Cardinal Donald Wuerl is shown praying during the 2017 Holy Thursday Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington.  (CS FILE PHOTO BY JACLYN LIPPELMANN)
Cardinal Donald Wuerl is shown praying during the 2017 Holy Thursday Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington. (CS FILE PHOTO BY JACLYN LIPPELMANN)

Cardinal Donald Wuerl is encouraging parishes in the Archdiocese of Washington to participate in a six-week “Season of Healing” to counter what he called “confusion, disappointment and disunity” and to help bring about healing in the wake of recent sex abuse scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church in the United States.

“In recognition of the ongoing need for healing, and after consultation with a number of laywomen, laymen and some priests, I am proposing a ‘Season of Healing’ that would begin Friday, September 14, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, as a first step in the necessary healing process for our Church,” Cardinal Wuerl wrote in a letter to priests of the Archdiocese of Washington.

In the letter that was dated Sept. 6 and made public the same day, Cardinal Wuerl also said that he is providing parishes with materials to help them “bear witness to their (abuse survivors’) pain, and assist in the healing of each individual survivor as well as the entire community.”

Cardinal Wuerl, in his letter, explained that the “Season of Healing” would be a time for “parishes and parishioners to come together in prayer, to give voice to the pain and suffering of the survivors of clergy sexual abuse, while also recognizing the pain and wound of the whole Church. “

“This six-week ‘Season’ would use each Friday as a time when, as a Church, we could be united in prayer,” the cardinal wrote. “This could take whatever form of prayer you consider appropriate or are currently undertaking at your parish on Fridays.”

He added that he would initiate the “Season of Healing” with a Sept. 14 Mass at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle in Washington.

In his letter, Cardinal Wuerl also told his “brother priests” that the archdiocese is making available to them a resource toolkit to “assist you in this time of healing.” He said the toolkit includes information from the archdiocesan Child Protection Advisory Board and others on how to respond to victims of abuse and also ideas on how to observe the Friday prayer gatherings during the “Season of Healing.”

Cardinal Wuerl, in his letter, said the idea for the “Season of Healing” came about after a Sept. 3 meeting with archdiocesan priests “to discern how best I can serve this Church.”

Acknowledging the “path to healing will be long and arduous,” Cardinal Wuerl said the six-week effort “is just a beginning ... the work of healing must and will continue.”

“This special time is intended to call attention to our need to pray and to reach out to survivors throughout the year. He noted that he is also in the process of planning a one-day healing retreat for survivors of abuse. “The focus will be on prayer, professional services, including having licensed counselors present, and continued accompaniment,” Cardinal Wuerl said.

The cardinal had opened the letter by thanking the priests for gathering with him for a time of prayer and discernment before the annual Labor Day cookout held for priests of the archdiocese.

“In that hour and a half long session, I clearly heard and saw expressed your support for survivors, the people of this archdiocese, and for me personally,” the cardinal said, adding that the purpose of the meeting was also “to discern how best I can serve this Church. Among the many observations was that the archdiocese would be well served by new leadership to help move beyond the current confusion, disappointment and disunity.”

Cardinal Wuerl also noted that he “heard voices calling for the beginning of healing. This I believe we need to do now.” Then the cardinal announced plans for the “Season of Healing” and the initiatives to reach out and bring healing at parishes to abuse survivors and to members of the community suffering in the aftermath of the abuse scandals.

This summer, it was announced that former Washington Archbishop Theodore McCarrick had been credibly accused of abusing a minor nearly 50 years ago when he was a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, and that settlements had been made in the New Jersey dioceses of Newark and Metuchen where he had earlier served as a bishop, related to his alleged sexual misconduct with seminarians.

Then in mid-August, the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report was issued detailing the sexual abuse suffered by more than 1,000 survivors by 300 priests over the past seven decades in six dioceses in that state, including in Pittsburgh, which was led by then-Bishop Wuerl from 1988 until he was named archbishop of Washington in 2006. Cardinal Wuerl, who faced heavy criticism after the report was issued, has defended his record in Pittsburgh, saying he reached out to survivors there, removed all priests credibly accused of abuse, and enacted strong child protection measures.