Cardinal Wuerl apologizes to priests for ‘lapse of memory’ involving 2004 allegation against Archbishop McCarrick
Jan. 16, 2019
In a Jan. 15 letter to priests of the Archdiocese of Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl said that he had forgotten a 2004 allegation of inappropriate conduct against Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, and he detailed the context of the allegation, which came at the end of a report that detailed a former seminarian’s account of abusive sexual behavior by a priest of the Diocese of Pittsburgh then on the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland.
“…It is important for me to accept personal responsibility and apologize for this lapse of memory. There was never the intention to provide false information,” the cardinal said. “In fact, all those years ago the (Pittsburgh) priest in question was immediately removed from ministry and the report was sent to the Nunciature.”
Cardinal Wuerl added that he had recently learned of the “distress that this whole matter has caused the survivor who first brought to light the charge against the Pittsburgh priest faculty member.”
“I have apologized to this survivor for any of the pain and suffering he endured in that long abusive relationship with the priest and also for any pain or embarrassment he also endured over the years from the action of then-Bishop McCarrick,” Cardinal Wuerl said.
The allegation against the Pittsburgh priest and against Archbishop McCarrick had been raised by Robert Ciolek, a former priest and seminarian of the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey, where Bishop McCarrick had served from 1982-86 until being named archbishop of Newark. In 2000, Pope John Paul II named Archbishop McCarrick as the new archbishop of Washington, and as a cardinal the next year. Then-Cardinal McCarrick led the Archdiocese of Washington until his retirement in 2006.
In June 2018, the Archdiocese of New York announced that an allegation against Cardinal McCarrick of sexual abuse of a teenager from nearly 50 years ago while he was a priest there had been found by that archdiocese’s Review Board to be credible and substantiated. Then-Cardinal McCarrick denied the allegation, but after subsequent allegations against him of abuse of another minor and sexual misconduct involving adults, he resigned from the College of Cardinals that July, and Pope Francis ordered him to live a life of prayer and penance as the Vatican conducted an investigation of the charges against him.
In his Jan. 15 letter to priests, Cardinal Wuerl noted that prior to the June 2018 announcement, “no allegations of improper conduct by Archbishop McCarrick had been made to the Archdiocese of Washington.” In a letter to local Catholics that summer, Cardinal Wuerl expressed shock and sadness over the allegations, and asked for prayers “for all those who have been victimized by abuse, and for our Church, that everyone may experience the healing power of God’s grace.”
Cardinal Wuerl in the letter to priests said he had responded to questions after the allegations against Archbishop McCarrick were made public by indicating that he was unaware of allegations or rumors of sexual abuse of minors or of improper or sexual activities with seminarians or priests by Archbishop McCarrick.
Cardinal Wuerl had served as bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988 until Pope Benedict XVI named him as the archbishop of Washington in 2006, and he served in that role until Pope Francis accepted his resignation in October 2018 and appointed him as apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Washington until a new archbishop is installed.
In his letter to the priests, Cardinal Wuerl noted that the Pittsburgh Diocesan Review Board in 2004 had issued a report detailing the abusive behavior of the Pittsburgh priest serving at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary.
“At the conclusion of the report, the survivor also indicated that he had observed and experienced with the then-Bishop McCarrick what he described as ‘inappropriate conduct,’” Cardinal Wuerl said, adding that in response to the allegation, “the Pittsburgh priest was immediately removed from ministry and, at the same time, the entire report was provided to the Apostolic Nunciature.”
Cardinal Wuerl, who was bishop of Pittsburgh at that time, said in the letter to priests that he believed he had acted responsibly in the case, “and hearing nothing more of the matter which at the request of the survivor involved was to be kept confidential, I did not avert to it again.”
Then in the letter, the cardinal explained, “Thus, 14 years later when I was asked if I had any previous knowledge of allegations against Archbishop McCarrick, I said I did not. Only afterwards was I reminded of the 14-year-old accusation of inappropriate conduct which, by that time, I had forgotten.”
Cardinal Wuerl then apologized to the priests “for this lapse of memory,” and added “there was never the intention to provide false information.”
The improper behavior alleged against Archbishop McCarrick by the former priest in the 2004 report was described as sharing a bed and being asked for back rubs when he would visit and travel with the then-bishop.
After the Archdiocese of New York announced the allegation against then-Cardinal McCarrick in June 2018, the Archdiocese of Newark and the Diocese of Metuchen revealed that they had made two settlements in alleged cases of sexual misconduct with adults against that prelate. The Archdiocese of Washington said it was unaware of those settlements until they were announced.
In a Jan. 12 letter to priests, Cardinal Wuerl noted that the Archdiocese of Washington had an independent third party review archdiocesan files and conduct interviews to see if any allegations had been made against Archbishop McCarrick in the archdiocese.
In that letter, Cardinal Wuerl said, “The report at the conclusion of this review confirms that in the years including the tenure of then-Cardinal McCarrick up to the June 2018 allegation, the Archdiocese (of Washington) received no allegation of any type of sexual abuse – of minors or adults – involving Archbishop McCarrick. There is no record of allegations or even rumors of sexual misconduct with minors.”
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