Cardinal Wuerl says confronting abuse crisis must involve wider lay engagement and more Church accountability and transparency
Sept. 2, 2018
Addressing the crisis that the Catholic Church is facing following this summer’s revelations of clergy sexual abuse, Cardinal Donald Wuerl at a Sept. 2 Mass at Annunciation Parish in Washington said moving forward and purifying the Church will require “wider lay engagement, more realized accountability and evident transparency.”
The archbishop of Washington addressed the crisis at the end of a Mass where he installed Msgr. Michael Mellone as the new pastor at Annunciation Parish. The cardinal’s homily centered on the role of priests in bringing Christ to their people. After the installation ceremony, the prayers of the faithful included a prayer for all survivors of abuse, that they may find Christ’s healing grace and know God’s abiding love for them.
In remarks after Communion, Cardinal Wuerl said the Church must follow a pathway to holiness and bring “Christ’s renewing light” to the darkness of the abuse crisis and the pain it has caused.
“As a Church, we recognize that we are a people of faith, a family of faith, that we believe in the healing power of God’s Holy Spirit,” the cardinal said.
Cardinal Wuerl said that pathway must involve “a renewed commitment on the part of each priest to do what in fact the vast majority of priests do so well every day. You and I must continue to support them as they carry out their ministry that is such a significant part of the healing and moving forward.”
The cardinal then stressed the importance of Church accountability and engaging the laity in promoting healing and bringing about renewal in the Church.
“A sign of our trust in the healing power of God’s Spirit has to be a new commitment beginning with the bishops. Any successful purification of our Church is going to require an engagement of our lay people working together with the bishops,” he said. “For that reason, we need, all of us together, to dedicate the time and energy that is required for that prayerful and spiritual renewal.”
Noting the need for transparency, Cardinal Wuerl said that “on an institutional level, we need to look, once again, at how accountable the exercise of responsibility in the Church is,” the accountability “to all of the members of the Church, and also how transparent is the working out of this accountability.”
The heart of renewal for the Church, he added, can be found “in the Confiteor (prayed) at Mass, that is, to confess that there has been a terrible evil present in the Church. Confession calls with it the need for apology, contrition and atonement. It is never too late to begin this essential action of penance.”
Catholics in Washington and across the United States in June learned of credible and substantiated abuse allegations against a minor almost 50 years ago by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the retired archbishop of Washington, and also of reported cases of sexual misconduct by him with seminarians and another abuse allegation. Subsequently, Pope Francis accepted Archbishop McCarrick’s resignation from the College of Cardinals and ordered him to maintain a life of prayer and penance.
Then in mid-August, a Pennsylvania Grand Jury report was released documenting more than 1,000 victims of clergy sexual abuse against minors by 300 priests over the past seven decades in six dioceses in that state, including in Pittsburgh, where then-Bishop Wuerl led that diocese from 1988 until his appointment as archbishop of Washington in 2006.
Since the release of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report, Cardinal Wuerl faced strong criticism for his record in confronting clergy sexual abuse in Pittsburgh, with some Catholics on social media and at protests outside St. Matthew’s Cathedral and the National Shrine calling on him to resign. (Following Church law, Cardinal Wuerl after turning 75 in 2015 submitted his resignation to Pope Francis, who has not accepted it.) In a letter last week, Msgr. Charles Antonicelli, the Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia for the Archdiocese of Washington, noted that in Pittsburgh, then-Bishop Wuerl reached out to abuse survivors, removed all priests with credible claims of abuse against them, and was a leader in child protection.
In his remarks at the end of the Mass at Annunciation Church, Cardinal Wuerl said the prayers of Catholics are for the whole Church wounded by the shame of the actions that caused the abuse crisis. “You too bear a deep wound, because you love the Church – that’s why you’re here, and you do not know what is coming next.”
The cardinal acknowledged the “pain, confusion and disillusionment” that Catholics feel, and he said he wished he could wipe it all away.
“As we move forward, I hope to lead by action, not just by words,” he said, and then quoted part of what he had written in an Aug. 30 letter to priests in the archdiocese: “As I said to all our priests, ‘I ask you for prayers for me, for forgiveness for my errors in judgment, for my inadequacies, as well as for the grace to find, with you, ways of healing, ways of offering fruitful guidance in this darkness.'”
The raw emotions wrought by the abuse crisis were evident near the end of Cardinal Wuerl’s remarks, when a man shouted “Shame on you!” and stormed out of the church from his pew.
That came just after the cardinal had encouraged Catholics “to hold close in our prayers and loyalty to our Holy Father, Pope Francis. Increasingly, it is clear that he is the object of considerable animosity.”
After the man’s outburst, the cardinal said he wished he could redo decisions that he had made in his three decades as a bishop “and each time get it right.” Cardinal Wuerl then encouraged people to join him in seeking God’s grace and mercy as the Church moves forward, and he asked for their prayers for him, and for all those who were abused and all those suffering in the aftermath of that abuse.
The cardinal drew applause after concluding his remarks at the end of Mass emphasizing the need for wider lay engagement and more accountability and transparency in the Church.
“We do all of this first in prayer, mindful that the source of our contrition, of our healing, and of our pathway into the future is the victory Christ won for us on the cross,” he said.
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