121.

Since coming to Washington, Wuerl has set a quiet tone, preferring to resolve contentious issues out of the public eye. But he displayed a harder edge 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 partner with the city.

After the law passed, Catholic Charities ended its 80-year-old foster care program 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. But on Wednesday some church officials praised Wuerl.

"He's taken on tough problems and handled them with clarity and forcefulness and with great eloquence," said McCarrick, calling Wuerl's handling of the clash with the city evidence of his being a "courageous leader."

Wuerl said he believes that his class of cardinals and the next pope will push for what he called "the new evangelization" of the developed world, a place he described as distracted from God by technology, secularism and a furiously paced culture.

"This is the effort to re-propose the faith to people who have heard it and drifted away," Wuerl said Wednesday. He described the approach as "very different" from past priorities, such as missionary activity in unchurched parts of the world and keeping Catholic schools, hospitals and universities true to church teachings.

The new cardinals - who will join the ranks of the second-highest ranking Catholic officials after the pope - also will be forced to contend with the continuing fallout from the clergy sex abuse scandal. Although the pope has apologized repeatedly for the sins of the church, victims' advocates continue to demand more transparency and accountability from top church officials.

Among the men picked was Munich Archbishop Reinhard Marx, who has led efforts in Germany to force out a bishop accused of physically abusing children.

The scandal took a back seat Wednesday to celebratory Masses for the incoming cardinals.

Employees at the Washington Archdiocese, which includes the District and the Maryland suburbs, were scrambling Wednesday to organize Wuerl's trip to Rome. Called a "pilgrimage," it will probably include dozens of friends, supporters and relatives. Wuerl's aides were remaking his business cards and stationery, as well as his vestments, which will go from magenta-accented to red-accented after Nov. 20.

The formal elevation ceremony, called a consistory, will take place at the Vatican before hundreds of guests. A Mass with the pope will be held the next day.

"Once they get hit with that red, they go global," Philadelphia-based Vatican watcher Rocco Palmo. "You can be archbishop of a major city, but being made cardinal is your coming-out globally."

Benedict has called two previous consistories since he became pope. After more cardinals turn 80 early next year, he could wind up personally choosing more than two-thirds of those who will be charged with electing his successor.

There are more than 5,000 bishops around the globe.

In addition to the two Americans and 10 Italians, Wednesday's list includes two Germans and one cardinal-designate from each of the following countries: Egypt, Guinea, Switzerland, Zambia, Ecuador, Congo, Brazil, Poland, Sri Lanka and Spain.

Wuerl, during his appearance at St. Matthew's, said he was filled with joy at his selection and was looking forward to wearing the red biretta of a cardinal.

"I hope that the new hat will provide a new opportunity for some to hear the message," Wuerl said. "The message in many ways is the same: God loves us, and it is possible to love one another, and it is possible that you can build a kingdom of compassion, a kingdom of love."

Staff writer Hamil R. Harris contributed to this report.

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