Garfield, who could not be reached for comment Monday, told CNN that he is a lifelong Catholic and is angry about the findings of a grand jury report in Pennsylvania released last month that documented abuse by 300 priests over the course of 70 years.
The report focused attention on Wuerl’s mixed record of dealing with abusive priests when he was bishop of Pittsburgh for 18 years before becoming archbishop of the Washington archdiocese in 2006.
Since the report was released, Wuerl has faced escalating calls by Catholic survivors groups to resign — a push that grew more intense last week after a former Vatican ambassador to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, published a letter that accused Wuerl of knowing about alleged sexual misconduct committed by his predecessor in Washington, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.
Wuerl has denied knowing anything about allegations of misconduct by McCarrick — who is accused of abusing two minors and young priests and seminarians — until he was suspended this summer. McCarrick resigned from the College of Cardinals in July following the allegations.
During his speech Sunday, delivered after Mass, Wuerl sought to soothe anger among Catholics.
“We know there’s pain,” Wuerl told his audience, many of whom sat listening in silence. “We know there’s confusion. I wish I could wipe it away, but that’s not the way it works.”
The outburst by Garfield came after Wuerl asked for prayers for the pope, who has also come under attack over the handling of abuse claims.
“It’s clear that he is the object of considerable animosity,” Wuerl said of Francis.
In a statement, the Washington archdiocese said Wuerl received “applause and expressions of support from the parishioners” as he concluded. Later, more people approached Wuerl to express their support, the statement said.
Becky Ianni, a leader of the Northern Virginia chapter of the nonprofit Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said a push by survivors groups for Wuerl to resign has been gaining steam.
Several protests against Wuerl have been held recently, including one last week by a group of about 40 Catholic-school teachers outside the annual back-to-school Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
Late last month, a high school in Pittsburgh removed the words “Cardinal Wuerl” from its name.
“We’re getting more phone calls,” said Ianni, who was abused as a child by a priest in Alexandria. “I think it angered a lot of people that he was initially not being contrite.”
When Wuerl and other Catholic officials use terms such as “errors in judgment” or “inappropriate contact,” it angers people who want abusive priests held accountable, she said.
“All that kind of stuff minimizes the pain of survivors,” Ianni said.