The demands that Donald Wuerl be dismissed as archbishop of Washington and resign from the Roman Catholic Church’s College of Cardinals are proportionate in their degree of outrage with their degree of disappointment with the failed priest.
Thanks to a Pennsylvania grand jury, we now know of the evil that took place during his time as bishop of Pittsburgh. Wuerl’s diocese included the coverup of an alleged priest-run child porn ring, including priests who would reportedly mark victims for other predators via a gold cross. If that isn’t satanic, then the word defines nothing.
And Wuerl covered up that ring. And dozens of other cases. And he allowed predators to feel free to move around the country provided they didn’t endanger his career. Did Cardinal Theodore McCarrick support Wuerl as his successor in Washington confident of the latter’s ability to keep the ugliest sins under the carpet? It would not surprise.
Indeed, nothing surprises anymore. Those of us in the Catholic community who gave the church a second and even a third chance have been left disgusted. There was a 2002 “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” put out by U.S. bishops. There was “A Report on the Crisis in the Catholic Church in the United States” put out in February 2004. Upon its release, the church-appointed lay review board that wrote the report held a big event at the National Press Club. I went. I wanted to hear in person that change had come.
Some leaders stepped up. Philadelphia’s indefatigable Archbishop Charles Chaput was tasked by the pope to investigate the scandal-plagued Legion of Christ, and it was scoured. Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles put his predecessor Roger Mahoney under what is effectively house arrest. On the other side of the coin, Cardinal Bernard Law had to flee the country and take up residence in Rome until his death.
We thought the coverups were over. Then the Pennsylvania grand jury revealed the most skilled conspirator turns out to be Wuerl, who managed his nondisclosure agreements with victims and his predators, according to the report, so well that he got promoted to be the face of the church in the most powerful city in the world. And his boss in Rome wrote a pablum-filled letter on Monday assigning collective responsibility for the crimes and the coverups to everyone.
To be very specific: To hell with that. I didn’t abuse my CCD students (mandatory Saturday or weeknight classes for students attending public schools) when I taught them as a volunteer in the ’80s. I didn’t have a single abusive priest or nun in 12 years of Catholic education. This horror has ownership, and the deed’s many names include Wuerl. And with Monday’s “everybody is to blame” mea non-culpa from Pope Francis, his name is on it too. Wuerl needs to resign. And the church would be better off with two retired popes and a new man absolutely dedicated to supporting the reformers, not suppressing them.
The church, despite leaders such as Chaput and Gomez, cannot be trusted to tear out the rot. There are too few like them and too much rot. There should be 49 other state attorneys general investigations or, given the interstate movement of predators with the cooperation of the church, perhaps a Justice Department investigation leading to a consent decree on practices that the church is obliged to follow when a pedophile is discovered in its midst. It wouldn’t violate the free exercise clause to insist that every bishop simply agree to follow the law.
Chaput has always argued that if statutes of limitations are extended for victims of church abuse, they should be extended for all victims, and he’s right. It’s not like Penn State University, Michigan State University and the University of Southern California — homes to terrible abuse scandals — are any less culpable than Catholic dioceses. But at least those three institutions didn’t keep their presidents around (though USC took its time in dumping its president, to the disgrace and injury of the university).
Every day that Wuerl continues in his job injures every victim and every Catholic. He undermined all the work of reform that went before him. He conned his colleagues. He conned the review board by avoiding its gaze. The con man should be gone. This week.