A shocking new document about the handling of sexual abuse allegations against disgraced former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has raised serious questions about what exactly Cardinal Donald Wuerl – the current archbishop of Washington, D.C., and McCarrick’s successor – knew about the former cardinal’s alleged misconduct.
McCarrick is accused of sexual abuse of priests, seminarians, and members of the laity, including minors.
The letter of “testimony” written by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò – the Vatican’s former ambassador to the U.S. – accuses Pope Francis of reinstating McCarrick to the status of advisor to the pontiff, despite knowing of his misdeeds.
Viganò also writes Wuerl knew about sanctions imposed on McCarrick by Pope Benedict as a result of his misconduct:
Obviously, the first to have been informed of the measures taken by Pope Benedict was McCarrick’s successor in Washington See, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, whose situation is now completely compromised by the recent revelations regarding his behavior as Bishop of Pittsburgh.
Christopher Altieri at the Catholic Herald observes a particular portion of Viganò’s document in which the former ambassador recalls an incident that occurred after 2011, when he had assumed his post as nuncio, but prior to March 2013, when Francis was elected by the College of Cardinals:
I had to draw [Cardinal Wuerl’s] attention to [the disciplinary measures], because I realised that in an archdiocesan publication, on the back cover in colour, there was an announcement inviting young men who thought they had a vocation to the priesthood to a meeting with Cardinal McCarrick. I immediately phoned Cardinal Wuerl, who expressed his surprise to me, telling me that he knew nothing about that announcement and that he would cancel it. If, as he now continues to state, he knew nothing of the abuses committed by McCarrick and the measures taken by Pope Benedict, how can his answer be explained?
According to Viganò, Wuerl was “well aware of the continuous abuses committed by Cardinal McCarrick and the sanctions imposed on him by Pope Benedict,” and yet he dismissed Benedict’s sanctions, still allowing McCarrick “to reside at a seminary in Washington D.C.”
Ed McFadden, spokesman for the D.C. archdiocese, reportedly told the Herald that Wuerl did, in fact, cancel the McCarrick event with the young men at Viganò’s request.
However, according to the New York Times, McFadden has denied that Wuerl was “fully aware” of the sanctions imposed on McCarrick by Pope Benedict.
“In spite of what Archbishop Viganò’s memo indicates, Cardinal Wuerl did not receive any documentation or information during his time in Washington regarding any actions taken against Archbishop McCarrick,” McFadden said.
Following the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury’s report, the D.C. archdiocese subsequently erected a website – the “Wuerl Report” – that served to defend the cardinal’s management of the abuse cases in Pittsburgh. McFadden, however, directed the website be removed in the wake of staunch criticism.
“We knew there would be criticism after the report was released, and rightly so, but we also wanted fair coverage, so the Archdiocese of Washington put up the page ‘Wuerl Record’ so that reporters – who have not covered the Cardinal or the Church before – would have the full picture,” McFadden said, adding, “In hindsight, it was a mistake.”
Robert Royal, editor-in-chief at The Catholic Thing, asserts Wuerl and his fellow Cardinals Blase Cupich, archbishop of Chicago, Joseph Tobin, archbishop of Newark, New Jersey, and Kevin Farrell, prefect of the Dicastery for the Laity, the Family and Life, are all “under a cloud.”
Royal discusses one episode from Viganò’s letter:
[W]hen Viganò first met the Holy Father as Nuncio, Francis asked him in conversations about McCarrick and Wuerl, what they were like or whether they were good. (Francis also said American bishops must not be “ideologized” [sic] – neither right nor left, but he specifically mentioned “Philadelphia,” i.e., Archbishop Chaput.) Viganò only realized later that Francis was really asking whether he, Viganò, would support McCarrick and Wuerl, despite the damning information he’d just provided.
“[I]f you put together the various names in Viganò’s letter, almost all of Francis’ closest advisors lie close to the heart of the problem, not its solution,” Royal observes.
The Herald notes a source close to Wuerl said the cardinal “wrote to McCarrick in the midst of the preliminary investigation into the allegation that the New York archdiocesan review board would eventually find ‘credible and substantiated,’ suggesting that McCarrick remove himself from public ministry and cease public appearances.”
“McCarrick – who was still a cardinal at the time and apparently a cleric in good standing – rejected Cardinal Wuerl’s suggestion,” the source reportedly told the Herald.
On Saturday, Catholic News Agency (CNA) also reported that Wuerl had denied Viganò’s assertion that he knew about the sanctions placed upon McCarrick by Pope Benedict.
“Cardinal Wuerl did not receive documentation or information from the Holy See specific to Cardinal McCarrick’s behavior or any of the prohibitions on his life and ministry suggested by Archbishop Viganò,” McFadden reportedly said.
A source close to McCarrick’s case told CNA that when Wuerl was informed that McCarrick was being investigated for an allegation of sexual abuse, he requested that McCarrick withdraw from public ministry, and McCarrick refused. The source said that Wuerl was not permitted by canon law to forbid McCarrick from exercising ministry in the Archdiocese of Washington, and that McCarrick has also refused requests from other Church leaders to avoid travel or ministry in their dioceses.
Viganò, however, states in his letter, “the Cardinal lies shamelessly.”
“[R]ecent statements that he knew nothing about it, even though at first he cunningly referred to compensation for the two victims, are absolutely laughable,” the former ambassador writes.
According to WTKR, based in Virginia, Most Rev. Joseph E. Strickland, bishop of the diocese of Tyler, Texas, wrote to parishioners he believes Viganò’s allegations are “credible.”
“Let us be clear that they are still allegations, but as your shepherd, I find them to be credible,” the bishop reportedly said.