McCarrick Retires; Pittsburgh Bishop Named as Successor

Thomas P. Melady
Former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, Senior Diplomat in Residence, Institute of World Politics
Tuesday, May 16, 2006; 2:00 PM

Thomas P. Melady , former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican and currently senior diplomat in residence at the Institute for World Politics, will be online Tuesday, May 16, at 2 p.m. ET to discuss the resignation of Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick as Archbishop of Washington, the appointment of Pittsburgh Bishop Donald W. Wuerl as his successor and what the change will mean.

Full Coverage:

McCarrick Retiring as Head of Washington Archdiocese (Post, May 16)

Video: McCarrick Introduces Wuerl

Photo Gallery: Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick Steps Down

A transcript follows.


Thomas P. Melady: It's remarkable that in the period of between five and six years he's accomplished so much. I remember I attended his installation in January, 2001, as archbishop and then six months later in Rome when he was named Cardinal by the Pope. When I received the phone call this morning I reflected on what he had accomplished in these not quite six years. He has been a superb leader of the Archdiocese of Washington which is the nation's capital, an articulate spokesman for the church and an excellent administrator.

We're very fortunate that he came to us, some would say, in the sunset years and gave us such great leadership. So we're losing him in terms of the church requirements, age-wise, and we're very fortunate in the new appointment of now Bishop Donald Weurl of Pittsburgh who has had such a great reputation of leading that major diocese and is so sensitive to all the international issues; he's a linguist and will "hit the ground running." And he's well-known and will be a great successor to a very successful predecessor.


Washington, D.C: The requirement that cardinals step down at age 75 seems to smack of ageism. Will the Catholic Church rethink this? Obviously they are loosing experiences talent for what is an antiquated church "law."

What is the reasoning behind this?

I know personally that its stances like this that drove me from Catholicism to being with.

Thomas P. Melady: The age 75 goes back to some time ago. It was set up as a church rule that not only a cardinal but any bishop or archbishop would submit his resignation at 75, which is higher than most places in terms of retirement.

Now the late Pope John Paul II did grant some exceptions to the rule and here in the U.S., both Cardinal O'Connor of New York and Cardinal Hickey of Washington served until they were almost 80. But I believe this pope, Benedict XVI, may not grant these exceptions and so, since he became pope, one American church head hit 75 and submitted his resignation and since then two others have, Cardinal Maida of Detroit and Cardinal Keeler of Baltimore. I assume that in a short time their resignations will be accepted as soon as the Pope decides on a replacement.

So some may say that this is a negative aspect of ageism but I think the Holy See, the Holy Father, who reigns over an international worldwide organization has to think of rules for everybody. While the cardinal will be stepping down in a few weeks from his position I know that a man with his good health and energy will find other things to do for the church.


Fairfax, Va.: I'm really saddened by today's news. Cardinal McCarrick is truly a moderate, compassionate voice amid extremism in the church and U.S. politics. At this year's Easter Vigil service that he presided over and that I attended, at the end, he was very wistful, I guess knowing it would be his last as the archbishop of Washington. My question: how influential will Bishop Wuerl be with elected officials? It's almost as if the Archbishop of Washington position is deemed as the unofficial ambassador to politicians. Do you predict frequent interaction? Continued frequent appearances on Meet the Press?

Thomas P. Melady: I would predict that the new Archbishop, Archbishop Wuerl will fill those shoes as he is a strong and experienced leader who does very well in representing the church point of view, handles the public media, both television and radio very well, and I know here in Washington, he will easily continue on a national basis to represent the church at the Congress and at the office of the president.


Detroit, Mich.: Will Archbishop-elect Wuerl have a different position on giving communion to pro-abortion politicians than Cardinal McCarrick did?

Thomas P. Melady: I'm a lay person. I would say that Cardinal McCarrick followed the church position and was guided by church policy. I predict that there'll be a continuity in the position of Archbishop-designate Wuerl with the decisions and policies of Cardinal McCarrick.


Tampa, Fla.: I see some of the papers are calling Wuerl a prominent conservative ... I'm an active Catholic and have always thought of him as (pleasingly) progressive. As I remembered, he advocated collegiality and moderation during the John Kerry Eucharist flap. What's your take on this?

Thomas P. Melady: These various labels are assigned sometime haphazardly. I would not use the label of either conservative or liberal on Archbishop-designate Wuerl. He served for years in Rome. He knows the heart of the church and therefore I believe that he will follow the central authority of the church on these various teachings.


Arlington, Va.: What kind of viewpoint will Wuerl bring to the immigration debate?

Thomas P. Melady: I don't think we have to guess the answer to that one. He will follow the teachings and traditions of the church on refugees, stateless persons and immigrants. It will be a compassionate one, reflecting historic Christian traditions. It will be no surprise. He will be in favor of aiding the immigrants and their families as his fellow bishops have been.


Alexandria, Va.: What is the first thing that Bishop Donald W. Wuerl needs to do in Washington DC.

Thomas P. Melady: I think he will do like most people when they have a new assignment. He will spend some time -- first few months -- meeting staff, the pastors and various Catholic lay people, so that he knows the local culture. While we are the nation's capital in square miles and maybe even in parishes we may be smaller than his current diocese, the Diocese of Pittsburgh.


Washington, D.C.: Do you expect Cardinal McCarrick to continue international diplomatic activity on behalf of the Pope? I recall that he has been very active in this regard even while serving as archbishop in Washington.

Thomas P. Melady: I have no inside information but I believe that given his good health and extensive international experience that the Vatican will continue to make use of him in important international assignments.


DeMatha Catholic High School Hyattsville, Md: I think Cardinal McCarrick's tenure at the helm of the Washington Archdiocese has been vastly overrated. He spent too much of his time abroad. Locally, his main concern seem to be raising larges sums of cash.

Thomas P. Melady: This is an inaccurate appraisal. He spent a lot of time here in Washington. One of his big things was the promotion of vocations to the priesthood and to religious life. In regard to fundraising, every head of a diocese is faced with that necessity. He was very successful at it and still carried out all his other duties.


Washington, D.C.: Do you think Cardinal McCarrick wanted to retire. Or, did the pope want him removed?

Thomas P. Melady: I don't think it's either. The canon law is very clear. On the day he turns 75 he submits his resignation and then the details of the transfer of authority are worked out. It takes normally about a year to find a replacement and so, as a good obedient priest of the church, he, like all bishops, submitted his resignation when he turned 75.


Ann Arbor, Mich.: Will Archbishop-elect Wuerl continue his duties at the USCCB?

Will he take a greater interested in the Catholic University of America?

Thomas P. Melady: In regard to Catholic University, I believe that the Archbishop of Washington also becomes the chancellor of the university so almost automatically he will become more involved in the policies and activities of the Catholic University of America.


Olney, Md.: As a Catholic who grew up and returns to Pittsburgh four times a year, I feel that Bishop Wuerl has some really big shoes to fill.

Bishop Wuerl is known more for his administrative skills. He has closed several dozen parishes in the Pittsburgh Diocese during his tenure. These combined parishes are still evolving, more than ten years later. Parish boundaries were redrawn, and some parishioners never fully accepted these changes.

The Washington Archdiocese should expect this wave of consolidation as well. I always admired how Cardinal McCarrick reached out to each parish by visiting each parish in the archdiocese, and seemed genuinely concerned about the spiritual welfare of all parishioners.

I know each Archbishop leaves his mark during his assignment. Do you think that Archbishop of Washington designate Wuerl will consolidate parishes or will he leave our parishes alone?

Thomas P. Melady: It all depends on the situation. I do live in Washington. The Catholic population is growing and we haven't had the demographic changes that you find in some of the big industrial cities where the Catholic areas of 50-75 years ago have significantly changed. This has been a phenomenon of many of the industrial cities of the east (N.Y., Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Detroit) but it has not been the situation in Washington. I don't think we'll see that happening here.


Pittsburgh, Pa. : Please explain the difference in the church between a Bishop, Arch Bishop and Cardinal?

Thomas P. Melady: Basically you have a diocese which is geographic area. The head of the diocese is the bishop. Some dioceses are extra large and the head there is the archbishop. For example, in the state of New Jersey, where Archbishop McCarrick was before he came to Washington, you have several diocese and the archdiocese of Newark. These are geographic areas or provinces of the church. The cardinal is a member of the supreme governing body and that is known as the College of Cardinals. A cardinal could also be an archbishop, like here, or he might be a senior member of the Vatican staff. All cardinals until age 80 can vote for the successor pope.


Detroit, Mich.: What sort of political effect could Wuerl's appointment have - especially during the fall election campaigns? i.e., is the Vatican making any particular statements by appointing Wuerl?

Thomas P. Melady: Oh, I don't think politics enters into the situation at all. Bishop Wuerl was chosen to lead the Archdiocese of Washington and it's just by accident that his coming here coincides with the coming elections.


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